Jeff Evans says goodbye to Dons basketball after 23 seasons

AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - After 23 seasons at the helm of Palo Duro boys basketball, the legendary Jeff Evans has decided to say goodbye to the Dons. The list of accolades that Coach Evans has comprised at Palo Duro is a long one.

For a coach, to have great success, they must be completely bought in. For Coach Evans, his love for basketball started at an early age, and to this day he could not picture himself anywhere but on the court.

“I was lucky that what I loved to do had a natural segway into a job. I started coaching at Lubbock Coronado as an assistant, I was there for five years under a great head coach: Barry Voss. Then, I got my first head coaching job at Abilene High. I got hired by the legendary Gary Gaines, who is the ‘Friday Night Lights’ coach. He gave me my first head job.” Jeff Evans said. “I was there four years, I had no intention of moving. Then, they talked me into moving to Amarillo 23 years ago at Palo Duro and I’ve been here ever since.”

As he said, Coach Evans had no intention of moving from Abilene. He was happy where he was. It was the persistence of the Amarillo ISD athletic director at the time Tex Nolan and former Palo Duro football coach Steve Parr that finally made Evans change from the Eagles to the Dons.

“So finally, I just decided, ‘Well lets give it a shot.’ At that time, when you’re in high school coaching you figure you will move quite a bit. I didn’t realize it would be 23 years in, but after about a year and a half, I knew I had made the right decision,” Coach Evans said.

In 2000, the first year that Coach Evans took over, the Dons did not secure a playoff berth. It would be the only time the school failed to do so under Evans’ leadership. After year one, Coach Evans took the program to the playoffs for a staggering 22 consecutive seasons.

“We had a good group back from that first year.” Evans said. “The kids really started to believe in what we were doing and in that second year, we knew that it was about to be a good year. I was starting to feel glad that I had moved to Amarillo at that point.”

The Palo Duro boys basketball program just kept building after that second year. In 2004, the Dons made it to the regional finals and in 2005 they made a state tournament appearance.

During those successful years is when Coach Evans felt the pride of wearing blue and white.

“So at that point, the kids coming [up from lower grades], you know there’s a lot of belief in what you’re doing and they’ve had guys in front of them that they want to try to emulate. I think tradition starts to take hold and it keeps building year after year. I think the expectations prove to be a positive motivator, and it has been for the last 22 years.” Evans said.

Twenty-three years later, Coach Evans has achieved so much leading the Dons. He has won 12 district championships, secured 49 playoff wins, comprised an overall record of 546-156, won 88 consecutive district games from 2002-2010, had 58 players advance to the collegiate basketball level (three to the Big 12), and won Texas Association of Basketball Coaches Coach of the Year in 2008, but the list goes on.

Not only has Coach Evans impacted Palo Duro, but the whole Amarillo high school basketball community.

“The thing that I think about with Coach Evans is excellence.” Amarillo High School boys basketball coach Jason Pillion said. “There’s a standard that he set at Palo Duro High School and it seemed like it never waivered. Achieving success is one thing, but to be able to sustain it is something that’s extremally rare, and he did that, and his record speaks for themselves.”

This community in turn also had a huge impact on Evans himself.

“When I got to Palo Duro, [there was] definitely a community. It’s almost like a small town high school within a city. There was a lot of pride within the Palo Duro community. Then just the kids you coach, we’ve just had kids that have really bought in and have really had a high level of commitment. I am one of those coaches where I just want the gym open all of the time, I want them up here in the evening, I want them up here every day in the summer and we just had kids who were willing to do that. They took a lot of pride in trying to get as good as they can get. That was, for me as a coach, that’s what kept me going.” Coach Evans said.

Even though he is leaving Palo Duro, Coach Evans isn’t leaving basketball.

When asked what’s next for him and his journey on the court, Coach Evans isn’t 100% sure where he will end up, but he wants to take his coaching career to the colligate level as an assistant.

“As I thought about that decision, I thought well I need to be very careful who I think to work with. I have a couple of good friends that I’m really close with who are college head coaches, and I haven’t decided which one I’m going with yet, but I’m going with one of those. I’ve got it narrowed down to two. I’ll be at one of those two places, and both of them are in Austin.” Coach Evans said.

For the future of Dons basketball though, Coach Evans believes it’ll be just fine.

“I think that next year’s team has a really strong nucleus coming back. That was something too, when I did leave whenever that was, I wanted to leave at a time where I felt like the prospects for the following year looked good.”

Rylee Robinson

Rylee Robinson

Rylee is NewsChannel 10's new Sports Reporter.