Evans Prepares To Return

FAYETTEVILLE — Rob Evans has walked through Tad Smith Coliseum countless times over the years.

He has also returned on several occasions since coaching his final game at Ole Miss in 1998. But those trips were for social reasons, like to watch one of his former players graduate.

One thing Evans hasn't done in the decade since he left Oxford is return to the arena he once called home as a coach for a rival school.

He'll get his first opportunity to do so at 8 p.m. today when he takes the court as an assistant for Arkansas basketball coach John Pelphrey.

"It will be different for me. I wouldn't be being honest if I didn't say that because I saw a game the other day that (the Rebels) were playing," Evans said Monday. "I happened to just kind of look at the (visitors') bench and I thought, ‘Oh, I'll be sitting on that side of the bench over there where Nolan Richardson used to sit and Rick Pitino used to sit.'"

Evans has fond memories of Tad Smith Coliseum from his days as Ole Miss' coach from 1993-98, and he admitted that he expects a wave of emotions to hit him when he enters the arena today.

After all, Ole Miss is the school that gave Evans his first head coaching job after spending 24 years as an assistant to Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State, and at Texas Tech, and at New Mexico State.

Evans turned around an Ole Miss program that had little fan interest and even less basketball tradition when he was hired.

After struggling through his first four seasons, Evans won the Southeastern Conference's Western Division and was honored as the league's coach of the year after leading the Rebels to a 20-9 record in 1997.

And by the time Evans left to be Arizona State's coach following the 1998 season, he had led Ole Miss to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in school history.

Pelphrey, as a Florida assistant coach at the time, got an up-close look at what Evans was able to build at Ole Miss. Evans' teams were relentless.

"It was one of those things where even though they weren't really pressing, you couldn't run (your) offense," Pelphrey said. "They were just up on your skirt."

In essence, Evans made the Rebels relevant again. So it's not surprising that tonight will be an emotional homecoming for him.

"(I have) a lot of fond memories. I'm sure when I get back there a lot of memories will start flowing back," Evans said. "I've stayed in touch with a lot of people there, so it feels like I haven't been gone that long."

Pelphrey has a sense of what Evans will be going through before tonight's game.

Pelphrey experienced his own homecoming of sorts when he returned Feb. 23 to Rupp Arena, the place where he starred as a Kentucky basketball player from 1988-92.

As Pelphrey put it, small things — like a certain smell or a longtime usher — could bring back memories. Evans expects that.

"It will be business-like because we're going down to try to win a basketball game," Evans said. "But it will be great seeing people I haven't seen in awhile."

Returning To The Grove

Arkansas assistant coach Rob Evans served as Ole Miss' head coach from 1993-1998. During that time, he rebuilt the program and led the Rebels to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances.

Evans faced Ole Miss earlier this season, but that game was in Bud Walton Arena. Arkansas won 75-69 on Feb. 9.

Here is how Evans fared as a coach at Ole Miss:

Year Record

1993 10-18

1994 14-13

1995 8-19

1996 12-15

1997 20-9 (NCAA Tournament first round)

1998 22-7 (NCAA Tournament first round)

Total: 86-81 (Six years)

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