He began breaking down offseason plans not long after being handed the President’s Cup. At 3:53 p.m. on Saturday, Kenny Evans’ Northeastern State football team had just wrapped up a 45-38 triumph over in-state rival Central Oklahoma.
A minute or two after that, NSU’s head coach addressed the team in the locker room following RiverHawks’ final game of the season. In an instant, he was proclaiming a need for some junior college transfers for the 2014 season to a pair of reporters with the clock only a handful of minutes past 4 p.m.
By the time the minute hand on the clock hit 5, Evans was no longer the head coach at Northeastern State.
“It caught me completely off-guard,” Evans told the Tahlequah Daily Press on Saturday.
On Sunday, the news was confirmed by NSU athletic director Tony Duckworth: NSU had become head coach-less and was beginning a national search for a new one.
“Kenny Evans is no longer employed at Northeastern State University,” Duckworth proclaimed only seconds into his press conference on Sunday. He followed quickly by saying he wouldn’t hit on specifics of Evans’ departure.
However, he later divulged some information. For instance, when Duckworth had ultimately determined Evans’ fate past this year.
“We had some defeats, but we had some pretty significant margins in those defeats,” Duckworth said. “...Probably the bellwether for me was the conclusion of the first quarter at Missouri Western. I was not at the game, but I was watching that game and saw that quarter transpire. I forget the margin, it was 30-something to seven. That was a quarter that really stuck in my mind.”
The RiverHawks finished up their trip to St. Joesph, Mo., with a 54-10 loss. And it didn’t get much better when NSU returned home and suffered a 35-14 setback against Eastern New Mexico, a member of the Lone Star Conference.
It was a game “that we certainly were hoping we would have the opportunity to win, and if we lost it may be one of those last-second field goal type of things,” Duckworth said. “And obviously we know the result there.”
A 51-7 defeat at Central Missouri ensued and Evans’ fate was all but sealed — despite two victories in the final three games to cap a 2-9 season.
“I didn’t feel like we were in a very good position coming out of that game, in terms of where we stood as a program,” Duckworth said of the loss to Central Missouri. “The Missouri Western and Eastern New Mexico games were games that really resonated with me, in terms of trying to reflect and determine: where are we as a program?”
Evans’ tenure ended with a 22-44 record over six season. In two seasons in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, Evans’ teams went 6-14.
“We haven’t won as many games as I’d like,” Evans told the Daily Press.
No, that chore will now be left with Duckworth’s new hire. A nationwide search began in earnest Monday, Duckworth said.
“Our focus is on returning NSU to winning football,” Duckworth said defiantly. “It’s easy for fans or those in RiverHawk nation to start thinking about championships and playoff appearances, but our priority simply needs to be focusing our efforts on hiring the right coach to lead this program, where we can find ourselves consistently winning football games and having winning seasons again.
“...I can assure you whoever we hire isn't going to be Houdini. It’s going to take some time to make this happen.”
For the current day-to-day operations in the NSU football program, Duckworth said he would not appoint an interim coach. He would, however, deal directly with assistant head coach John Murray with any personnel matters.”
As for Duckworth’s ideal candidate, he shot down any idea of bringing in a high school coach — unless it’s a high school coach with plenty of college experience under his belt. He also desires a coach that “won’t be knocking on my door telling me what we don’t have.”
Well, for right now, NSU doesn’t have a head coach.