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Why Jack Murphy chose to join Sean Miller at Arizona

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  • Why Jack Murphy chose to join Sean Miller at Arizona

    Why Jack Murphy chose to leave NAU and join Sean Miller at Arizona


    By Doug Haller Jun 10, 2019

    When the call came, Jack Murphy was on a field trip with one of his twin daughters, setting up a tent in the Superstition Mountains. The Northern Arizona University basketball coach looked at his cellphone and was surprised. It was Sean Miller.

    Murphy knew Miller. A University of Arizona alum and a long-time staffer under former coach Lute Olson, he had attended Miller’s introductory news conference in 2009. The two had been friendly since, although Murphy couldn’t recall communicating much with Miller over the last year. Murphy knew Miller had an opening on his staff, so his first thought was that the Arizona coach wanted to get Murphy’s opinion on candidates.

    Instead, Miller wanted Murphy.

    “It was certainly out of left field,” Murphy said. “Not something I was expecting.”

    Murphy, 40 next month, had just finished his seventh season at NAU. It had not gone well. Since finishing 23-15 his third year, setting a school record for wins, the Lumberjacks had struggled, posting 5, 9, 5 and 10 wins over the next four seasons, putting Murphy on shaky ground. He was working for a new athletic director, down to the final year of his contract, something he wanted to reverse, something he thought he could reverse.

    Then this.

    Murphy and Miller talked for 20 minutes. Before heading out for a hike with students, Murphy quickly called his wife, Michelle, and told her about Miller’s call. There was much to consider.

    “Obviously, the draw of Arizona — right away you’re excited about the possibilities,” Murphy said.

    But at the same time, a head coach has responsibilities. At NAU, Murphy had a staff and players to think about. Plus, he felt the Lumberjacks were close to turning the corner. In addition to his wife, Murphy talked with his father-in-law — former Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood — as well as Al La Rocque his former high school coach, which was fitting.

    In some ways, La Rocque has been a part of nearly every major basketball development of Murphy’s life. At Durango High in Nevada, Murphy was a student manager for La Rocque. Not much later, La Rocque — who had played for Olson’s first team at Long Beach City College — helped Murphy get on as an Arizona student manager, the start of an eight-year educational experience in Tucson. Once Murphy got the NAU job in 2012, making him one of the country’s younger head coaches, he hired La Rocque to give his staff experience, or as La Rocque put it, some gray hair.

    Murphy and La Rocque talked for about an hour. From the start, the old coach could tell that the young coach was conflicted. Like father and son, they detailed the pros and cons. An obvious pro: The family atmosphere in Tucson. La Rocque didn’t even attend the university, but through Olson, he felt part of it. Both his daughters had grown up Arizona fans. Plus, he knew how much the Tucson community respected Murphy.

    A concern: The uncertainty surrounding Arizona in regard to the recent FBI investigation. Former Miller assistant Emanuel “Book” Richardson soon would be sentenced to three months in prison and two years probation after pleading guilty to one count of federal funds bribery, a stain that could lead to NCAA action.

    “We have great fondness for Arizona,” La Rocque said. “I know Sean Miller a little, but not real well. I hope the best for him, obviously, but Jack and his well being and his family was really my main concern.”

    But as the conversation unfolded, La Rocque kept coming to the same place: Joining Miller seemed like a no-brainer.

    “I just didn’t see any downside to it, and that’s not a knock on Flagstaff,” La Rocque said. “I was only there for a year but I had a wonderful time. It’s a special place to live and a great little community, but basketball-wise, unless you just crawled out from a rock, there’s a difference between NAU and U of A.”

    On June 2, Arizona and NAU made it official, announcing Murphy had resigned in Flagstaff to join Miller’s staff as associate head coach in Tucson. NAU named Shane Burcar the interim head coach as it begins a national search.

    In Murphy’s position at Arizona, he likely will make more than the $184,500 base salary he had at NAU.

    Longtime Tucson columnist Greg Hansen tweeted that on a scale of 1 to 10, Murphy’s hiring “comes in somewhere near 22.”

    “At the end of the day, it was just too good an opportunity to pass up,” Murphy said.

    He’s not alone. Despite the program’s uncertainty, Miller has continued to recruit at a high level. His 2019 class – headlined by elite prospects Nico Mannion and Josh Green — ranks among the nation’s best. In addition, Miller recently added high-profile transfers Jemarl Baker (Kentucky) and Jordan Brown (Nevada.) After struggling last season — failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012 — the Wildcats seem poised to surge.

    “As someone who’s invested in the program, I followed the whole (FBI) situation myself from the outside,” Murphy said. “If you do that, if you look at it with an unbiased lens and really decipher what’s going on, you knew that a lot of this stuff was outside of Sean’s control or outside the program’s control. I already felt like everything at the end of the day was going to go well for Arizona, (but) Sean did address it. He obviously has been through a lot these last two years personally. I think the program’s been through a lot. But I also believe that the light is at the end of the tunnel.”

    During Murphy’s time under Olson, Arizona won three Pac-10 titles and reached the 2001 Final Four. In addition to team manager, he held roles of recruiting coordinator, administrative assistant, video coordinator and director of operations.

    “I’m very fortunate, because at this point I’ve done every job there is to do in college basketball,” said Murphy, who also worked as an assistant coach under Josh Pastner at Memphis. “It gives me great perspective. You value everyone in the program. Everyone is important. I think back to our great Arizona teams — everyone was involved. Everyone was rowing in the same direction and on the same page. I just think that’s so important that I got experience in those positions, but it’s also something I have an appreciation for after being a head coach.”

    The only thing he’s not looking forward to: Nov. 6, Arizona’s season opener against NAU.

    “No, I’m not,” Murphy said. “I gave seven years of my life to NAU. I love the guys there. They’re great young men. They’re talented. They’re going to have a great year. I’m not looking forward to that game at all. But I am looking forward to being back on the bench at McKale on the good side — the home side.”

    Source: https://theathletic.com/1019439/2019...er-at-arizona/

  • #2
    great read , Ryno. Thanks for postting

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    • #3
      Thanks for posting this!! Nice to have you back Jack

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