Why Detroit native Rob Murphy was hired to lead the G League’s Motor City Cruise
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Rob Murphy easily remembers when he first met Troy Weaver.
It was the spring of 2003 when Weaver was an assistant at Syracuse under Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim. Led by freshman star Carmelo Anthony, the Orangemen were marching toward the school’s first NCAA title.
Murphy, whose coaching career began in the Detroit Public School League, had just completed his first season as an assistant at Kent State.
Weaver, who was the lead recruiter in landing Anthony, picked Murphy’s brain about Detroit high school prospects. But the discussion went beyond basketball.
“When we talked, we just talked about life, sometimes basketball, but more about life, more about family, more about what we were doing for the community,” Murphy told Pistons.com recently.
The two became friends and when the Detroit Pistons, led by Weaver, were searching for someone to lead the new G-League franchise that begins play next fall, Murphy’s name quickly moved to the forefront.
Murphy, 48, was named president and general manager of the Motor City Cruise in March. In overseeing basketball and business operations, he is believed to be the only person to combine both roles in the G League. He left Eastern Michigan after 10 seasons, coaching the Eagles to 166 victories, the second most in program history.
He is responsible for more than the Cruise roster, which will play in the under-construction arena on the Wayne State campus.
He is overseeing the hiring of basketball and business operations staff. He is using the creativity learned in managing a cash-strapped mid-major collegiate program to guide marketing and sales efforts of the new franchise. He will use his vast Detroit connections to create partnerships and manage the relationship with Wayne State, who will share the arena for its men’s and women’s basketball teams.
“I'm excited that the opportunity comes in my hometown of Detroit,” Murphy said. “Growing up here during the Bad Boy era and understanding the rich tradition of the Pistons organization means a lot to me. I'm very thankful and appreciative of (vice chairman) Arn Tellem and (general manager) Troy Weaver for their belief in me to come in and help lay a solid foundation for the Motor City Cruise.
“I'm just looking forward to getting started.”
‘Guy that was motivated’
Detroit coaching legend Perry Watson first noticed Murphy when he was starring for Detroit Mumford as a prep standout in the backcourt alongside teammate Oronde Taliaferro, who is now a Pistons scout.
Watson is quick to point out the Murphy was not a threat to his powerful Detroit Southwestern squads in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But he followed his career and was glad to hire Murphy, who was coaching in the Detroit Public School league, to work camps when Watson was later the head coach at Detroit Mercy. He quickly became one of Murphy’s mentors.
“Rob always impressed me as a guy that was motivated, wanted to learn,” Watson said. “We've talked every time he's made a move, and I cherish that because young guys should reach out to people that have been there and done that.”
After graduating from Central (Ohio) State, Murphy was hired as associate head coach at Detroit Central from 1996-99 with Central winning the Class A title in 1998. He was hired as head coach at Detroit Crockett where the school won the Class B state title in 2001.
“That was probably the biggest grind in coaching,” Murphy said. “We didn't have any facilities. For those four years at Crockett, I would use different recreational centers and use other gyms, through my relationships, just to have practice. It was one of my most gratifying coaching moments, being able to build that program from scratch and have some success.”
He left to join the Kent State staff as an assistant where he met Weaver, who was instrumental in Murphy’s next step. Before leaving Syracuse to take a scouting position with the Utah Jazz, he called Murphy to gauge his interest in Syracuse, one of the programs he followed as a youth. A few days later, Murphy joined the Syracuse staff based largely on Weaver’s recommendation.
“You're talking about a 72-hour span,” Murphy said. “I went from not even thinking about a high-level job. I'm working at Kent State and then 72 hours later I was working at Syracuse University.
“I couldn't believe it.”
G League calls
After a successful tenure at Syracuse, Murphy was hired to coach Eastern Michigan in 2011.
But at the collegiate level, it is more than basketball. It is especially true at a place like Eastern, which lacks the resources of schools like Syracuse or Michigan.
“When you work at a mid-major program that's under-resourced, you have to raise money through the donors, you talk to the sponsors and help raise money for the entire athletic program,” Murphy said. “I had a lot of business interactions at Eastern.”
He is proud of his foundation, which he started while coaching at Eastern. The entire experience will be helpful for the Cruise.
The G League franchise was announced last summer when the Pistons purchased the Phoenix Suns affiliate. Pistons owner Tom Gores decided to engage the fan base to pick a name and after many suggestions were submitted, Cruise was chosen.
“Our new G League team will create an affordable entertainment option in Detroit and also play an important role in our player development goals,” Gores said.
The move ends the Pistons’ affiliation with the Grand Rapids G League franchise, but it allows for player development to occur a short distance from the Henry Ford-Pistons Performance Center, which fulfils a franchise goal. Pistons center Tyler Cook, who turned a couple of two-way deals into a standard contract, credits his stint in the G League bubble earlier this for gaining notice.
“My improvement was pretty drastic in terms of my numbers and my production and my overall feel for the game itself,” Cook said. “Having that opportunity to go out there and improve my game and work on things that I've been working on all this season was huge for me.”
But basketball is only one half of Murphy’s responsibilities. Conversation quickly turns to his ideas for generating G League interest in the competitive Detroit sports market.
“You engage the community and get create interest from the younger groups, the younger kids,” Murphy said. “You talk to youth during basketball clinics, making sure you have education days.”
At the PPC, he splits time with business operations and basketball staff. He has an office located a few steps from Pistons chief business officer Mike Zavodsky’s. The PPC is sparsely populated as workplace COVID restrictions are just now starting to ease, but he is quick to chat up the business side personnel on hand to get the lay of the land. He has hit the ground running as roughly $500,000 in sponsorships and partnerships were generated during the first 30 days of his tenure.
But those initial chats with Weaver is where it started.
“We talked about having great symmetry with the Pistons,” Weaver said. “We'll be connected in every way we are fortunate enough to get a Detroiter. I think he will be a tremendous asset for our organization and the community going forward. He's a welcome addition and I can't wait to get him going. We're excited about him joining the Pistons family.”