Evans replaces Matthews at Dons helm

Updated: April 23, 2004, 2:38 AM ET
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco's failed attempt to lure Gene Keady away from Purdue helped the Dons land their new coach.

San Francisco concluded its monthlong search for a basketball coach, hiring Jessie Evans away from Louisiana-Lafayette on Thursday.

"I knew they were committed to building a winning program when I saw them go after Gene Keady. That opened my eyes certainly," Evans said. "That was the main reason I got involved."

The Dons settled on Evans after their highly publicized run at Keady failed. While Evans lacks Keady's high profile, he has won a national championship as an assistant at Arizona and led Louisiana-Lafayette to the NCAA tournament this season.

"Jessie's a proven winner who's a proven recruiter," athletic director Bill Hogan said. "You don't get much better than that."

Now his task is rebuilding the tradition at San Francisco. The Dons went 17-14 last season, losing to Santa Clara in the second round of the West Coast Conference tournament. Phil Mathews was fired March 9 after nine seasons with the Dons. He took the team to one NCAA tournament.

"We'll always have great goals," Evans said. "Each and every year we'll set out to make postseason play. That will never change. We'll reach for new heights."

Evans spent seven years at Louisiana-Lafayette, leading the Ragin' Cajuns to two NCAA tournament berths and four 20-win seasons. The school went 20-9 and won the Sun Belt Conference regular-season and tournament titles last season before a first-round NCAA loss to North Carolina State.

Evans was an assistant to Lute Olson during Arizona's run to the national championship in 1997. He also has been an assistant at Texas, Wyoming, San Diego State and Minnesota, earning a reputation as a talented recruiter while coaching 26 future NBA players.

"He knows what it takes to win," Dons guard John Cox said. "I haven't been to the postseason before and he's won a championship. He's a proven winner."

Evans said his first priority recruiting will be trying to keep some of the talented players in the San Francisco Bay area home.

San Francisco's administration expects Evans to build a program capable of competing with West Coast Conference power Gonzaga, the league's perennial champion. San Francisco recently made an aggressive financial commitment to its athletic programs, and Evans' hiring is considered a key element in the revitalization.

"First we have to make the postseason and then we need to do it consistently before we get to that level," Cox said. "Maybe it won't happen next year but within five years we should be there."

San Francisco boasts such prestigious basketball alumni as NBA greats Bill Russell, Bill Cartwright and K.C. Jones. The Dons won NCAA titles in 1955 and 1956, and the NIT in 1949.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press