Mike Marlow hasn’t even had time to settle into his new office yet at Northern Arizona University and already the new athletic director has to be thinking about whether he will be faced with making a major coaching change.
The men’s basketball program has won just three of its first 16 games and is 0-3 in the Big Sky Conference. That’s bad enough in itself, but what’s worse is that the program is coming off two consecutive seasons of single-digit wins, going 9-23 last year and 5-25 the year before.
Head coach Jack Murphy was on top of his game during the 2014-15 season when that team went 23-15 and played in the title game of the CollegeInsiders.com Postseason Tournament. They even set a school record for most wins in a season.
But that was the only winning season during the five years that Murphy has been directing the program after being hired away from the University of Memphis where he was an assistant coach for three years. And before that he had the advantage of learning his profession from one of the best in the coaching biz, serving eight years on the staff of Sean Miller at University of Arizona.
However, the UofA grad had no head-coaching experience when then-AD Lisa Campos hired the 32-year-old Murphy to take over a program in total disarray. Mike Adras had resigned as head coach just nine games into the 2011-12 season and the team finished out the year under interim coach, Dave Brown, a retired coach who stepped down from the NAU broadcast booth to carry the team the rest of the way to an embarrassing 5-24 record that ended with 16 straight losses.
To make matters worse, when Adras left – without even telling his players he was leaving – it was learned that Campos’ predecessor, Jim Fallis, had been conducting an internal investigation that had uncovered violations of school and NCAA rules during Adras’ tenure.
But that’s old news. Murphy has had five seasons to clean up the mess and right the ship. And, for one season at least, it looked like he was getting the job done.
Having a new AD on the job could work in Murphy’s favor. Marlow, who replaced Campos last month, may want to give Murphy another season so that he has time to observe his coach at work for one more season.
Or it could be the beginning of the end for Murphy, who came into this season with a 63-101 record in Flagstaff. Since Campos hired him, she may have been more reluctant to dismiss him and admit she made a mistake. Marlow, however, may be quicker on the trigger since he has no dog in the fight.
Marlow has been working in college athletics for several decades, but has yet to have to make the final decision on a coach’s future. He was the deputy director of athletics at Washington for seven years prior to coming to Flag, and spent more than 12 years before that as the senior associate director at Oregon.
And now he finds himself walking into a baptism of fire as he faces an impending decision on Murphy’s future with the Lumberjacks.
NAU has 15 games left on the regular schedule, plenty of time to turn things around. However, if the last couple of seasons are any kind of indicator, that’s not a good bet. The ‘Jacks have not proven to be a strong team down the stretch.
Last year, they won five of their final 15 games, and just two of 15 the year before.
If Murphy is going to prove to his new boss that he deserves another season, it’s not too soon to begin making his case.