After a decade-long hiatus from SIUE while coaching at other schools, former Cougars track athlete Marcus Evans will now return to campus as the new Track and Field and Cross Country head coach.
Evans ran for the Cougars from 2007 to 2010, competing as a sprinter, hurdler and relay team member. He said he has a lot of good memories looking back at his time at SIUE, even meeting his now-wife — who also competed on the Track and Field team — there. Evans also said he is looking forward to coming back as a coach and supporting the current student-athletes.
“I just have really fond experiences of SIUE. It’s such a different school in terms of just such a family atmosphere,” Evans said. “Everybody’s there for the student-athletes’ benefit, for the students’ benefit, and that was something that was really important to me coming back knowing that our student-athletes are going to have that support on all levels.”
Evans said there are a number of highlights from his time competing at SIUE, including watching the women’s team place fourth at the 2008 NCAA Division II Indoor Championships and having a top-5 time in the 400-meter hurdles for SIUE Men’s Track and Field.
While Evans was competing on the Track and Field team, SIUE Athletics made the transition from Division II to Division I, which Evans said allowed him to witness the team’s success at the D-2 level.
“I started as a walk-on on the D-2 team, and [there were] lots of really good runners, sprinters, hurdlers and throwers on those teams,” Evans said. “Almost the whole roster was really successful athletes. We rode that storm and got to compete with those teams, and I got a chance to go to the national championships as an alternate for the 4x400 relay that year [in 2007].
Evans said following the transition, the team faced tougher competition, which led some to leave the program and compete elsewhere.
“Then we made the transition to Division I, which meant we couldn’t go to any championships, but it was really important to the student-athletes that were still on campus that we kind of continue that success and try to drive forward. We had some people leave and go do some other options because they would be able to run at championships … but I felt like SIUE had given me so much, so I wanted to finish my career there.”
Despite the high level of competition, Evans still found success at the Division I level as a two-time NCAA Division I Regional Qualifier.
Evans said he hopes to use his experiences as a student-athlete to support his teams both in the sport and in their lives away from the game.
“Having been on both sides of grades, achieving highly at grades but also not doing so well my freshman and sophomore years, I think I can kind of relate with students and make sure they know like, ‘Hey, you do have enough time to do this stuff? Here’s what we need to focus on. Do we need to take time away from practice for a couple weeks so you can study more and focus more on those types of things?’” Evans said.
In addition to his experience as an athlete, Evans has also been coaching at the Division I level for the past nine years at Lipscomb University in Nashville. Before Lipscomb, Evans coached for a year at Adrian College in Adrian, Michigan, which is a Division III school. Evans said his time at both institutions allowed him to grow as a coach.
“I think a lot of people get into coaching and think it’s just the x’s and o’s, and ‘Hey, go do this workout,’” Evans said. “For us track and field coaches, it seems pretty simple, but there’s a lot of administrative work you have to do, there’s a lot of rules you have to follow … All those things with the experience I’ve had helped me to be a better coach, and also being able to have a little bit of success having student-athletes go to prelims, having student-athletes qualify for nationals, has shown me that it can be done at a small school.”
Senior distance runner Liam O’Connell, who competes on both the Track and Field and Cross Country teams, said Evans has been meeting with the athletes over Zoom. O’Connell also said he thinks Evans’ past experience as an SIUE athlete will be an advantage for the team.
“I’m really excited to have him coming. We did a Zoom interview with him, and he seems like he really wants to connect with all the athletes,” O’Connell said. “Plus, as an SIUE Track [alumnus], he’s familiar with the facilities and the system.”
Emily Ellis, a junior distance runner who also competes for both the Track and Field and Cross Country teams, agreed with O’Connell, saying she thinks Evans will bring a lot of experience with him. She said this is important now more than ever with the uncertainty about the upcoming seasons due to COVID-19.
“I think amidst all the things going on he has been a blessing and something to look forward to for the growth of the Track and Cross Country teams,” Ellis said. “He is experienced, motivated and has sturdy plans to get our teams where they should and need to be to be successful.”
Part of these plans is to continue developing the current talent to work toward better individual and team performances in the Ohio Valley Conference and at the nationals level, according to Evans.
“I think we are very talented, and I would like to see that talent work to our favor in getting better and better in the OVC,” Evans said. “I know it’s not going to be an overnight thing to win an OVC title, but that’s what we’re working towards — to win OVC titles, to get as many student-athletes to the prelims and then the NCAA finals as we can — and I think we have a lot of student-athletes on campus that can step into those roles.”
Evans said his more immediate goal is to build relationships with the athletes and provide them with as much support as possible.
“That was one of the most important things on the list, is getting to know them and letting them know that I’m here for them — they can call me, they can text me, they can email me — so we can start these relationships off right,” Evans said. “That’s part of my coaching philosophy, to get to know the individual before I get to know the individual athlete.”
Evans’ return to SIUE comes following the resignation of former head coach Scott Block, who also competed as a student-athlete at SIUE.
To learn more about Evans and his return to SIUE, watch him on the June 16 episode of Isolation Conversation with Joe Pott. The most updated information about the upcoming Cross Country and Track and Field seasons can be found on the Cougars Athletics website.