Evan Brown closes in on Madras boys basketball coaching mark
Evan Brown's coaching career at Madras was just a few games old when the grumbles began to reach him.
It was the winter of 1992-93, and with Brown, the White Buffalos boys basketball team was off to an 0-6 start. He had taken over for a revered coach in Joe Blincoe, who retired at the end of the prior season, concluding a 16-year Madras career that included a program record 266 wins and 12 state tournament appearances. The two were polar opposites, both in personality and philosophy.
Blincoe, known to have a mellow demeanor, ran a 2-3 zone and favored a methodical offensive pace. Brown wanted to push the tempo, and man up on defense. Brown's fire, whether directed at his own players, officials, or anyone else, was most conspicuous.
When the results didn't immediately come, people were ready to write him off. But like Blincoe, Brown and his players wanted the same end goal. They just needed to figure each other out first.
"The stuff that Joe had established already — the expectation that we were gonna win, the expectation that we were going to be in the state tournament year after year — that part was already in place when I got here," Brown said. "All I had to do was make sure I didn't screw that stuff up."
That winless start would mean little in the grand scheme of Madras basketball.
The Buffs went on to finish the '92-'93 season 12-11, and made the first of 13 playoff appearances so far under Brown. His 17th season began Tuesday, and now, he finds himself with 265 career wins at Madras, just one game behind Blincoe's mark.
Asked this week about it, Brown, 56, said he "doesn't sweat" the milestone that he could reach as early as Friday, when the Buffs face Redmond in their first of two Madras Invitational games. It's difficult to reconcile his stance today with the younger Brown, who wanted to win at any and all costs.
"I remember practices where guys were almost fighting, because we were so competitive," said TJ Foltz, who played for Brown on the 1995 and 1996 teams. "That was just the mentality that he had (and) we had."
Foltz, who coached the Madras JV boys for seven seasons, and currently serves as the freshman girls coach, is one of several Madras players Brown considers among his proudest coaching achievements.
Foltz's freshman season was Brown's first as a coach. Foltz was kicked out of numerous practices as a freshman for messing around. After a while, Brown had seen enough, and told him he was done on the team. Foltz subsequently dropped out of school, putting his future in limbo.
The two reconnected the following year, however, when Foltz, feeling like he was missing basketball and friends, returned to Madras as a sophomore. After having what Brown called some "difficult conversations," Foltz came to the realization that, "I need basketball more than basketball needs me."
"I still mention that to this day," Foltz said. "Having that said at that point in time was life changing. He didn't have to say that, he didn't have to do the things he did, but he did to see me through.
"I really think he saved my life. If I would've not come back to school, who knows if I'd even be alive today?"
Brown helped Foltz get caught up in the classroom, making it possible for him to get back on the court. As a junior, he joined a trio of Jake Suppah, Philip Miller and Jeremy Jacks to take third place at the 3A state tournament in 1995. The placement was Brown's highest to that point, and it was a sign of even better years to come.
For better or worse, his intensity remained. The Buffs were raking in wins, but with them came Brown screaming into the faces of his players, riding officials, and sometimes even kicking objects in frustration.
"Those early years, I was a jerk; I was demanding," Brown said. "It was black or white — there was no grey. On the other hand, everybody knew where I stood, but damn, could I have been a little more humane about it? Could I have been a little more giving?"
Yet, a mutual respect and admiration existed between him and his players. In being tough and fostering competition, he wanted to impart lessons onto his players. Particularly for Foltz and several others who got through high school in large part thanks to basketball, Brown felt like he had accomplished something far greater than any finish at state.
The lessons weren't just for players, either. Brown certainly learned a few over the years.
The Buffs' 1997 team, led by first-team, all-state players Scott Riddle and Brian Miller, soared to the 3A state championship game, ultimately losing to Sutherlin 49-42. The team had a similar ceiling the following season. During the fall football season, however, Miller discovered he had an issue with his heart.
At first, Miller was permitted only to play a few spot minutes at a time. Even when Miller felt good enough to stay in, Brown was cautious in taking him out.
"His life was more important than winning any game," Brown said. "I think that was about the time the tide really turned with me."
By season's end, Miller was at full strength, helping Madras gut out a fifth-place finish at state thanks to a 73-70 overtime win over Gold Beach on the last Saturday of the season. He was also named to the all-tournament first team for the second consecutive year.
Plenty of memorable seasons followed, too many to name, Brown said. Dominique Easterling and future MLB star Jacoby Ellsbury came through the program in the early 2000s, and in the 2006-2007 seasons, the Madras community got its first look at "three-diculous" — teams full of quick, athletic guards that penetrated the basket and bombed deep shots at extraordinary rates.
Brown and his family — wife Amy, and sons, Nick and Ethan — moved out of Madras in 2008 so Brown could become athletic director at Cascade, and later, Stayton. Although the family hadn't put much thought into coming back to Central Oregon, Nick, while attending Gonzaga University, expressed a desire to become a basketball coach and teacher in Madras.
Evan Brown returned to Madras in 2014 to become athletic director, and after graduating in 2015, Nick followed in his father's coaching footsteps. He now coaches the Madras freshman boys team, in addition to being an assistant on the varsity staff.
"I think he definitely had a huge influence on that decision," Nick Brown said. "I saw it at an early age going to his practices, just how much his players admired him. It's something I wanted to shoot for."
No longer, Brown said, is Madras a win-loss based program. Last season, his first year coaching Madras in nearly a decade, the Buffs' 10-12 record was only Brown's second losing season in 16 go-arounds. Of course, that doesn't mean the Buffs still have high expectations. But as Brown has eased up over time, he's realized winning comes secondary to developing young men.
"To this day, I tell guys, 'There are some things in life that are more important than basketball; not very many, but there are some," Brown laughed.
It won't be long before Blincoe's enduring record becomes Brown's. Thirty-three years of coaching between two people is rarified air for most programs. Brown hasn't thought far enough ahead to consider when he might step away from coaching. When he does, however, the Madras record books will look quite different.
"I don't think there's anybody more deserving than him," Foltz said. "I look forward to him winning a lot more games. It's going to take a long time for somebody to break that record."