Jack Murphy will try to clean up the NAU basketball mess

The ink on Lisa Campos‘ contract has hardly had time to dry and she’s made one of the biggest decisions an athletic director faces.

Campos, who was hired away from UTEP just two weeks ago to replace Jim Fallis as the new AD (VP of Intercollegiate Athletics is the new title) at Northern Arizona University, announced the selection of Jack Murphy to be the school’s new men’s basketball coach.

It’s hard to tell how much input she had in the final selection, since the hiring search has been going on for some time.  The former head coach, Mike Adras, resigned just nine games into the 2011-12 season and the team finished out the year under interim coach, Dave Brown, who stepped down from the broadcast booth to fill in (See 12/12/11 phxfan article).

But what we do know is that Campos will have to live with a decision that will either boost her career, or contribute to her exit from Flagstaff several years down the road.  The success of the basketball and football programs are significant considerations when deciding whether an athletic director is successful in his/her job.

And Murphy might be something of a gamble since he has had no head-coaching experience prior to this hire.  The 32-year-old will be coming to the pine-covered campus in Flag from the University of Memphis, where he has been an assistant since 2009.

He joined the Memphis staff when his friend, Josh Pastner, took over the program.  Together, they have put together three straight 20-win seasons.

Although Murphy lacks the experience of a head coach, he can say he has learned from the best.  He spent eight years at the University of Arizona, when Pastner was also on staff there, learning the biz from one of the best, hall-of-fame coach, Lute Olson.  From 1998 to 2006, he served in a variety of capacities within the Arizona basketball program, from team manager and recruiting coordinator to director of operations.

Add to that three years working for the Denver Nuggets, under the direction of George Karl, who has more wins that any other active coach in the NBA.

His youth will undoubtedly be an asset to his being able to recruit kids who aren’t that far removed from his generation.  Campos is counting on that.  “Jack is an exceptional addition to NAU athletics,” she said when announcing the hire, “and brings a strong recruiting presence that will attract outstanding talent to the program.”

She points out that Murphy was instrumental in Memphis securing a Top-5 recruiting class in 2010, with four players ranked among the Top 100 in the country, and three more from the Top 100 since then.

But recruiting to Flagstaff is going to be more of a challenge.  Although NAU is a Division I school, the Lumberjacks play in the less-prestigious Big Sky Conference.  And just down the hill, there are a couple of Pac-12 schools that gobble up the best of the in-state talent.

And before he hits the recruiting trail, he will need to begin picking up the pieces from a program in disarray following the unexpected departure of Adras, who had been a part of the program for 18 years, the last 12 as the head coach.

To make matters worse, when Adras suddenly left without even telling his players, it was learned that Fallis had been conducting an investigation that had uncovered violations of school and NCAA rules under his reign.

Murphy has a daunting task ahead of him. The Jacks haven’t finished better than fourth place in the conference in the last three years, and bottomed out this past season with a last-place finish.  They went 5-24 and closed the season with 16 straight losses.

So it’s a good thing that he’s bringing with him the energy and enthusiasm that comes with youth.

He will need all of that, and then some.

(Photo: NAU Athletics)