The Independence football program is steeped in a rich tradition of success. The Patriots dominated the early 2000’s, winning a state-record 109 consecutive games, which culminated in seven consecutive state titles.
This season the Patriots are considered by some people to be the hands-on favorite to win the new-look Southwestern 4A conference behind their first-year coach, Joe Evans, who served as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator the past two seasons and now takes over for the retired Bill Geiler.
The Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly sat down with Evans to see how he’s adjusting to his first head coaching experience at the top of one of the state’s most highly regarded programs.
Q: There’s a lot of tradition here and you’ve talked before about being your own guy and not trying to do things like the coaches that came before you. How do you manage both of those things?
A: A lot of stuff here, it ain’t broke so I’m not trying to fix it. It’s still business as usual on 95 percent of the things that have always been done here. The other 5 percent is where I put my own stamp on it. But I refer to my own coaches a lot, because they’re the guys working with the (players) on positions. We do it as a staff; it’s not me making all of the decisions. I listen when they say, “We need to do more of this or less of that.” We talk and communicate as a staff. That’s how we handle all of our decisions.
Q: In day-to-day preparation, how much has your life changed since becoming the head football coach?
A: As an assistant I could come into practice, do my stuff and come in the office and make a couple of changes and I could take off. Now I’m on the administrative stuff – the team store, equipment. It’s stuff that has to be done, but the only thing is the time. Being a head coach is a lot more time-consuming. It’s nothing crazy, but it takes up a lot of time.
Q: Are you going to still be calling some of the plays on offense.
A: Me and (assistant coach Jeremy Johnson) will be. We’ve done it that way the last couple of years. It’s still the same offense with some changes. If you stay the same, you aren’t getting any better, so we’ve tweaked some things. We’ve got some guys who we want to get the ball to and some big guys up front.
Q: Independence opens the year on a Thursday night (Aug. 22) at Memorial Stadium against South Mecklenburg. Is preparation for that game, where all eyes will be on your team, any different to prepare for?
A: To us, every game we play is the most important one. It will be different – we won’t be here, the game will start later than usual, we will dress in the locker room and be coming out as other teams (Charlotte Christian and Sun Valley play before the Patriots’ 7:30 kickoff) will be coming off the field.
But once the ball is kicked off it’s still football. It’s still goal line to goal line and sideline to sideline. It’s still a football field with painted lines, so that part will be the same. Like I said, every game is the most important one. We don’t overlook anybody. We never would, so when we hit that field, it’s football and we have to go play.
Q: Independence has a lot of guys – receiver Workeph Kofa (Charlotte 49ers), center Tony Adams (N.C. State), offensive lineman Chris Wade (Furman) and running back Isaiah Robinson (Wake Forest) – who have committed recently. How do you use their leadership to motivate the team?
A: One thing I’ve noticed is when we had a couple of guys commit, none of the other guys got jealous. There’s no jealousy; they are each others’ biggest fans. You’d never hear one of those guys say, “Why did he get that and I didn’t?”
To see that kid that’s committed somewhere and the level he brings, it’s important to have. They have to understand that if that’s where they want to go, they have to work like (the guys who have offers). If you’re a running back, you have to work like Isaiah Robinson. If you’re a wide receiver, you have to work like Workpeh Kofa. If you’re an offensive lineman, you have to work like Tony.
Once they get that attitude of, “Why did he get something and I didn’t?” it can kill a team. We haven’t seen any of that from these guys.
Q: The conference is more wide open than it’s been in the past couple of years and you guys have a lot of expectations. How do you manage those expectations and keep these guys hungry and working hard?
A: We have to keep pushing them. As a staff, we know if we got to another level today, we have to come back out (the next day) and try to find another level and then keep advancing. I try to teach them to never be satisfied at where you are. The three things we talk about are: Do you want to be good, do you want to be great or do you want to be unstoppable? Good is OK, great is a little better, but we don’t want that. We want to be unstoppable. That’s what I ask each of them to ask themselves at the end of the day: Was I unstoppable today? There are very few guys who are unstoppable, but we want to keep pushing until we get there.
Q: How do you keep on them about that?
A: There’s a sign right there (points to a sign in his office) that’s been up ever since I got here: “Comfort destroys progress.” That’s saying complacency kills and we don’t want to ever be happy with where we are.
Q: Knowing you for a couple of years, it doesn’t seem that the job and having all of these responsibilities is going to change you as a person. Is that fair to say?
A: At the end of day when I go home, I have a son and a daughter and they don’t call me “Coach,” they call me “Dad.” It’s not going to change who I am. It may add a little stress or take a little time away from them, but I’m not going to change who I am.