DECATUR — Eisenhower has tabbed Johnell Evans as its girls basketball coach and found some help for the football team as well.
Evans replaces Sean Flaherty, who coached the Panthers girls basketball team for eight seasons and had an 82-161 record, with a regional title in 2011.
Evans, who was hired at a June 12 meeting, will also be an assistant for new football coach Curtis Graham. And, Evans' three sons, one of whom was the Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press Player of the Year as a freshman and sophomore, will be joining the Panthers as well, transferring from Princeton Central, where he and his brothers attended during the spring semester.
This will be Evans' first stop in coaching high school basketball, but he has 10 years experience in coaching AAU teams and has coached middle school and elementary teams.
He heard about the opening through Graham, a friend of his.
“I've always loved coaching basketball, girls or boys," Evans said. "I’ve been doing that for a while, just coaching period."
While Evans hopes to make an immediate impact for the girls basketball team, his three sons — juniors Tor'Jon, Tre'Jon and sophomore Tory — give the Panthers' football team a boost going into Graham's first season.
According to the Evansville Courier & Press, Tor'Jon rushed for 2,610 yards as a sophomore last season with 32 touchdowns at Evansville Central. He was the first freshman to ever win the award as a freshman after rushing for 1,640 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Evans said Tre'Jon is a defensive back, slot receiver and a "jack of all trades," and Tory is also a running back.
Initially, Evans applied for the position of assistant football coach, but as Eisenhower Athletic Director Steve Thompson followed up on Evans' references, he asked them questions about Evans' basketball knowledge and received high praise.
When the basketball opening came up, Evans applied.
Though Thompson said the lack of experience at the high school level was "a little concerning," he heard rave reviews from everybody he talked to, including a head girls basketball coach at a school in Indiana.
"We had talked for quite a bit and he said that a lot of the stuff that he does and that he runs he learned from coach Evans," Thompson said. "That was good to hear, that even though he doesn't have it on the resume yet, he has that basketball mind and knowledge that others who do are taking things from him."
It didn't take Evans long on his trip to Decatur to decide that it was best for he and his family to relocate from Evansville.
“The lake there is beautiful and the area is beautiful," Evans said. "I kind of fell in love with it.”
The Panthers' girls basketball team will return Jurnee Flournoy, Markesha Jackson and Mahoganie Johnson-Cook, who were honorable mention on the Herald & Review All-Macon County Girls Basketball Team.
Evans will begin the process of building not only a team and implementing his style, but also looking down the road as he gets a program underway.
“I’m excited to coach at the highest level as far as school goes," Evans said. "I’m a little nervous about the other things, off the court, as far as getting the off-season programs together, getting the feeder leagues to buy in and meeting the coaches to get the young kids implementing my type of system."
The program is looking for its first regional championship since 2011, Flaherty's first year at the helm of the Panthers, and the first winning record since 2012.
Evans said it's on the coach to get everybody involved in building a program, but to build success takes more than one person.
"The key to it is parents," Evans said. "If the parents can get the kids motivated or get the kids there, then the coaches can do the work of teaching them and grinding them and teaching them the basics of basketball."
Evans is a 1991 graduate of East St. Louis Lincoln, where he played under legendary head coach Bennie Lewis. After high school, Evans played briefly in college at Brown Mackie College in Overland Park, Kan.
For Evans, having Graham nearby will be helpful.
"That's a big plus," Johnell said. "That's part of the reason why I accepted the job is because I know I have support and his backing, and the same for him. We'll be working hand-in-hand to build these two programs and the Eisenhower name, period. We'll be working hard to try to do that."
Contact Joey Wagner at (217) 421-6970. Follow him on Twitter: @mrwagner25