New WSU coach has a lot of selling to do
Losing record, cold climate give Murrell a recruiting challenge
It isn't Siberia, but Sherri Murrell will acknowledge some extreme challenges associated with recruiting, coaching and winning at the Pacific-10 Conference's most remote outpost: Washington State University.
The frosty winter climate is one such challenge. Try getting a Los Angeles, San Francisco or Phoenix recruit to move north to Pullman, Wash., and play for the Cougars.
WSU's record is another. The team has won 17 basketball games ÑÊtotal ÑÊthe past three seasons. Its last winning season, 17-12, came in 1995-96. The Cougs haven't been in the NCAA or WNIT since 1991.
'I don't see those things as roadblocks,' says Murrell, a former Portland resident and prep star who was hired as WSU's women's coach March 19. 'They haven't won, but I don't know why because they have the resources and the people.
'People say it's isolated, but I say it's isolated from such things as drive-by shootings.'
The 34-year-old Murrell says coaching in the Pac-10 wasn't her dream job, but she was motivated to pursue it by the chance to work again for Athletic Director Jim Sterk Ñ the AD at Portland State when she coached there Ñ and the opportunity to return to the Pacific Northwest.
Murrell was the head coach at George Fox University, going 52-33 in four seasons (1992-97). She led the University of the Pacific to a 68-46 record in the past four years, including a berth in the Big West Conference championship game last season.
The Cougars fired Jenny Przekwas last season after the team went 2-27 overall and 0-18 in the Pac-10, losing 24 consecutive games to end the season. Murrell inherits eight players from last year's roster and counts 10 on scholarships Ñ five under the allowable limit.
Murrell's first responsibility will be to find more players, although she concedes that she was hired late in the game Ñ the signing date for recruits is Wednesday. Plus, most of the blue-chippers and second-tier players are accounted for, she says.
'The challenge is, they haven't won,' she says. 'When I asked (Sterk), and I ask everybody around here and other colleagues, they say it has to be the right fit for the coach.
'You have to get recruits on campus. A lot of people shut the door before they get on campus. You have to recruit smartly. There's going to be a kid in Southern California who doesn't want to live in the cold weather. I'll recruit the kid, but I'll be smart about it.'
Murrell moved to Portland as a teen-ager and played at Parkrose High School and St. Mary's Academy. She led the Blues to the 1985 Class AAA state championship as part of the first powerhouse Blues team.
'When they were talking about St. Mary's recruiting, I was one of those kids,' she says.
She played at Louisiana-Lafayette before returning to the West Coast and starring at Pepperdine for two years. Murrell served as an assistant coach at Pepperdine (1990-91) and Brigham Young (1991-92).
Between her head coaching stints at George Fox and Pacific, she worked as an assistant at Portland State under Jenny Yopp.
Murrell wasn't thinking about leaving Pacific, in Stockton, Calif., until Sterk called her.
'I was happy at Pacific,' she says. 'It was great for me. Great kids, great support, and we built it from a losing program to a winning program. You get tied to a program when that happens.
'I'm young enough to do this. If I was fortysomething, I don't know if I'd try to build another program. You have to have patience and energy.'
The Cougars hope that Murrell gets tied to Wazzu after she builds the Cougars from nothing to something. She already has made contact with prep and summer coaches in Washington and will call on her contacts in California to recruit. She coaches an up-tempo style that relies on the 3-point shot.
'The Pac-10 opens the door for kids,' she says. 'That's going to help me.
'There's not a lot hype (about WSU), so the first year will be tough. We have our challenges. I look at it as a five-year plan. I just hope it doesn't take that long.'