Men's Basketball

Staying close: EMU head coach Murphy builds career around ties with players, coaches

Courtesy Of Steve King Photography

Rob Murphy started as an assistant coach at Kent State from 2002 to 2004 and went on to be an assistant at Syracuse from 2004 to 2011. Now, he is in second year as the head coach of Eastern Michigan. All the while, the relationships he has developed over the years have remained.

To Rob Murphy, college basketball is all about one thing: relationships.

Relationships with coaches. Relationships through recruiting. Relationships with players. A conversation with the Eastern Michigan head coach always leads back to that one word. And that one word has made him the recruiter that he is, turned him into the coach that he is and is even the reason he’s still coaching in the college ranks.

“I’m a people person,” Murphy said. “So no matter where I am I always build relationships.”

Murphy has been forging these relationships since his childhood, and these relationships are an intricate part of his success with the Eagles (5-1).

The EMU head coach was born in Detroit, where he began establishing these ties. Murphy went on to play four years at Central State (Ohio) University, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics school, before returning to Detroit as a high school coach.

Murphy’s first stop in the college ranks was as an assistant coach at Kent State. After two seasons with the Golden Flashes, he arrived at Syracuse where he spent seven years as an assistant on Jim Boeheim’s staff and became one of the team’s top recruiters. His Michigan ties didn’t come into play quite as much, but he began forging even more connections.

During those seven years, Murphy helped bring in C.J. Fair, Rakeem Christmas, Arinze Onuaku, Wes Johnson, Kris Joseph and Donte Greene among others.

“As a recruiter he’s top-notch, man,” said Duane Davis, head coach of C.J. Fair’s AAU team the Baltimore Stars. “As a recruiter, he has a great feel for people, always respectful, always a gentleman.”

For Murphy, they’re ties that he can use as a head coach.

For Syracuse, it served as the foundation for some of the most successful seasons in program history.

But Murphy deflects credit for his recruiting success to the Syracuse tradition.

“When you’re selling Jim Boeheim it’s not a hard sell,” Murphy said. “It wasn’t really about me, it’s just about Jim Boeheim and Syracuse, and the history and the tradition there at that program kind of sells itself.”

In his brief stint at Eastern Michigan, though, Murphy has proven it wasn’t all about Boeheim and the Orange — he has some recruiting and coaching chops of his own.

In his first season with the Eagles, Murphy guided EMU to its first-ever Mid-Atlantic Conference West Division championship and was named MAC coach of the year.

Da’Shonte Riley has personally seen all the different aspects of Murphy as a coach — the recruiter, the assistant and the head coach.

Murphy was one of the primary recruiters trying to lure Riley to SU. When Murphy accepted his job at Eastern Michigan after coaching Riley for a year at Syracuse, Riley followed him partly because the university is just 45 minutes from his home, but also because of the relationship the two had forged.

During the recruiting process, Riley immediately bonded with Murphy over their Detroit roots. In two years at Syracuse, that connection grew. Riley was considering transferring, and once Murphy had a program to take over, there was no hesitation on Riley’s part.

“He has great vision about where he wants to take the basketball program and I decided I wanted to be a part of that,” Riley said.

But relationships are more than just about the players he’s coached and recruited; they’re also about the men he’s worked for.

When Murphy returns to Syracuse he still appreciates the environment, the fans and the prestige that made his time in Central New York special, but it’s his relationship with Boeheim that makes the returns most exciting.

Murphy said his relationship with Boeheim has affected his personal life, but where it has most visibly affected him is in his coaching. Murphy employs many of the same coaching methods now with the Eagles that he watched Boeheim use firsthand with the Orange for so many years, most notably the 2-3 zone.

“He’s had an impact on me in my overall life, how I approach many and several different things,” Murphy said. “Obviously he’s a Hall of Fame coach, and the system I learned at Syracuse the seven years I’ve brought it here and am implementing it in our program.”

The zone is a staple of the EMU defense. And bringing a player along with him like Riley, who has experience playing in that zone, has made employing the defense easier.

“He helped the guys who had never played zone,” Murphy said. “He helped bring them along.”

This summer, Murphy had a chance to make another leap — this time to the NBA.

On Aug. 14, MLive.com reported that Murphy was leaving Eastern Michigan to take a job as a scout with the Orlando Magic, ready to throw out all his relationships in the college ranks for a job in the pros.

Murphy said the Magic showed interest in bringing him on. But he said if he wanted to be in Orlando, that’s where he would be.

His decision to stay at Eastern Michigan came down to relationships. As much as he loves coaching, it’s the relationships forged in the college game — all the way from the recruiting process through adulthood — that really appeal to Murphy.

He’s started building his relationship with Eastern Michigan, but he still has a long way to go.

Said Murphy: “I wanted to just continue to build the program and see what could happen here before I left — if I leave.”

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