Rob Murphy out as EMU basketball coach; he quickly joins Pistons' new G-League affiliate

Tony Paul Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Rob Murphy is out as Eastern Michigan men's basketball coach after 10 seasons, 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.

Rob Murphy

"It was really tough to go through the transition of leaving there," Murphy told reporters Wednesday. But you're always looking ahead, you're always looking forward, you're always looking for a great opportunity.

'I'm very fortunate and happy that it worked out and forever thankful for the 10 years I spent in Eastern Michigan, as well."

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 respond to messages from The News on Wednesday, and Murphy didn't comment during his Zoom press conference on if the decision to leave Eastern Michigan was his or the university's.

"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 and 3-11 in the Mid-American Conference this season, a year that was interrupted for more than three weeks by a COVID-19 shutdown. Thirteen EMU games were canceled, postponed and/or rescheduled. That's why 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 MAC 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.

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. Murphy said that when Weaver was hired by the Pistons in June 2020, he began thinking about a possible future in professional basketball.

"I've always wanted to work at the highest level of basketball all my life," said Murphy, whose last game at Eastern Michigan was a March 5, 64-63 win over Western Michigan, the last state team to hire a new coach — Clayton Bates replacing Steve Hawkins last offseason. "I've had different opportunities, whether it's been college jobs or NBA opportunities. Once Troy got the job last year, I immediately thought about maybe this could be an opportunity to work in the NBA, and maybe work for my hometown team."

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). He played college basketball at Central State in Ohio, after being recruited by Michigan to play football. He was all-state in football in high school.

“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.”

Twitter: @tonypaul1984