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Rob Murphy looking to leave EMU?

April 27, 2012

As we welcome one new coach to EMU, is another looking to move on, far sooner than anyone expected?

That’s the story according to David Teel, a columnist for the Daily Press of Hampton Roads, Virginia. Yesterday, reporting on the ongoing men’s basketball coaching search at Virginia Tech, Teel wrote the following:

Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver does not employ search firms and keeps his own counsel. So just because a colleague, commissioner or coach calls to recommend a job candidate doesn’t mean that man or woman rockets to the top of Weaver’s short list.

Nor does it guarantee a phone call, interview or shred of consideration.

That said, it is interesting to consider whom various people are stumping for in the Hokies’ basketball coaching search. Surely there are many more, but here are three of whom I’m certain.

And you can bet that if they have people making calls on their behalf, they’re interested in the job.

Guess who one of those three is…that’s right, “Eastern Michigan’s Rob Murphy”.

In other words, Teel is “certain” that “a colleague, commissioner or coach” is “stumping” for Murphy, and that it’s a sign that Murphy is “interested in the job”.

I’m not naive. I know where EMU sits in the college sports pecking order, and in men’s basketball it’s pretty far down. Virginia Tech, on the other hand…well, even though they’re near the bottom of their conference (and face a much tougher road than EMU to get to the top), that conference is the ACC. So I can’t really blame Murphy for going for it, even if, in Teel’s opinion (and mine) he’s unlikely to get the job.

But on the other hand, while one-and-done has become the standard for top college basketball players, it’s pretty surprising to get this from a coach, especially one with deep local roots who, just a year ago, so convincingly told us that there was no place he’d rather be than Ypsilanti. While I hoped that, if successful, he would choose to stick around to build the program, in the manner of Mark Few at Gonzaga, Brad Stevens at Butler, and Shaka Smart at VCU, I always knew that the most likely outcome was that, if successful at EMU, Murphy would leave for a bigger program.

I just didn’t expect him to look to leave so quickly.

28 Comments leave one →
  1. Kenneth Barna permalink
    April 27, 2012 8:52 am

    Dear cmadler,
    Let’s not jump to the conclusion that Coach Murphy is already leaving Eastern. I think he is setting up a program here, that will win the MAC title, and if he has integrity, will stick around until it’s accomplished. If, he were to leave now, I would have no respect for him.

  2. Ken permalink
    April 27, 2012 8:52 am

    He can’t leave. He just got here.

  3. Mark H. permalink
    April 27, 2012 9:28 am

    Hey, it’s a free labor market and of course Murphy will play that market to his advantage. There is no dishonor in that — the schools that employ coaches in the biggest money losing sports are usually mere stepping stones for the coaches. That is the nature of the industry, kid yourself not. If Murphy can make a self-serving exit from EMU faster than many expected, it just shows that he’s got more talent at marketing himself than others imagined. Winning the MAC championship isn’t that important for any school in the MAC, if we’re talking about students and faculty and alumni, and winning the MAC certainly isn’t as good for a coach as being in a major conference. Coaches are hired talent, who need to profess loyalty to their current employer while having an eye on the next opportunity for themselves. That’s the way the game’s played and EMU people are naive in the extreme if they deny it. But it is denied here often, and that contributes to the unrealistic hopes and nonexistent planning for EMU athletics. Good luck to Coach Murphy, here or in his next job. I commend him for understanding how the game is played.

  4. Kenneth Barna permalink
    April 27, 2012 10:09 am

    Dear Mark H.,
    Winning the MAC title is important. If, it were not, then why the competition for it? I know you feel that Eastern should not be spending the money they do on athletics, but when they are now on the verge of having athletics support themselves, is not the time to bail.
    What happened to integrity, honoring contracts, and just plain loyalty? I really think you want him to leave, to prove your point. If, you feel that everyone is looking out only for their own self interest and nothing else, then that is why we have a problem in this country of the self interest being greater than the whole. Everyone just thinks of themselves and not how they could benefit any part of society.

    • Mark H. permalink
      April 27, 2012 10:23 am

      Dear Kenneth Barna,
      I stand by all the factual claims I made in my prior comment, and note too that I do believe in loyalty; nothing in my post says otherwise. But Division I athletics demonstrates as much as any other industry in our society that loyalty isn’t a controlling value over financial decisions. You may imagine that I want Murphy to leave, but my opinion on whether he should take a better job will not influence his choices. (He hasn’t asked my advice.) I will also note that your assertion that EMU athletics is “now on the verge of having athletics support themselves,” is factually unsupportable, if you mean to suggest that athletic revenue is on the verge of covering all athletic costs at EMU, by tens of millions of dollars.

      In our free labor market, workers are free to pursue better jobs. That’s true of coaches, even if it’s not a right much granted to student-athletes.

  5. Kenneth Barna permalink
    April 27, 2012 12:57 pm

    Dear Mark H.,
    How much money does one have to have in order to live comfortably? If, one is making $200,000 a year, is $250,000 going to make that great a difference in one’s standard of living? What is a better job? Just because it pays more? I find your position being close to Ayn Rand, and that is your privilege, but as I have stated, loyalty and integrity are far more important to me.
    Being on the verge, is the beginning, not that all the monies you suggest will be accomplished in one or two years. Eastern has only been offering scholarships for about forty five years and has been division one for thirty eight years, so the next few years are important to get our athletic programs back on track. Had we had more decent athletic directors and coaches in the past, we maybe would be closer to the goal that I believe in.
    Like I have said on other posts here, If, Eastern brings winning football teams to Rynearson, there is every possibility that they could have 30,000 fans at their home games. And, if the tickets were raised to just $15.00, with six home games, that would bring almost $3,000,000 in revenue. I think those are goals that can be met, but you have to have winning teams.

    • Mark H. permalink
      April 27, 2012 1:28 pm

      Never before has someone associated my views with Ayn Rand, but making that mistake is your privilege, Mr. Barna. I am not analyzing EMU athletics according to what I might want, but according to what prevails in Division I, and by that light, all coaches are loyal to their school only until it suits their interests to leave and they are able to move up by moving out. Wishing that a free market for highly paid persons in athletics did not exist will not eliminate it. You may dream of EMU football selling 30,000 tickets, but in will happen only in fantasy. Meanwhile, the money tree known as EMU students’ tuition and fees isn’t unlimited.

      I will gladly argue to defend what I actually wrote, but not a strawman version of it; and I will debate facts and figures about the existing athletic program, but won’t waste time on projected fantasies for a near-future when we win seasons and fill stadiums and athletics breaks even. That’s like old arguments of actually existing capitalism versus idealistic visions of a socialism that never was: a waste of time.

      But I do think 38 years in Div I ought to be enough to prove its value, or lack thereof; only the existence of subsidies from students makes it affordable. No businessperson would entertain such a proposition if they were funding it with their own money.


  6. permalink
    April 27, 2012 4:51 pm

    The President or AD have done nothing to speak with Coach RM about an extension after 2 Coach of the year awards and a MAC Westntitle in year one! Same on EMU athletics. I’d leave quickly! No loyalty from anyone at EMU. Dr Martin is clueless and so are the folks in place!

    • April 27, 2012 6:40 pm

      I certainly wouldn’t call President Martin or Derrick Gragg “clueless”. I think that, assuming he’s back at EMU next year (which I think he will be — one year as head coach in the MAC is not likely to get him hired at a major conference) and builds on this year’s success, he’ll get a raise and an extension at that point.

  7. permalink
    April 30, 2012 2:26 am

    We shall see if Coach Murphy returns!

    • Mark H. permalink
      April 30, 2012 6:56 am

      For analysts of EMU and MAC athletic costs and benefits, the most telling line in this latest posted coverage of the VA Tech coaching situation is this —

      “Murphy will undoubtedly get a shot at the big time eventually, just not here.”

      Murphy has promise as a head coach in “the big time” but where he is now isn’t the big time for basketball. Never will be. EMU lacks the funds, isn’t a rich school, and has no deep fan base, and no rich, generations old, basketball tradition of full arenas (which matters because fans go to games as much to be part of those living traditions as to see the game). So plainly, Murphy has to leave EMU to be “big time.” That’s the way Division 1 is. He could stay here for a decade and be successful, but not big time. EMU cannot become big time in the sports world by wishing it.

      Go Eagles! Education First!

      • Ken permalink
        May 2, 2012 11:16 am

        EMU can become big time but it will take alot of work. But I have a feeling it is a chicken or egg thing though. Part of becoming big time is having a fan base that fills your stadium, but in order to do that you need to win a few seasons. I think they are building on that base but it seems like when things are going well, the coach leaves. It’s hard to be successful if you rebuilding every 4 to 5 years.

      • Mark H. permalink
        May 2, 2012 11:28 am

        Ken, You hit the nail on the head for why EMU has close to zero potential to become “big time” in men’s basketball. No fan base to fill a stadium, no successful likely to stay past his first better job elsewhere opportunity: These two problems are serious, and if they could both be solved at once, and remained solved for 5 years, maybe then we’d have a shot at the “big time.” But both cannot be solved, and there’s no numbers that suggest we can ever reliably fill the stadium. And reasonable people want to know, how long do we bleed the revenue producing part of the university (academics) for the red ink part? Until we drip academic excellence and graduation rates at EMU even lower?

  8. Ken permalink
    May 2, 2012 1:23 pm

    I graduated from EMU 20 years ago. I followed EMU sports sporadically in that time. The main reason I followed Football and Basketball this year was because I was doing photography for this blog. And I will follow EMU sports next year for the same reason. If I didn’t live in the area, it would be difficult to follow EMU sports since the coverage is sporadic at best. Hell, even the local newspaper is dominated by the bohemeth in Ann Arbor. I will admit, I contribute to that as I find the Wolverines to be more interesting than the Eagles. And I know that I’m not alone in that regard.
    In order to keep the attention of the fan base, the teams have to win more often than every 12 or 15 years. I mean part of the reason why Michigan attracts so many fans is because they’ve had a winning traditon through pretty close to their entire history. It’s alot easier to follow a team and be proud of following that team when they win. I mean just look at the folks leaving the ship during the Rich Rod years.
    The really sad part about EMU athletics is that many of the non-revenue sports are competitive. Just take a look at EMU’s track and swimming teams. There are a ton of rafters dangling from the pool roof.
    That being said, I think if English and Murphy stay here, they will build something special. But sadly, I think the clock is ticking. Heck, English built up a 6-6 record and all of the sudden the talk was him going somewhere else. Imagine if that 6-6 record were 11-2 because he won the bowl game……I think he would have been gone this season. There is talk around Murphy and the basketball team was barely around 500. That is the perception with Eastern…if the team is winning or close to winning, they must have a good coach to coax that out of the team.

    • Mark H. permalink
      May 2, 2012 4:43 pm

      Yours are very thoughtful observations. EMU sports is followed by view alumni and fewer students. We have no true “revenue” sports, but for three some tickets are sold to willing buyers (football, men’s and women’s basketball), and those are the most costly sports. We have great traditions of winning in many sports, but there’s no real fan base for those, here or much of any where. Virtually no media coverage of EMU sports or the MAC, and no real potential of gaining it either.

      And you’re dead right about English and Murphy: they’ve done pretty well (though not a winning season yet, as I don’t count 6-6 as winning) and if they keep doing well, will likely leave for a better program, more money. We could sink more money into football and basketball, and still have empty stadium, and an academic program falling further and further behind what we need to remain attractive in our real market — educational opportunity. We cannot compete seriously or affordably in the field of entertainment known as Division 1. ESPN always has a better game to watch, and most sports fans feel that way. You’re hardly alone in being an EMU grad or student, or administrator, who prefers UofM athletics to EMU athletics! It is strategically ill advised to compete with a powerhouse you can’t overtake, while neglecting crucial activities that you’re good at and which could be improved with money and effort.

      I have much enjoyed your excellent photos this year and I do thank you for them!

  9. Kenneth Barna permalink
    May 3, 2012 11:06 am

    Dear Ken,
    I was really disappointed in your following U-M over Eastern. Just think, if all the alumni that follow U-M started following Eastern, that could mean at least 5,000 more fans at Rynearson. I just don’t understand following another school over your own. What happened to loyalty? This is one of the reasons I was glad that U-M had terrible years under Rich Rod, and hope that last year was a lucky fluke for U-M, and they return to mediocre form. Then many of the Walmarters will start leaving in droves.

    • Ken permalink
      May 3, 2012 1:04 pm

      The problem is that the fan base would leave Michigan for another school. If they stay in state, they would move over to the Sparty bandwagon. If they go for a team with a similar history, they would follow that place in Columbus.

      It’s not that I follow U-M over EMU. It’s complicated.

      • Mark H. permalink
        May 3, 2012 1:19 pm

        Among currently enrolled EMU students who are active sports fans, there seem to be far, far more UofM and MSU fans than actual EMU fans. Yes. Why? Family traditions and a judgment that UofM games are better entertainment. EMU cannot overturn an 18 year old’s loyalty to watching the team he’s watched with his dad since age two, and that’s a fact that shapes the dismal prospects of EMU’s money losing, almost fan-less Division 1 program in the 3 big sports.

        Wishing that all EMU alumni would be active Eagles fans is all very nice, but it does not change reality. Wishing that money would grow on trees is just as realistic: not very!

        That said — EMU athletics are, no doubt, great entertainment for the small group of people who devotedly follow the Eagles. And the players play hard.

        Yet that tiny fan base has no realistic chance of growing large. Six out of ten EMU students are female, and female students are far less likely to be active sports fans than guys; and the male sports fans like ESPN more than the Eagles. Their friends talk about what’s on ESPN, but not about the Eagles, so the Eagles are divorced from the fan being a sports fan in America in 2012 engages people with others. Being a fan in an empty bubble defeats the purpose of being a sports fan.

        EMU has solid academic programs that are underfunded and can’t meet student needs, yet we spend tens of millions on athletic programs for which there is NO market demand and no sizable fan base. That empty bubble can only stay stationary before it pops.

  10. Kenneth Barna permalink
    May 3, 2012 8:31 pm

    Dear Mark H.,
    My mother was a U-M fan, and took my brother and I to some games in the fifties. However when I enrolled at Eastern that was my school, and whose teams I follow. I can’t help it if people at the age of eighteen or older can’t make up their own minds as to who they may follow, and are brain washed by their parents or whomever. Let me also make it clear that I am not wishing for fans. I am disappointed in what I call loyalty to one’s school. Using your and Ken’s logic, these eighteen year olds should have rooted for their parents high schools rather than the one they (eighteen year olds) attended.
    As far as following ESPN or any other sports network, I stand by what I said above. If, you can’t think for yourself, or bring up Eastern sports teams in discussions, then you are just a follower, and don’t have any original thoughts.
    Lastly, If, as you say Eastern’s academic programs are underfunded, raise tuition. Eastern is the cheapest of the MAC schools in Michigan, and probably cheaper than Oakland, as well as a few others. You create market demand by being the best!

  11. Ken permalink
    May 3, 2012 8:37 pm

    And I think it’s going to get worse. With the announcement of a “playoff” for Division 1A that doesn’t include the non-AQ conferences. So basically it means that teams like EMU wont even be able to play for a National Championship at Divison 1A level. So that is going to make the divide between the haves and the have nots be that much greater.

    As I said, I enjoy to watch EMU sports and I enjoy rooting for them, so I’d like to see them do well…

    • Mark H. permalink
      May 3, 2012 11:07 pm

      Most EMU students are not particularly strong sports fans, a fact that does not contradict the fact that many Americans are avid sports fans. EMU athletics is not strong enough to transform the “sports consumption” patterns of students or alumni, and yet we continue to invest vast red ink in Division 1.

      Raise tuition? Many students already have great difficulty paying the tuition & fees, and it’s dishonest to raise tuition and fees to fund further financial subsidies to athletics. On this issue, Ken, I’m strongly in agreement with the Martin Administration — tuition increases must be kept down! In fact, if we eliminated the athletics department, we could actually CUT tuition while increasing the student services & academics that they come to EMU for.

      And a cut in tuition would, I promise, gather more public attention, highly favorable and beneficial to the University, than all of our athletics generated publicity combined ever has, by at least 10 to 1.

      Go Eagles! Education First.

      • Ken permalink
        May 4, 2012 12:21 am

        I hate to sound like a broken record but I remember when I went to EMU it was basically a suitcase college. Most of the people going there were from the SE Michigan area or NW Ohio area. So they would live in the dorms during the week and go home on the weekends. So how can you get a steady fanbase when you don’t even have students to draw from?

      • Mark H. permalink
        May 4, 2012 7:24 am

        Ken, Good point! I’d personally not use the term suitcase college, as lots of our traditional age students do live on campus, and others move to Ypsi apartments while studying at EMU. But your point is a good one, and highlights the costs EMU pays for our athletic program: students have for generations demonstrated at most a weak interest in attending EMU sporting events, yet we pour money into those activities, money that could be used to fix up the often deplorable conditions in dorms (very uncomfortably hot in January, for instance). This undercuts our ability to perform well in vital areas that we do have “market demand” for.

  12. Kenneth Barna permalink
    May 4, 2012 9:35 am

    Dear Mark H.,
    No where in my statement about raising tuition, did I imply, or state, that increased tuition would go to athletics. If, you have certain costs, and then you raise more money beyond those costs, you direct that to academic programs. You seem to think that every dime Eastern takes in goes to athletics. How can all of the students at the other MAC schools in the state, and U-M, and MSU afford to go to those institutions? They are paying more than the students at Eastern. I am glad that Eastern has tried to keep tuition costs reasonable, but when your students are paying less than everyone else, there could be an increase.
    I do not know how long you have been at Eastern, but if you check attendance figures when Eastern was doing well in football and basketball, we had close to capacity both at Rynearson Stadium and Bowen Field House. So, to argue that this will never happen is poppycock. It has happened, and can happen again with winning records.
    Your statement about cutting tuition costs bringing public attention greater than athletics is false. When Eastern tried (with lots of publicity) the 0-0-0 campaign a couple of years ago, attendance only went up 2%. I remember President Martin saying Eastern needed to get to the 3%-4% range or better, for the program to be successful. So, where was the ten fold benefit Eastern was to obtain?

    • Mark H. permalink
      May 4, 2012 1:45 pm

      Mr. Barna,

      Let’s look at some facts for the Michigan schools in Div 1 and their actual subsidies for athletics:

      “Athletic Subsidies at Division I Schools, in Michigan:
      (from USA Today, June 29, 2011)

      Subsidies are calculated using revenue categories from the school’s NCAA financial reports: student fees, direct and indirect institution support and direct state support. The percentage is the portion of athletic program revenue that comes from such funds.

      SUBSIDY 2010 SUBSIDY 2006: SUBSIDY 2010:

      Eastern Michigan 84% $18,070,230 $22,034,322
      Western Michigan 71% $15,548,139 $16,838,022
      Central Michigan 67% $13,446,303 $16,457,883
      M.S.U. 4% $3,673,578 $3,348,785
      Michigan 0% $39,872 $233,170

      Source: USA TODAY, June 29, 2011; documents gathered by USA TODAY and Indiana University’s National Sports Journalism Center. Dollar figures for 2006 are inflation-adjusted to 2010.”

      Note that EMU has the highest % of athletic costs of any of the Michigan schools paid for by subsidies, and also the highest absolute dollar subsidy to athletics. UofM athletics more or less pays for itself, and does produce massive contributions on Game Days and student and alumni engagement. That cannot be said truthfully of EMU game days.

      Previously I understated the cost of EMU’s subsidy for athletics — it’s $22 million. Very, very few schools in the country subsidy athletics with more dollars than EMU, and most of the few that do are richer schools than EMU. We could become #1 in subsidies to athletics, it is within striking distance!

      You ask, Mr. Barna, how students can afford to go to UofM, MSU, and the other 2 MAC schools in the state. Well, UofM students are richer than EMU students, and I think that’s true too of the other 3 state schools, but not by as much. EMU has students from less affluent families, and yet are students are forced to subsidize athletics to a greater extent than students at the other Michigan publics, despite the lack of student/alumni interest in athletics here.

      I’ve been working at EMU since 1994. Never in that time have we had a winning football team. When men’s basketball went to the NCAA, most EMU students did not care — they had work to do and remained focused on their educational goals. One of my classes then voted NOT to skip class to watch a game. But all that you say about nostalgia for past athletic glory is, I am sure, valid, even if nostalgia is a poor predictor of the future.

      In the last six or seven years, EMU has spent roughly $100 million on athletics above athletics-derived revenue. What do we have to show for it?

      Dorm rooms that are uncomfortably hot nearly all the year? That’s what one student of mine told me after attending Homecoming last fall.

  13. Kenneth Barna permalink
    May 4, 2012 2:53 pm

    Dear Mark H.,
    You never address my points directly, but offer a apples to oranges comparison. I bring up tuition costs at various schools compared to Eastern, and you offer athletic subsidies. When you get around to somewhat agreeing that other institutions cost more, you go right back to the athletic subsidy argument again. Did you ever stop to think why those other institutions spend less on athletics? Because they generally have had winning teams that bring in more money to their athletic programs. What is so hard to understand?
    I was a teacher for thirty years, and would not allow any of my classes to be skipped for athletic contests. I also did not allow Christmas parties, or other celebrations to take away from class time. At least your class had the smarts to vote the way they did, but they would have had no vote in my class.
    By the way, not that it is a very important point, but Eastern’s football record in 1995 was 6 – 5. Wow! Dorm rooms are too hot. Next, we’ll hear they have no air conditioning, or room service. I’m sorry, but I can’t feel much sympathy for the vagueness of dorm living. We had similar problems when I was a dorm resident.

    • Mark H. permalink
      May 4, 2012 3:44 pm

      Mr. Barna, thank you for the correction about the EMU football team winning in 1995. I don’t recall anybody who noticed or much cared, but I stand corrected. As for my class and the NCAA basketball game, one student proposed we skip class “for the game!” and to put it to a vote. She was, I recall, one of two Yes votes. You may imagine that I was skimping on my professorial duties, but I wasn’t. But lots of administrators over the years, and athletes too, have of course discouraged class attendance so people might go to games, and faculty have been pressured to do so too. Some university officials even talk online about firing instructors who don’t put athletic events ahead of classes.

      I agree that dorms then were bad, and are now too. But the dorms at other campuses that we compete with for incoming students, have been far more improved than on our campus. Much of our capital spending has been directed to that complex west of the campus that so very few students ever visit even twice. In a competitive situation, you gotta keep up with the competition, and dorms matter more to the college choices of students considering say, EMU v. MSU.

      And I did address why students can afford other schools’ tuition — they are richer. Read my whole comment, sir, and I think you’ll see more reason to it and more on which we agree, than your nostalgia for the good old days of your college experience has let you see. Subsidies to athletics matter because cutting them out, 100%, would allow a DECREASE in fees & tuition, not merely a freeze for one year. (A decrease isn’t the same as a freeze, and which would get more publicity, and seem less like a one year gimmick?).

      All the best to you, Mr. Barna! Have a great weekend. — Mark Higbee

  14. Masterful Bouvier permalink
    June 18, 2012 1:01 pm

    “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, EMU suffers because of its proximity to UM, blah, blah, blah…”

    Defeatist horseshit.

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