Following an internal investigation that began last month into what the university described as “violations of athletic department policy,” suspended ninth-year women’s gymnastics coach Aaron Murphy will not return to the program, Athletic Director Kevin Clark announced Monday afternoon.
Murphy’s dismissal was made public through a brief press release posted to the athletic department’s website that stated there will be a national search to fill the vacancy. Senior Associate Athletic Director for Communications Larry Dougherty declined to provide any details regarding what the investigation into Murphy uncovered, citing the department’s policy to maintain privacy of personnel matters.
Murphy did not return calls for comment Monday.
Dougherty said the contract of assistant coach Deirdre Mattocks Bertotti, who took control of the program during Murphy’s suspension, will also not be renewed for the 2015-16 season.
An upperclassman on the team, who wishes to remain anonymous, said Clark told the gymnasts a week after the suspension that Murphy was expected to return. Now, the student-athlete said, she and her teammates are looking for answers.
“They’re not telling us, which is what’s so baffling,” she said. “They’re not giving us a reason as to why. They told us the university is moving in a new direction. I asked, other members asked. They’re not releasing it. They’re not even releasing the information to the community, which is a little strange.”
The gymnast added that many members of the program were upset about Murphy’s departure. She said administrators informed the team of their decision on Monday in a scheduled end-of-the-season meeting in which team members expected Murphy’s reinstatement to become official.
According to interviews with multiple people involved with the women’s gymnastics program, Murphy continued his recruiting efforts during his suspension and reassured prospective athletes that his job was not in jeopardy.
“He was told by administration that he was allowed to contact recruits,” third-year team manager Lauren Smith said. “He was also allowed to announce to the team that he was coming back. I don’t know why they would tell us that. I don’t know why they would give us false hope. … I don’t know what it was, but we were told Murph was coming back, and that’s obviously not the truth.”
“[Murphy] has so many wins under his belt,” Smith said. “He’s had winning teams, winning girls and championships … I didn’t see it coming at all.” Smith added that she will not return to the team next season.
The team struggled throughout the 2014-15 season. The squad placed first in one of its 11 meets this season, three less top finishes than it earned during the prior season. On Feb. 22, the squad settled for second place against Ursinus College – a Division III school. Last Saturday, it ended its season by placing fifth out of six teams in the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships. In 2014, the team finished third in the ECAC meet.
Murphy was dismissed less than a year following the resignation of former track & field coach Eric Mobley, who is being sued alongside the university and Senior Associate Athletic Director Kristen Foley for $10 million by a former athlete due to her negative experience of competing at Temple.
Last August, The Temple News published the findings of a seven-month investigation into the university’s athletic department that uncovered a seasons-long pattern of abuse and neglect in the men’s and women’s track & field program that the administration overlooked for years.
Murphy’s departure will mark the university’s third head coaching change since Clark took over as athletic director in November 2013 – in addition to Mobley’s exit, former field hockey coach Amanda Janney left Temple last month for a new position with Indiana University.
On Feb. 14, following a Temple-hosted meet four days after Murphy’s suspension began, fifth-year senior Jasmine Johnson indicated that the locker room culture had improved with the absence of the program’s head coach.
“Morale was definitely higher than usual this week,” Johnson said at the time. “It was great. It’s been really refreshing. It’s almost like the stress has been lifted off of us. We don’t feel a heavy burden on us.”
Murphy held strong ties to Temple’s gymnastics community, beginning with his time as an athlete on the men’s gymnastics team from 1996-2001. Murphy competed under legendary former coach Fred Turoff, and was a four-year letterwinner who served as the program’s captain during his senior year.
Following a brief stint as an assistant coach for the men’s gymnastics team during the 2001-02 season, Murphy moved to the women’s program where he assisted longtime head coach Ken Anderson until his retirement in 2006. Murphy was appointed in November of that year.
He earned coach-of-the-year honors from the ECAC in 2009 and 2013.
Avery Maehrer, EJ Smith and Andrew Parent can be reached at email@example.com.