It’s the ‘Pat Murphy thing’ again… and ASU is bobbling the ball

Lisa Love’s stock just took a hit.  And along with it, the credibility of ASU’s sports programs.

An article appeared on the front page of this morning’s Arizona Republic bringing out new information from just-released documents that detail some of the inner strife that took place when baseball coach Pat Murphy was fired last fall.

It wasn’t on the front page of the sports section.  It was on THE front page, which means the editors felt it warranted that kind of attention.

Love, Arizona State’s Vice President for University Athletics, was quoted in a number of places in the article, which explained how the university blamed Murphy for failing to comply with NCAA guidelines in monitoring his program.  The ASU baseball program is under investigation by the NCAA, based on alleged violations during Murphy’s tenure.

ASU announced Murphy’s sudden and unexpected  ‘resignation’ on Nov. 20 of last year.  The ‘resignation’ came a day after the NCAA informed ASU that it was being investigated for “lack of institutional control” of the baseball program.  The timing appeared more than coincidental and started the rumor mills whirring.

But here’s the problem this latest revelation brings to ASU Athletics. It paints a picture of chaos within the department, and deceit in dealing with the ASU faithful – not to mention the public in general.

According to the latest documents that The Republic acquired under the state’s public-records law, it was apparent that ASU officials blamed Murphy for the potential violations that were uncovered by the school and told him he and his staff had to make changes.  But on the other hand, Murphy’s performance evaluations made no mention of the issue and, in fact, praised him for his work and his accomplishments.

And there were plenty of those.  Murphy, who was only the third head coach in the history of the baseball program, had an illustrious 15-year career at ASU during which he compiled a 629-284-1 record, went to four College World Series, and won four Pac-10 titles.  He was the three-time reigning Pac-10 Coach of the Year.

But on Nov. 20 he received a hand-delivered letter telling him he had been terminated without cause.

HOWEVER, Love at the time had said that Murphy resigned on his own initiative and that it was unrelated to the NCAA investigation.  That investigation focused on 10 different rules violations that included alleged benefits to players, work being done by team managers that should be assigned to the coaching staff, and recruiting methods  not allowed under NCAA guidelines.  That case is expected to come up for a hearing before the governing body in late summer.

To make matters worse, should this go really bad for ASU, it would be a second major NCAA violation in five years.  On a worse-case scenario, it could lead to severe sanctions that could spread to athletic programs across the board.

Love came to ASU from USC as the summer of 2005 began, becoming one of only six women who were directing Division I programs that include football.  The first NCAA fiasco was before her time, but she was well aware of the tight ship that needed to be maintained going forward.

Since she’s been at the helm of ASU Athletics, she’s taken some unpopular stands.  She fired a head basketball coach that was a popular and well-liked figure, Rob Evans.  And she jettisoned football coach, Dirk Koetter, who many of the fans wanted to keep.  Then she made a controversial hire in bringing in Dennis Erickson to take over the football program.  Although he won a couple of national titles at Miami, he was a vagabond who left the University of Idaho after just one year to come to Tempe.  No one expected him to stay long.

But, all in all, she has received high marks for the work she has done in guiding the Sun Devil programs; many other sports are flourishing.  At the end of last year, she got a four-year extension on her contract.  The year before, ASU finished a school-best fourth place in Director’s Cup standings, which are a measure of overall success in an athletic department.

She is obviously not afraid to make the tough calls.  She’s done it more than once since arriving in Tempe.

But this Pat Murphy thing is a slippery slope.  The school will not only have to deal with the NCAA, but also try to protect its image in the process.

Right now, it’s not off to a particularly good start.

(Photo credit: ASU Athletics)