FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Jack Murphy was named the head coach at Northern Arizona University on Thursday, April 12. Almost one month later, he has transformed the program with a new coaching staff and signed a talented Arizona-based recruiting class that has brought renewed excitement about Lumberjack basketball.
"It has been a fun, wild ride," said Murphy sitting in his campus office. "Literally people tell you once you get hired it is a whirlwind. I can't think of any word better to describe it."
The whirlwind started with a call from newly hired Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Lisa Campos. Murphy was her choice to take over the Lumberjack basketball program. He trended on Twitter in Phoenix for five hours following the announcement, an early indication of the excitement across the state generated by his hire.
"The most surprising thing is how quickly you get acclimated to the job," said Murphy. "One minute you are an assistant coach working at Memphis. Ten minutes later you are the head coach at Northern Arizona and fielding calls for jobs, scheduling and recruiting. It changes in a blink of an eye."
Murphy's phone started ringing with congratulations from his vast network. Legendary coaches Lute Olson and George Karl offered glowing recommendations as well as former players he has worked with across the NBA during his career. The NAU Media Relations office had quotes from a Who's Who in Basketball within an hour of his hiring.
In this critical period, Murphy wanted to make sure he did everything right from the start. He leaned on his former boss at Memphis Josh Pastner, who has the experience of taking over a program as a first-time head coach.
"It got to be overwhelming and I reached out to some coaches that I know," said Murphy. "Josh Pastner spent a lot of time with me at my house after I got the job, giving me advice. Mike Dunlap from St. John's gave me a great piece of advice. He said to slow down because quick decisions will get you fired. Taking things one step at a time leads to success. You have to focus on what you are doing and do it well."
The former Arizona aide started quickly and has had immediate success. He made recruiting calls on his first night as the Lumberjack coach. He also called his returning players to introduce himself and started molding the makeup of his staff. He began with former Memphis assistant Matt Dunn.
"I kept Matt up to date with the process as it was going along because I knew Matt was one of the first people I would bring with me," said Murphy. "I let Matt know I was going to NAU and I wanted him to come with me."
Murphy also added Las Vegas prep coach Jermone Riley, a former Lumberjack player and assistant coach, and Vic Sfera, another former Memphis staffer who was at the University of Virginia. Then he got on the phone to add to his roster.
"I started recruiting that day and making some calls," said Murphy." I talked to some kids that I knew in Memphis that were still available and some kids on the West coast that I had learned about. One of my first phone calls was to Blake Hamilton and I talked to him and his mother Thursday night."
Friday morning, less than 24 hours after getting the job, he was at the Memphis airport to meet some potential recruits at 5:30 a.m. to pitch to them about becoming Lumberjacks. He got his first commitment the next day from Las Vegas standout Jordyn Martin.
"I was packing and getting ready to leave and Jordyn called me with his parents and committed," said Murphy.
Sunday morning he jumped on a plane with his wife, Michelle, for the introductory press conference in Flagstaff on Monday. Following the meet and greet that was broadcast live on FoxSportsArizona.com and NAU TV locally and on the internet, Murphy traveled to Las Vegas for the first of three recruiting trips to his former hometown in his first month on the job.
He saw Sunnyslope guard Bryce Gosar play the first weekend and he committed to Murphy's first class. Pasadena (Calif.) forward Blake Hamilton was next to commit along with Texas Tech transfer Cameron Forte, an Arizona scoring champion from McClintock High School who was looking to come home. Murphy then got Arizona state Player of the Year DeWayne Russell, who originally committed to USC in the recruiting process, to sign to complete the initial group to be announced in his first class on April 25.
"Since Cameron and DeWayne have announced they are coming here, it has really helped our recruiting for 2013 and 2014 in the state," said Murphy. "Younger guys are more receptive to us and understand we are a legitimate option in the state. There are a lot of good basketball players here. Schools not only in the Big Sky but Big West and West Coast Conferences have done a great job recruiting the state of Arizona in the past and winning off our homegrown players. I am hoping to keep those guys at home and getting these three in the initial class has really helped that."
Murphy said NAU's returning players played a key role in helping him bring in an exciting group of new players.
"The guys did a great job of making the recruits feel welcome and letting them know how much they wanted them here," said Murphy. "There was some great team camaraderie. I got to know the guys a little more. I got a feel for the campus and I felt like I was on an official visit, going around and seeing things for the first time."
Murphy also had a recruitment job with his current roster. Having been recruited by the former coach and playing under interim coach Dave Brown during the last season, the current players were looking for the stability and assurances of the future Murphy hopes to bring to the school.
"I reached out to all the guys," said Murphy. "I called every one that first night and spoke to them Thursday and Friday."
While freshmen James Douglas and Colin Gruber had decided to transfer before his hiring, Murphy wanted to make a connection with the remaining players, including rising seniors Stallon Saldivar, Mike Dunn and Gabe Rogers. They will be the cornerstone of his first team along with returners Gaellan Bewernick, Ephraim Ekanem, Ben Olayinka and Max Jacobsen.
"Gabe and I started texting that Saturday," said Murphy. "After our first initial team meeting, Gabe stayed after and he was the only player I met with that night. We had a good honest conversation and Gabe indicated to me that night that he really wanted to stay. He loved his time here at NAU, loved being a Lumberjack and felt there was some unfinished business. We can do that together. It made me really happy because I know what type of young man Gabe is and what type of student-athlete he is. He is a fantastic player but an even better person."
Rogers, one of five seniors entering the 2012-13 season, was impressed and shelved any thoughts of transferring to another school.
"When he first stepped on campus we sat down for an hour," said Rogers. "We talked about the pros and cons and that he really wanted me here to build. It is great to have a coach that is very enthusiastic and ambitious. I wanted to stay and give him a chance. He said he trusted me and I started to trust him."
While not everyone on the team last season is coming back, Murphy wishes them well in the future and is helping them find the school to fit.
"There have been a lot of questions about the guys leaving," said Murphy. "They are all very good kids. My experience with everyone on this team has been fantastic. I also know they have gone through an interesting year with the coaching change. Their experiences here were varied and not how they envisioned it when they came here. I can understand how they could want a fresh start and I want to help them find the right fit moving forward."
Despite limited practice time per NCAA rules, Murphy took advantage of his time with the team in the first two weeks and made an impression with his initial individual workouts with the returning players.
"The workouts are going great," said Rogers. "One thing I can really say about Coach Murphy is that he knows what he is doing."
The team will be allowed to work out this summer for the first time under the guidance of the new staff, a welcomed NCAA rule change that will help with the transition into next fall.
While Murphy is very familiar with the campus, he is ready to get out into the Flagstaff community to make official introductions with the fans and boosters. Murphy will take part in the NAU Coaches Caravan that starts this week and will continue this summer throughout the state of Arizona at various cities along on the way. The first stop on the tour will be Tuesday, May 15 from 5-6:30 p.m. at Granny's Closet in Flagstaff (218 South Milton Road, Flagstaff, Ariz., 86001 (928) 774-8331).
"I really want to introduce myself to the community in Flagstaff," said Murphy. "We are getting fully immersed in Flagstaff and getting ready for the summer. We have to have a good plan basketball wise and what we want to do developing the current team. It starts very shortly. I am excited because they are excited. We all have a lot of pride and that pride is going to equate into hard work and determination in looking forward to a bright future together."
Jack Murphy First Month Timeline
|Thursday, April 12||Named Men's Basketball Coach at Northern Arizona|
|Saturday, April 14||Received verbal commitment from Jordyn Martin|
|Sunday, April 15||Fly to Flagstaff from Memphis and had first team meeting Sunday night|
|Monday, April 16
||Conducted individual workouts with returning players and participates in Introductory Press Conference; Drove to Las Vegas to Recruit|
|Tuesday, April 17||Recruited in Las Vegas|
|Thursday, April 19||Returned to Flagstaff from Las Vegas; Held individual workouts.|
|Friday, April 20||Conducted individual workouts with current team. Left for Las Vegas|
|Saturday, April 21||Las Vegas Recruiting|
|Sunday, April 22||Returned to Flagstaff|
|Monday, April 23||
Blake Hamilton had his official visit on NAU campus
|Tuesday, April 24||
Received verbal commitment from Hamilton
|Thursday, April 26
||Cameron Forte had his official visit on NAU campus|
|Friday, April 27||Received verbal commitment from Forte|
|Saturday, April 28||Recruited in Las Vegas|
|Wednesday, May 2
||Announced first NAU recruiting class|
|Thursday, May 3||Announced NAU coaching staff|
|Friday, May 4||Flew back to Memphis to see family and start move to Flagstaff
|Monday, May 7||Back in Flagstaff|