Tucson Padres: Ex-ASU coach ready for challenge

2013-04-07T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:32:19Z Tucson Padres: Ex-ASU coach ready for challengePatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 07, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Pat Murphy is prepared to emerge from the dugout Friday to a familiar chorus.

The only difference: The former Arizona State coach, who won 585 games and went to the College World Series three times with the Sun Devils, will be wearing home white as the Tucson Padres' first-year manager.

"They never boo a bum," he said. "I got booed a lot down here."

And in other cities, too, said Padres outfielder Travis Buck, who played for the brash, successful skipper at ASU.

"He feeds off it," Buck said. "He loves when people hate him."

That Murphy is in Tucson is a stunner, and not because of his previous allegiances. Major league organizations care little about parochial rivalries, and the Padres, who open their home season Friday, are slated to move to El Paso next year anyway.

It's that, four years ago, before a NCAA scandal forced his resignation from ASU, Murphy was considered one of the NCAA's great skippers.

He was making more than $300,000 in base pay from ASU. Combined with camps and endorsements, Murphy's lifestyle was more comfortable, and profitable, than that of any Triple-A manager.

"I never dreamed I'd be in professional baseball," the 54-year-old said. "I never dreamed I'd be running the team down here."

Murphy resigned from ASU in November 2009 - documents show it was that or be fired - after a two-year investigation into recruiting violations, academic fraud and the pay of ASU players who worked for his nonprofit youth athletic program. A former Sun Devils baseball employee first made the allegations.

"My life was turned upside down," Murphy said. "I lost millions of dollars."

The baseball investigation was magnified by the ASU athletic department being found for lack of institutional control in a 2005 football incident.

By the time baseball wrangling ended between ASU and the NCAA Committee on Infractions about 1 1/2 years ago, the athletic department was hit for lack of institutional control again. The baseball team was banned from the 2012 postseason, and suffered penalties - scholarship reductions, vacated wins and recruiting reductions - both self-imposed and from the NCAA. Forty-four wins and a CWS appearance the Sun Devils had while Murphy was in charge were vacated.

Murphy, who was given a "show-cause" penalty that ended in 2011, was cited for failing to promote at atmosphere of compliance, along with lesser violations, from 2004 to 2008.

He said, in his opinion, the NCAA found what he'd said all along: that he never knowingly committed violations.

"There was no cheating involved," he said. "I'd challenge anyone to go over every violation with me and explain it to you clearly that there was never any cheating or dishonesty involved.

"Technically, were they rule violations according to the book? Yes. Did my staff know about that? No.

"It was all unintentional, and the NCAA said that."

Murphy - who sports a back tattoo listing influential people in his life - said he felt "betrayed," "violated," and "thrown under the bus" by ASU.

So did Buck, who played in Tempe from 2003 to 2005. Murphy's popularity "rubbed some people the wrong way" at the school, Buck said.

"I still support ASU baseball," Buck said. "But the university itself, I could really care less."

Buck signed with the Padres this offseason, both for a chance at a big-league outfield gig and to work with his mentor.

The fiery Murphy - who skippered the short-season Eugene Emeralds to a 93-59 record over two seasons before his offseason promotion - can be fun, and funny, Buck said, but isn't afraid to "get on some guys," either.

"It's going to be interesting," he said, "to see how some guys take some things that come out of his mouth."

Slugger Kyle Blanks, who met Murphy at the San Diego big-league camp this spring, called his skipper "very animated."

Tucson Padres general manager Mike Feder said that it's clear to him already that Murphy has what it takes to be a big-league manager. Feder doesn't know if fans will boo Murphy, but was quick to point out that the skipper "no longer has ASU across his chest."

Murphy has already reorganized the home clubhouse. He pushed the pingpong table to the back of the room, and gathered lockers closer.

"I'm going to try to do everything I can for them to understand the gift of being a teammate," he said, "and the gift of drawing energy from your teammates and having your teammates help you lift your game."

The Padres need it.

They finished last in both their years at Tucson, winning 42 percent of their games overall. They're 0-3 this season, likely their last before the move to West Texas.

"They say this is the toughest place to manage, in, probably, this environment - being the last year and the fact the team has been in last place for a number of years," Murphy said. "I thought it'd be a great challenge. …

"It's a great opportunity. A great town. Great people. I love the fans."

Even, he agreed with a smile, if they might not love him back.

Tucson Padres

The Tucson Padres open their home season Friday at 7:05 p.m. Clip out their full 2013 schedule, get a detailed map of Kino Stadium and more, Pages 6-7

Contact reporter Patrick Finley at pfinley@azstarnet.com or 573-4145. On Twitter @PatrickFinley

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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