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Rob Murphy, Eastern Michigan mutually part ways after 10 seasons

The move ends a ten-year run for Murphy in Ypsilanti.

Kenneth Bailey

UPDATED at 5:04 p.m. to correct Rob Murphy’s job title with the Detroit Pistons. He will be in a non-coaching role as president and general manager of the Motor City Drive. We apologize for the previous error.

Eastern Michigan announced the mutual parting of ways with head coach Rob Murphy, ending a ten year run in Ypsilanti, with Murphy taking on a job with the Detroit Pistons as their G-League affiliate’s president and general manager.

Murphy, who is highly respected by his basketball peers, maintains a strong friendship with Detroit Pistons GM Troy Weaver, who hired EMU staffer Britta Brown to the Pistons. Murphy also counts Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo and Fab Five great Jalen Rose among his friends throughout the profession, connections which surely aided him in becoming a part of the Motor City Cruise organization.

“It is with great respect and appreciation for the process that Coach Rob Murphy and I are releasing this joint statement to announce that Coach Murphy will be moving on from Eastern Michigan University to embrace a new opportunity with the NBA’s Detroit Pistons,” Eastern Michigan athletic director Scott Wetherbee said via press release on Wednesday morning. “We have been honored to have Coach Murphy be a part of our EMU family. The work, dedication and growth of the men’s basketball program will be passed onto his successor with his support.”

A nationwide search for his replacement will begin effective immediately.

Murphy finishes his overall tenure at EMU with a 164-153 record, ranking second all-time in program wins to Ben Braun (185 victories.) This past season, Murphy led the Eagles to a 6-12 (3-11 MAC) record in 2020, but three of those wins came against non-division one opponents. Under Murphy, EMU topped 20 wins three times with the last time being the 2017-18 season. The Eagles also qualified for the postseason three times under Murphy but never the NCAA tournament or the NIT. The Eagles reached the CIT second round in 2013-14 and 2017-18. They lost in the CBI first round following the 2014-15 season.

“I wholeheartedly admire the open-mindedness and approach that EMU and specifically, Scott Wetherbee, have taken during this process,” Murphy said via press release. “Collectively, we agree that the program has made great strides under the leadership of myself and our staff, and now, while it is time for me to take my next step, it is also time for the program to grow under Scott’s continued leadership and a new head coach.”

The writing had been on the wall for some time after athletic director Scott Wetherbee told The Detroit News last spring that “Murphy knows where he is at” entering the final year of his contract.

Murphy was hired by Eastern Michigan to replace Charles Ramsey following the 2011 season after successful stints as an assistant at Kent State and Syracuse. At Syracuse, Murphy released a couple of popular rap hits to pump up fans and players of the Orange.

Murphy’s first squad in Ypsilanti won the MAC West Division title, the school’s first. Following the season, Murphy (who was named MAC coach of the year) had discussions mid-summer about joining the Orlando Magic staff before being coaxed to return by then athletic director Derrick Gragg and school president, Susan Martin. It wouldn’t be the only time Murphy would flirt with the NBA during his time in Ypsilanti, later interviewing with the Houston Rockets.

In 2014, the Eagles knocked off cross-county rival, the Michigan Wolverines at the Crisler Center after which the Wolverines refused to schedule Eastern, leading Murphy to believe that the Eagles were “banned from Crisler.”

Eastern also beat Purdue of the Big Ten in 2012 at the Convocation Center under Murphy.

The 2017-18 version of the Eagles won seven straight games to qualify for the MAC tournament in Cleveland before losing by one to Toledo in the MAC semifinal.

The Eagles looked to be among the top teams in the MAC entering the 2018-19 season with a talented squad featuring NBA prospects in James Thompson IV, Elijah Minnie and Paul Jackson. However, the Eagles went 15-17 and lost a home game in the first round of the MAC tournament to Ball State.

It was a season which Murphy bemoaned selfish play in his book entitled, DEEP.

The 2019-20 Eagles won the Jersey Mikes Classic in Jamaica.

Murphy’s tenure saw James Thompson IV become the Eagles all-time leading rebounder, surpassing Kenny McIntosh. He also won the MAC’s 2015-16 freshman of the year honors. Tim Bond, now of the G-League, was the MAC’s 2017-18 defensive player of the year. Bond left as Eastern’s all-time steals leader. In 2013-14, DaShonte Riley won the MAC’s defensive play of the year award. Ray Lee set the program single game record by dropping 50 on the Chippewas of Central Michigan.

Ten years is a long time for any college basketball coach to survive in once place without winning a league title or qualifying for The Big Dance. However, Murphy finishes his Eastern Michigan career second all-time to the legendary Ben Braun in career wins during EMU’s division one era.

If Murphy ever had a chance to save his job this winter, COVID ended that. The Eagles dealt with numerous cancellations, playing just 18 games. When Eastern seemed to put COVID behind them, they won two of their final games including beating rival Western Michigan in the season finale.

The move marks the first major coaching change for Wetherbee and the hiring cycle presents him with the defining moment of his tenure, a tenure which has been largely defined by the 2018 sports cuts at EMU.

Looking at previous hires within the athletic department, Wetherbee promoted from within when tasked with finding new head coaches for both the baseball and volleyball programs.

One must wonder what Eastern Michigan’s budget will be for a new basketball coach following a season without fans. Murphy made $350,000 a season before the pandemic. Rival Western Michigan had a similar hiring cycle last year, moving on from longtime coach Steve Hawkins ($350,000) to longtime assistant Clayton Bates at $200,000 a year.

Expect Eastern to look at returning to the recruiting scene in the metro-Detroit area, something which should be expected from the closest MAC school to Detroit. However, if EMU couldn’t break through in Detroit recruiting with a Detroit native and a former successful Detroit high school coach in Murphy, it’s hard to see how that will change.

Expect Eastern legend Earl Boykins to be mentioned as a candidate as he currently serves as a player development coach for the Arkansas Razorbacks. Eastern alums Charles and Carl Thomas are successful assistants for former Eastern assistant Keith Dambrot at Duquesne.

The aforementioned Steve Hawkins worked closely with the EMU media relations staff this winter in his role as a broadcaster following his firing from WMU, and could be a candidate, although he may have to take less than his salary with the Broncos.