Rob Murphy is out as Eastern Michigan men’s basketball coach after 10 season, but he wasn’t out of work for long.
The university made the announcement Wednesday, one day after Murphy and athletic director Scott Wetherbee met to discuss the coach’s future. In the same news release, Murphy announced his new job as president and general manager of the Pistons’ new G-League affiliate, the Motor City Cruise, which starts play next season.
Murphy had been spotted at Pistons games and practices in recent weeks.
Murphy’s status as Eastern Michigan coach has been tenuous all season, the last of an extension signed in 2018. EMU contract is officially up June 30. Eastern Michigan still owes him about $100,000. It’s not clear what the Pistons’ gig will pay.
Murphy and Wetherbee didn’t immediately respond to messages from The News on Wednesday morning.
“We have been honored to have Coach Murphy be a part of our EMU family,” Wetherbee said in a university-released statement, adding a search for a replacement would begin immediately. “The work, dedication and growth of the men’s basketball program will be passed onto his successor with his support.”
The Eagles were 6-12 this season, a season interrupted for more than three weeks by a COVID-19 shutdown. Thirteen games were canceled, postponed and/or rescheduled. Murphy was expected to make his case to Wetherbee that the COVID-19-interrupted season was an outlier, and that he should get at least one more year.
Eastern Michigan had some expectations for a good season, with senior forward Ty Groce and JUCO transfer point guard Bryce McBride, but didn’t qualify for the Mid-American Conference tournament. McBride entered the transfer portal this week.
Murphy, 47, a Detroit Mumford alum, was 166-155 at Eastern Michigan. He had four winning seasons and three postseason berths, but no NCAA Tournament appearances. He won a MAC West championship in his first season, and finished with the second-most wins in Eastern Michigan’s Division I era, behind only Ben Braun (185).
Eastern Michigan hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 1998, the longest Division I drought in the state.
Murphy had three 20-win seasons through his first seven, and under the terms of his original deal, every 20-win season added a year to his contract. The extension in 2018 removed that clause. He made $350,000 a year.
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Murphy worked this year as a lame duck, and after Wetherbee made comments to The News about his status in March 2020: “Rob knows where he’s at, he knows 10 years is a long time. If you haven’t won in 10 years, maybe you need to do something else.” Those comments caused friction between Murphy and Wetherbee, who said he believed the comments were off the record. There was no such agreement between Wetherbee and The Detroit News reporter.
“My time at EMU has been one of challenges and triumphs. I have grown as a man, a leader, and a coach,” said Murphy, who was recruited out of high school to play football at Eastern Michigan. “This opportunity was presented to me initially under the leadership of Dr. Susan Martin and Dr. Derrick Gragg, I have had the unwavering support of former EMU Regent Jim Stapelton, and my last several years working with President Dr. Jim Smith and AD Scott Wetherbee have been guided by clarity of vision for our program. I thank all of these dedicated EMU leaders for the support they have shown to myself and the program.
“I would also like to thank all of the dedicated student-athletes and staff that have worked together, tirelessly and unselfishly, during my tenure here. I look forward to continuing to support EMU, as both a fan and during my next professional step.”
With the Pistons, he joins general manager Troy Weaver. The two have a Syracuse connection. Weaver was an assistant from 2000-04, then Murphy from 2004-11.
In his new role, Murphy will manage basketball operations as well as business operations for the G-League team, which will play at a new arena at Wayne State.
Murphy has strong Detroit connections, from his time in high school, to his time coaching in the Public School League before embarking on a college career. Before Syracuse and Eastern Michigan, his coaching stops were at Kent State (2002-04), Detroit Crockett High (1998-2002) and Detroit Central High (1996-98).
“Rob Murphy is the perfect person to lead the Motor City Cruise,” Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem said in a team statement. “His basketball knowledge is well documented and given that he was born and raised in Detroit, Rob’s relationships throughout the city and region will help drive business and growth opportunities for the future.”
Said Weaver, also in a statement: “Rob brings tremendous knowledge, creativity and leadership to our executive team. He’ll work collaboratively with both the basketball and business sides of the Pistons organization to ensure we have systems in place that maximize the development potential of the Cruise franchise.”