Florida International hires Evans to replace Pitino as head coach
MIAMI -- Anthony Evans was a finalist for the Florida International job a year ago, before the school decided to give Richard Pitino his first opportunity to be a head coach.
Apparently, the Panthers kept Evans' resume on file.
Evans got the job this time around, arriving in Miami on Monday night to replace Pitino. He takes over a program that is coming off its first winning season since 1999-2000, but will likely face a postseason ban next season over academic problems that began during Isiah Thomas' three-year stint on the Panthers' sideline.
''I thought last year would have been a great opportunity,'' Evans said after his arrival in South Florida. ''Richard came in and did a great job. But now ... this opportunity, it's an opportunity of a lifetime to be honest for me and my family. It's huge.''
Evans resigned from Norfolk State - where he spent the past six seasons - earlier Monday, hopped on a plane, landed in Miami in the evening and met his new team for the first time. He will be formally introduced to the FIU community Tuesday afternoon.
In just one year, Pitino turned the long-struggling Panthers into winners, going 18-14 and ending up just a 3-pointer away from reaching the NCAA tournament. FIU made a surprising run to the Sun Belt championship game, falling to Western Kentucky 65-63. The Panthers will be moving into Conference USA this coming season.
Predictably, bigger schools came calling after being impressed by the style of play that was employed by Pitino - the son of Rick Pitino, who led Louisville to this season's national championship. Richard Pitino has two basketball mentors; his father, from whom he learned plenty about defense, and Florida's Billy Donovan, from whom he learned plenty about offense.
Minnesota lured Pitino away with a six-year contract worth at least $1.2 million annually, or about five times what he was making per year at FIU.
The Panthers knew they had no chance of competing with that, so they wished Pitino well, thanked him for what he did and started looking for his replacement, a quest that FIU director of sports and entertainment Pete Garcia said he wanted to wrap up within 10 days.
It took him 11 days, and ended with him hiring someone who came close to getting the gig 12 months earlier.
''When you have success, it's easier to push and demand more,'' Evans said. ''They'll want to taste that again, they'll want to be successful, especially moving into Conference USA. It'll be uncharted waters for all of us, but we'll be looking forward to the challenge.''
Evans said he was not deterred by what FIU will likely face over the basketball team's Academic Progress Rate score, which measures whether student athletes have remained in school and academically eligible for competition.
Garcia said the APR issues were a problem that Pitino inherited, and that it was one of the reasons why the school fired Thomas - a Hall of Fame player - after his three seasons were far from successful.
Garcia said the team made academic strides under Pitino, but the school is still bracing for the APR to lead to a ban much like the one Connecticut had to deal with this season.
''Whatever we need to do to correct it, we're going to do that,'' Evans said.
Evans went 99-94 at Norfolk State, and was coming off two very strong seasons with the Spartans.
Last year, the Spartans won 26 games and their first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament championship. As a No. 15 seed in their first NCAA tournament, they upset Missouri before falling to Florida.
This season, the Spartans went 16-0 in the MEAC, but lost their opener in the conference tournament and settled for a trip to the NIT instead.
''I think they understood that this was an opportunity for me and my family,'' Evans said. ''They wished me well and they know I'll be following them.''