(This story was in the Salem (MA) Evening News on July 23, 2009)
By Mike Grenier – staff writer
Tod Murphy wouldn’t strike anyone as a name-dropper, but he did try to get in touch with Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau before he was chosen to take over the men’s basketball program at Gordon College.
It wasn’t like Murphy was grasping at straws. He and Thibodeau go back 20 years, to the days when Murphy was a rookie with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Thibodeau was a hungry young assistant out of Salem State College.
“I was just calling to find out about the North Shore area and Gordon College,” said the 45-year-old Murphy, “and I thought, who’d be better to talk to than a Boston Celtics assistant coach? I’m sure Tom remembers me as an overachiever (in the NBA).”
Murphy never did connect with Thibodeau, who’s been traveling around the country this summer interviewing for an NBA head coaching job, but things still worked out as Murphy hoped they would.
A six-year assistant with the Division 1 Cal-Irvine Anteaters, Murphy is relocating his family from the West Coast in order to coach at Gordon, which went 20-7 last season under Mike Schauer.
“I’m well aware of what Mike did up there,” said Murphy. “He did a tremendous job in his seven years; I hope I don’t screw up what he’s already done. Mike has set me up to have a great year. We’re losing only one player and I feel good about the group we’re going to have. It’ll be a big year for the seniors.”
The logical question, of course, is why would Murphy, with his NBA background and Division 1 college coaching experience, abandon the life he had in California to coach a small Division 3 school in Wenham?
“Well, I just feel like I’m ready to be a head coach,” said Murphy, “and I wanted it to be in a Christian environment.
Over the last few years, I really wasn’t sure that Division 1 was the level I wanted to be. I felt I might be better suited to coach at the lower level.
“The players at Gordon are not going to be pros, but they love to play basketball. That’s the sort of kid I want to coach. Some of these players will probably improve more than the kids in Division 1. And if you’re that good (in Division 3), they’re going to find you anyway.”
At 6-foot-9, Murphy will be an imposing figure as he paces the Gordon sideline. He had a tremendous playing career at Cal-Irvine, where he ranks No. 2 in school history with 1,778 points and 837 rebounds. The Associated Press named him an Honorable Mention All-American, and he was inducted into the Cal-Irvine Hall of Fame in 2000.
Murphy knows exactly what he’s getting into at Gordon. The days of dealing with gifted Division 1 athletes are gone, but Murphy doesn’t see that as a negative. He sounds eager to roll up his sleeves and work with the talent that’s available.
“It’s not going to change for me,” said Murphy, alluding to his comment about being an overachiever. “I’m going to beat the bushes to look for kids who can play at Gordon. After that, it’s about maximizing their talent.
“It wasn’t a tough sell (to make the move from California),” added Murphy. “My kids (three daughters) are young. My wife (Kelly) knows how important it is to me to be a head coach. I was in a secular environment before, and I couldn’t share my faith without wondering whether I was offending somebody. I won’t have to worry about that at Gordon. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”
The Gordon players will be amused when Murphy gets around to telling them war stories from his NBA career. He tends to downplay his ability, but he was a starting forward on the first Minnesota Timberwolves team in 1989 and received the team’s Defensive Player of the Year award while leading the league in fewest turnovers per minute.
Murphy spent five years in the NBA, moving on to the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets and Detroit Pistons after playing in Minnesota. Following his NBA career, he played for teams in Italy, Greece, Spain and Japan.
Link to Air Jordan
One of his favorite memories involved a game against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. This was when Jordan was at his skywalking best.
“Michael started to drive and got by his man, so I came over to provide help-side defense,” recalled Murphy. “I thought I might be able to tip the ball out of his hands or something, but he ends up on the other side of the basket for an unbelievable dunk. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’
“I was asked about the play by the media after the game and my comment was, ‘All I saw was the bottom of his shoes.’ It ended up being a national quote.”
Murphy called the NBA “the best job in the world because you’re doing what you like and you’re making more money than you deserve, plus you meet so many great people along the way.”
Coaching at Gordon is about as far from that type of spotlight as you can possibly get, but it’s going to be a huge part of his life for the foreseeable future.
“I’m just grateful to Gordon,” said Murphy. “They’ve put their faith in me.”