By ERIC RUEB
With Jim Baron released from his contract – or, in layman’s terms, fired – as head coach of the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball coach along with 10-year assistant Pat Clarke and first-year assistant Larry Harris, the only coach still left standing is a name any URI fan is familiar with.
Preston Murphy, who played guard for the Rams from 1995-1999, returned to Kingston as an as assistant coach in 2010 and, after Sunday’s decision from URI Direction of Athletics Thorr Bjorn, is the only coach left standing.
“We’ve released the other two coaches and asked Preston to stay on to keep the program’s focus moving forward,” said Bjorn by phone Monday. “Guys on the team need that stability in the office and around the program.”
Murphy and Director of Basketball Operations Dan Szramowski remain with the program after Sunday’s moves. Baron had two years remaining on his contract; Clarke and Harris were on one-year renewable deals and were both told they wouldn’t be offered new contracts.
It wasn’t much of a surprise to see Murphy retained; traditionally athletic programs keep someone on staff – Brown University fired coach Jesse Agel Monday and named former St. Raphael and Vermont star and current assistant T.J. Sorrentine as interim coach – to keep up appearances.
In the case of Murphy, it may have been more. The former Rams was instrumental in bring most of the current freshman class to Kingston and in the wake of Baron’s firing, their loyalty to their coach was made clear in the Twitterverse.
“I’m with you @coach_PMurphy” Tweeted URI’s Jonathan Holton Sunday. Holton was one of Murphy’s big recruits and averaged 10.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game in his freshman season; Monday, he was named to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie team.
With freshmen like Holton, starting point guard Mike Powell (8.7 ppg; 3.7 assists per game), reserve Dominique McKoy being credited as a Murphy recruit, not to mention Jordan Hare, the Saginaw, Mich. product who gave his verbal commitment to URI in October, it wasn’t a surprise to see Murphy affiliate with the program after Baron’s dismissal.
But Murphy is not, as of now, a candidate to take over for Baron simply because, with only four years as an assistant at Boston College and two at URI, he doesn’t have the experience and being a head coach for the Rams is certainly different than at Woonsocket High School, which was the last place Murphy served as a head coach.
“He’s got to continue to learn and grow in this business,” Bjorn said. “I think he knows where he’s at. I think he knows where he’s at and he’s excited about the opportunity to continue with a new coach if given that opportunity.”
The opportunity isn’t a guarantee. More often than not, a new head coach replaces the old staff with his own, meaning whoever takes over for Baron may not keep Murphy on.
With the relationships Murphy’s built with his players and as a recruiter it’d be hard not to see him stay.
“What I’ve promised Preston and Dan in their willingness to do this is I will not dictate who a coach is going to hire,” Bjorn said. “I will say both of them will absolutely get an interview with my highest recommendation.”