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|Memorial service for Olympic medalist and legendary coach Tommy Evans set for Tuesday, March 25 in Oklahoma City|
By National Wrestling Hall of Fame
In Memory - Distinguished Member Jay Thomas "Tommy" Evans
STILLWATER, OK -- Memorial services for Jay Thomas (Tommy) Evans of Norman will be held Tuesday, March 25, at 2 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. Evans died Tuesday, March 18, after a lengthy illness. Havenbrook Funeral Home of Norman is handling the services. Messages of condolence may be posted at Havenbrook's web site, www.havenbrookfuneralhome.com.
Evans, born Jan. 21, 1931, in Tulsa, had a legendary career with the University of Oklahoma wrestling program. A two-time Oklahoma state high school champion at Tulsa Rogers, Evans joined the Sooner program prior to the 1949-50 school year during the career of another Oklahoma wrestling legend, Port Robertson. As a sophomore in 1951, Evans was the NCAA runner-up at 137 pounds. In 1952 and 1954, Evans won national titles at 147 pounds and was voted the outstanding wrestler of the meet in those two national title years.
His loss in the final at the 1951 NCAA meet as a sophomore was the only loss of his collegiate career. He finished with a 42-1 record over three years (he didn't wrestle in 1953 because of a season-ending knee injury that required surgery) and finished with 20 falls. He also won three Big Seven titles, the first at 137 as a sophomore, the second two at 147 as a junior and senior.
He qualified for the U.S. Olympic team twice, winning the silver medal in 1952 at 147 pounds, then finished fifth in 1956. He won the National AAU title in 1954, 1955 and 1957 and was the Pan American champion in 1955.
Following his graduation from OU, Evans served three years in the U.S. Air Force as a first lieutenant, stationed at Harlingen, Texas. He then joined Robertson's coaching staff as an assistant coach, serving in that capacity two seasons until Robertson stepped down from coaching and Evans was promoted to the top spot as Robertson's hand-picked successor in 1959.
Evans coached the Sooners to an NCAA national championship in his first season in 1960. At the time, he was the first person in NCAA history to lead a team to the national title in the first season as head coach. After two years as the head coach, Evans was recalled to active duty in fall of 1961 and served 10 months as a captain in the Air Force.
He returned to the Sooner coaching staff in the fall of 1962 and won another national title later that season. In his 12-year OU career, his Sooners finished in the top three seven times and his teams never finished lower than sixth at the NCAA Championships. OU won two Big Eight titles (in 1960 and 1967) and tied for a third title in 1968. He coached 30 individual conference champions and 16 individual national champions, a record for Sooner wrestling coaches. He produced 56 NCAA All-Americans in his 12-year career, including seven three-time honorees and 10 two-time All-Americans.
His 140 career victories rank as the third most in school history and he is the all-time career winning percentage leader with a .775 mark.
In 1968, he served as head coach of the U.S. Olympic freestyle team that finished fourth in Mexico City.
He was named College Wrestling Coach of the Year in 1963, was inducted into the Helms Foundation Hall of Fame in 1965 and was named Amateur Wrestling's Man of the Year in 1968. He was later inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame as a member of the charter class of inductees in 1976, earning the honor as a wrestler and as a coach.
He resigned as OU's wrestling coach in April of 1972, in part because of his disillusionment with the demands of recruiting. Evans, who understood the value of a scholarship at OU, told reporters at the time of his resignation that he missed the days when athletes had to sell themselves to the school, instead of the school selling itself to the athlete.
"These days, you have to recruit the wrestler, his mom and his dad," Evans explained. "When I came to OU as a wrestler, I went to the coach and convinced him I belonged here. When I became the head coach, I realized that I had to go out and talk to the athletes. Now, it's almost as if I have to beg the athlete to come to OU, to offer him something that no one else does. You have to be a big talker with a big line and that's not the way I am.
"I've lost a lot of my enthusiasm and you have to be enthusiastic to succeed in coaching. I didn't lose my enthusiasm because of the wrestling. I think I lost it because of recruiting. I wanted athletes to come wrestle at OU because this was OU and it was a special place to be."
Following his resignation from OU, Evans transferred from the U.S. Air Force to the U.S. Army and took a job as a pilot and instructor with the Oklahoma National Guard. He remained active with wrestling as a coach for several pee wee wrestling programs in the state of Oklahoma.
If wrestling was in his blood, it was his love for flying that helped him make the transition away from his Sooner job. Jobs as a pilot had always been appealing to Evans and he turned down several, including one with American Airlines and an earlier opportunity with the National Guard, to continue as the Sooners' wrestling coach. When the Guard came calling again with a job offer, Evans took it because "I was afraid they wouldn't offer it again if I said no. It was my love of flying that made leaving coaching an easier decision. I've been lucky - I've always had a job that I enjoyed. I have always loved going to work - even when I was a coach. I have never regretted that. I've been lucky - going through life and not regretting going to work. Not many people can say that."
Evans' skill as a wrestler and as a coach was not as much about talent as it was dedication, a will to win and mental toughness. He had a sign posted in the wresting room that said "Each man has two ends: the sitting end and the thinking end. Success depends on which end is used harder. (Heads we win, tails we lose)." This sign was just one of several throughout the room that encouraged Sooner wrestlers to accept the challenge of being on Evans' team - dedication to the team, superior conditioning, a burning desire to win and a relentless attack.
After his resignation, one reporter said "Evans could have kept the job, even if he only recruited half heartedly but that wasn't the way Evans was. It simply isn't in his nature to compete half-heartedly. His personal discipline, dedication and knowledge won him achievements that most men dream of. He and his team won many more than their share of matches and championships. They had many more happy times than sad times. They gave OU fans more than their fair share of thrills, skilled and enthusiastic performances and pride. And that's what is all should be about."