Neal out as Lady Devils hoops coach after one season

EHS head girls’ basketball coach Steven Neal has been let go after one season at the helm. Neal guided the Lady Devils to a 7-18 record during the 2022-23 season. (HERALD FILE PHOTO/Don Cogger)

Interviews for EHS head football coach on Friday

When next year’s seniors take the court for the Evanston High School girls’ basketball team, it will be with their fourth head coach in as many seasons, as Steven Neal — who guided the Lady Devils to a 7-18 record in 2022-23 — has been let go after one year at the helm.

“We felt like we needed to go a different direction with the program,” said Bubba O’Neill, Director of Activities for Uinta County School District #1. “It was a difficult decision — I don’t believe our coach didn’t work hard. I believe he worked hard, and he loves the game of basketball. We just needed to go a different direction in that program, and we’re going to get the right person in that position eventually, and our girls will benefit.”

Neal took over the girls’ program last May from previous head coach Stormy Dolezal, after three seasons as head coach of the Red Devils’ freshman team. The Lady Devils just missed qualifying for the 4A State Tournament last month, losing to Kelly Walsh in overtime in the 4A West Regionals.

“I wish the girls in the program all the best, I love them dearly,” Neal said, in a statement to the Herald. “They are strong, wonderful people, who are powerful beyond measure. Their integrity and grit have left me in awe, time and again. This circumstance is beyond our control, but these girls are a family; they’ll lean in to each other to overcome this, and any other adversity.”

The position of head girls basketball coach has proven to be a difficult one to fill since the departure of longtime head coach Jeremy Fessler following the end of the 2020-21 season. Though the position has only been listed for a short time, O’Neill said he’s encouraged by the interest he’s received.

“We’ve had some in-district people express some interest, and we have a good bite from someone out of district, a really good possibility,” O’Neill said. “On paper at least — obviously, I don’t know the person personally. But on paper, it looks like a great possibility.”

Time is a factor, however, as O’Neill would like players to have as much time as possible for offseason workouts with their new coach.

“We’re going to give it a week or two — we need to get moving on it, because it’s hot and heavy in Utah, in terms of basketball,” O’Neill explained. “AAU is up and running, and we want to be able to get our kids in a position to where they can get into open gyms and offseason workouts. We need to move as quickly as we possibly can, but we also want to be careful, and make sure we get the right person for the job. We don’t need to have this turnover again next year.”

One open position that’s on the cusp of being filled is that of head football coach at EHS. After a lengthy search, interviews of the final candidates are scheduled for Friday, with a new coach projected to be announced by the end of the day.

“We should have a football coach by the end of the day on Friday, more than likely,” O’Neill said, “unless some strange circumstances occur. It’s time. We wanted to leave it open a little longer this time, give us the best opportunity to get some coaches to apply. That did not work. We had a few applicants, but we didn’t have the number of applicants that we wanted. But we have some that we’re interviewing that we believe can do the job very well.”

O’Neill said the list of candidates has been narrowed to five, a mix of local and out-of-district coaches.

“We have five people that are going to interview for the position, some out of district, and some in district,” O’Neill said. “We have a large interview committee, and hopefully, they’ll come out of that interview session with a consensus on who we’d like to be our next head football coach.”