Northern Arizona University has put its men’s basketball program in the hands of an energetic young coach who brings some good things to the program. However, experience as a head coach is not one of them.
And it looks like the addition of a staff of new assistants, recently announced by the school, did little to improve the situation.
Jack Murphy, NAU’s new 32-year-old head coach who was hired less than a month ago, comes to the Division I job with no college head-coaching experience. He spent eight years at the University of Arizona, moving up from team manager to an assistant position, and then three years as an assistant at Memphis.
Murphy also spent three years in the NBA, but his roles with the Denver Nuggets were described as doing advance scout work and helping as a workout trainer. He wasn’t drawing up X’s and O’s.
In building his new staff, adding an experienced hand might have been a good idea. Instead, his first hires include a high school coach, a friend from the Memphis coaching staff, and a ‘basketball technology assistant’.
Not sure what that last job title involves, but it would appear, based on the information released by the NAU Sports Information Department, that there is a collective five years of college coaching experience among the trio.
This might be a group of sleepers, with talent and abilities beyond what is on the surface. But, on paper, it would appear that Murphy did better with his first recruiting class (5/03/12 phxfan article) than with recruiting his staff.
Murphy said, in announcing his new staff: “They all bring youth, energy and excitement, which will be the hallmark of our staff.” However, he didn’t say anything about bringing experience.
Jerome Riley, who has been coaching high school basketball in Las Vegas for the past four years and was twice named the 4A Coach of the Year, was actually on staff at NAU during the 2006-07 season. He also played for the Lumberjacks and was the 1994 Big Sky Freshman of the Year.
Matt Dunn, who worked on the Memphis staff for three years with Murphy, brings a little more experience. In addition to Memphis, he has a year as an assistant at Miami Dade College, a Florida junior college.
Vic Sfera was at the University of Virginia last year, where he worked as the team’s basketball technology assistant, which evidently involved things like opponent scouting, film exchange and recruiting. Before that he was with Murphy and Dunn at Memphis, where he served as the head student manager.
OK, so NAU isn’t a BCS school. It’s more of a stepping stone for most coaches, who hope to use the Division I program to work their way up the ladder – much like Ben Howland did on his way to the UCLA head coaching job.
So the Big Sky Conference includes some experience-laden resumes for its head coaches. Just take a look at the top teams from last season…
Wayne Tinkle has been the head coach at No. 1 Montana for the last seven years, taking the Grizzlies to the NCAA Tournament twice. He put in five years as an assistant at the school before that and also played 12 seasons of pro ball.
Randy Rahe at No. 2 Weber State is in his sixth year as head coach and has pulled in three Big Sky titles during that time. He’s been coaching at the college level since 1988. Tyler Geving at No. 3 Portland State has been there nine years, the last six as head coach, and before that put in another 10 years in the college ranks.
Northern Arizona isn’t the only one lately that has had to hire a new coach. Last year, Eastern Washington and Idaho State brought in new talent. Eastern went with Jim Hayford, who accumulated five Coach of the Year awards and five conference titles in 10 years as a D-III head coach, and Bill Evans brings 33 years coaching experience to Idaho State.
The man Jack Murphy is replacing in Flagstaff, Mike Adras, was there for almost 20 years, 13 of those as the head coach.
But the program has been slipping in recent years and last season Adras resigned nine games into the schedule amid reports of school and NCAA violations. The Jacks finished at the bottom of the conference under an interim head coach and ended the season with 16 straight losses.
Stepping into a situation like that will be a challenge…even for a seasoned head coach.