First he was handed a trophy. Then he was handed a note.
The hardware was the President’s Cup following Northeastern State’s 45-38 victory over Central Oklahoma. It was the RiverHawks’ fourth straight triumph over their in-state rival, sending positive vibes throughout an NSU program that was in desperate need of a warm embrace following difficult season.
While celebrating a season-concluding victory in the locker room, Kenny Evans was handed a note that said to pay Director of Athletics Tony Duckworth a visit as soon as possible.
Evans assumed he was being summoned to receive a personal pat on the back.
“I was just handed the trophy and (Assistant Athletic Director) Bill Nowlin came into the locker room and handed me a note that said Tony wanted to see me,” Evans said. “I thought it was to congratulate me.”
In fact, it was the complete opposite.
“I got into the (event center) and I was told I was no longer the head coach at Northeastern State,” Evans said in an interview with the Tahlequah Daily Press. “And because of legal counsel, he said he couldn’t give me reasons why.”
Evans was so taken aback that he thought Duckworth might of been playing a cruel joke on NSU alum.
“I asked, ‘are you joking?’” Evans recalled. “I was truly in shock.”
Word spread quickly Saturday evening that Evans was no longer NSU’s head coach. Then Evans confirmed shortly thereafter to the Daily Press that his six-year reign was over.
“I will never understand,” Evans said. “I was never given a full explanation.”
On Sunday, Duckworth confirmed the news at an afternoon press conference. He said he wanted the program to go in a new direction.
That same day, Evans’ phone and email inbox were overflowing with messages from friends and colleagues.
“I had 50-plus emails and probably more than that on phone calls and texts,” Evans said. “I probably talked to 40 or 50 coaches. It’s nice that they’re all thinking about me.”
Among those with words of encouragement for Evans were Barry Switzer and “a guy from the Dallas Cowboys,” Evans said. Tulsa head coach Bill Blankenship even invited Evans to practice on Wednesday.
“I may not even pursue coaching,” Evans said of his next venture in life. “But after watching practice today, it got me fired up.”
With the win over Central Oklahoma, Evans’ overall record at NSU improved to 22-44. He posted back-to-back winning seasons in 2010 and 2011, but consecutive losing seasons in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association ultimately led to Evans’ demise.
“The bottom line is there is only one thing you’re judged on and that’s wins, and we only had six of them the last two years,” said Evans, whose teams went 4-6 and 2-8 in MIAA play in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
Evans said he would have stuck with NSU for the long haul, no matter what would have come about.
“I’ve had opportunities to go other places and turned those down because I wanted to be (at NSU),” Evans said. “I love my university. But people have to live with their decisions and I’m going to move on.”
Evans’ concerns have now shifted to coaches that are still employed at NSU.
“No. 1, I am worried about my staff,” he said. “I know they’ll have an opportunity to interview with who is hired. I know how that goes, and I’m going to do what I can to help them out.”
As for the RiverHawks’ next head coach, Evans certainly wants that person to succeed.
“My hope is that they give the next person more resources than what I had,” Evans said. “It won’t be impossible, but it would be tough.”