With high schools and prep sports shut down, Cocke County boys basketball coach Ray Evans took the time to reflect and spend time with his family. He’d planned to coach for one more season, with son Bereket (12) still a year away from high school and younger brother Christian (10) to follow, but the COVID-19 lockdown sped up those plans.

Thursday, Evans stepped down as head boys basketball coach at CCHS after 17 total seasons in command of the program.

“I always said when my two sons got to the age that they were going to play in high school that I was just going to sit back and watch and enjoy them,” Evans said. “I’m one year away from that. I figured now was as good a time as any. Especially with these two months being off, I’ve got to spend a lot of time with them. I want to be around them more. I want to watch my children play for the next few years and just relax.”

Evans will remain a physical education teacher at Cocke County High School.

For Athletic Director A.C. Willis, not seeing Evans prowling the bench in charge of the Fighting Cocks will be especially strange. A 1994 Cocke County graduate himself, Evans was the coach when he was in school.

“Coach Evans has been here for over 20 years and been a head coach for a long time,” Willis said. “We’ve appreciated his consistency and having some stability to the program. There’s been a lot of success along the way. I know the kids have been very appreciative of everything Coach Evans has done for them. …He has a large coaching tree and his influence in Cocke County is long ranging.”

Evans admits that if the school, practices and sports hadn’t been shut down, he might have made a different choice.

“It’s been tough not to get to see the players or spend time with them,” Evans said. “I couldn’t tell them goodbye. Maybe if I’d been around them, I could have decided to stay that extra year. I can’t say for sure. The Good Lord’s decision was to be out of school for a while and spend time with the family and it made my decision easier. I’m at peace with it. I’ll still be around and I’ll do whatever I can to help the transition go smoothly.”

The Fighting Cocks have battled through some challenging seasons over the last few years, but hoisted a District 2-AAA trophy in the 2016-17 season. Under Evans, CCHS has cut down the nets twice with title runs. In spite of that success, it’s the competition that Evans will miss most.

“I’ve always been a competitor,” Evans said. “That’s the fun part of it. Even today, if I’m doing something with my kids, I’m not going to let them win. You don’t teach them anything by letting them win. I enjoy teaching the game. Going back to fundamentals. I’ve lost interest in the coaching part.”

Willis now must replace his longtime coach in an era of safety conscious social distancing. It will make a difficult job even tougher. Luckily, as an administrator, he’s already had some experience with the new norm in the process of adding teachers.

“It was different (the hiring process),” Willis said. “It was awkward and it’s kind of difficult to get a feel for a person in a situation like that. We’re definitely going to rely on references and phone calls with former players, coaches and former principals. It will definitely be a challenge. I’m sure there’ll be a lot of zoom interviews, phone interviews and correspondence over email. I think we can safely plan and social distance in the schools and have some high quality interviews.”

That new coach will have some big shoes to fill.

“Cocke County has been around for 100 years and they’ve got two championships and both of them have been while I was there,” Evans said. “It’s been a good little stint. I wish there could have been more, but we got what we could.”