By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico
Andrew Helton has been named the 11th coach in the history of men’s basketball at Eastern New Mexico University.
Currently an assistant at Division-I South Alabama, Helton will be introduced in a 9 a.m. Tuesday press conference at Greyhound Arena. The Division-II school, a member of the Lone Star Conference, will be his first head coaching job.
“Eastern is fortunate to employ a coach the caliber of Andrew Helton,” said university president Steven Gamble, who announced the hiring Monday morning. “In addition to a very strong basketball background, he had enthusiastic references. He emerged as our top choice from a strong pool of candidates, and I am certain he will be successful.”
Consider Ron Arrow one of those references. Helton worked under Arrow for six years at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and two more at South Alabama.
“You’re getting probably the most thorough basketball coach, hardest worker that you all could have possibly gotten. In my opinion, you couldn’t have gotten a better coach and you couldn’t have gotten a better person.
“He’ll represent your university, your community in the best way possible. As far as basketball, he’s one of the best X’s and O’s guy.”
Helton declined interview requests prior to the press conference.
In Helton’s first season as an assistant with the Jaguars, the team posted a school-record 26 wins, won the Sun Belt Conference Eastern Division title and earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Helton and Arrow also won the Southland Conference title with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Arrow said Helton was vital in the team’s 107-64 record over six seasons because he was always on top of things.
“Whenver we went over other team’s stuff, he had the practice team ready to exemplify the stuff they were going to do.”
Helton replaces Shawn Scanlan, who was let go after compiling a 102-143 record in nine season. Helton was chosen over Richard Davis, head coach at Division II St. Joseph’s in Indiana, and Jacksonville College coach and former ENMU assistant Greg Young.
“It’s not that the other candidates did anything to lose,” said Don Elder, an ENMU history professor who chaired the search committee. “It’s just that Helton was so good, it won him the job.”
Unlike Young or Davis, Helton did not have “head coach” on his resume. But Elder said his organization and how he planned for basketball, academics and community involvement outweighed any stigma of inexperience.
“You never know how good a person is going to be until they get their first job,” Elder said. “But it’s self-defeating if you never give a person that first chance.”
Replacing Helton won’t come easy for the Jaguars, but Arrow knew Helton was ready to run his own program and it was just a matter of what job he’d take.
“It’s like losing a part of your family,” Arrow said. “You hate to see them go, but you know it’s best for them.”