It happens regularly at colleges across the nation.
A high-profile coach leaves, and the team takes a step back. As an example, one needs to look no further than the Arizona men’s basketball program since Lute Olson departed.
The Wildcats are 56-44 since the hoops legend retired, and this year their streak of 25 straight NCAA appearances was snapped.
Naturally, when Arizona State baseball coach Pat Murphy was forced out in November, it left several questions.
Not only would the four-time Pac-10 coach of the year need to be replaced, but there were whispers of possible sanctions once the NCAA wraps up its investigation of the program.
“I was shocked,” Corona del Sol senior and Arizona State commit Trever Allen said. “The week right before that, we had the recruits come and go tour the campus. Murph was there and we were all talking to him... I was hesitant after, like maybe there was a better option. I wanted to hear what was going to happen with all the guys that signed.”
After thinking it over, Allen decided to stick with his commitment to the Sun Devils, which has been a common theme among those who verbally committed to Murphy.
“We have not had one early signee say that they’re considering going somewhere else,” Arizona State interim coach Tim Esmay said. “Right now, that’s still in a really good spot.”
Many of the local players have been watching Arizona State play for years. They have seen the success of the team, and the subsequent major league success of some of the players.
While there is no guarantee Esmay will be the coach next season, it’s not stopping players from giving their pledge.
“It’s the program that sells you,” said Mesquite’s Rocky High, who will play for ASU next season. “No matter who the coach is there, they’re still going to get the best players. They’re always going to be competitive.”
When Esmay was named the interim coach, he wasted no time in calming the waters.
He set up a meeting with several area high school coaches, and called his recruits to assure them that their offers to play at ASU were still on the table.
Esmay played high school baseball at Horizon and had been an assistant at ASU and Grand Canyon in the past, so he is well-connected in Arizona’s baseball community.
“What’s kind of nice is, there are a lot of coaches still coaching from when I was playing or from all my stints that I’ve been here,” Esmay said. “That transition has been huge. I’ve had a lot of good conversations with all the quality high school coaches... They’re really willing to help us get to know or hear about all the best players in the state of Arizona.”
Red Mountain slugger Cole Gleason is one of the top juniors in the state, hitting .543 this season with 14 home runs and 42 RBIs.
He is uncommitted, with several Pac-10 schools showing interest.
Gleason said he was shocked when Murphy was fired.
“I got to know Murphy pretty well,” Gleason said. “We really connected. He’s a great guy.”
But that hasn’t changed his thought process. As long as NCAA sanctions don’t drastically damage the Arizona State program, Gleason wants to be a Sun Devil.
“Pretty much, ASU is where I want to go,” Gleason said. “If they offer me any (scholarship money), I’ll probably go there.”
Despite the tumultuous offseason, Arizona State set a school record when it won its first 24 games of the year. The Sun Devils are now 28-3 and ranked No. 3 in the nation.
While many schools face a rebuilding process when high-profile coaches leave town, it seems the Sun Devils just continue to reload.
“It’s one of the best programs in the nation,” High said. “They always seem to find a way to win, and I don’t expect that to change any time soon.”