Brad Murphy will remain as Madison West football coach following a Madison Metropolitan School District investigation into an April 5 gathering at the school.
The investigation was the result of a police report — and a subsequent warning letter from Assistant City Attorney Marcia A. Paulsen — regarding a gathering of football players on West school grounds that took place with Murphy present at about noon on April 5.
The gathering appeared to be in violation of Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’ “Safer at Home” order banning gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic that specifically mentioned sports practices, though no charges were issued.
“At this stage, the district has no further comment as we believe this issue has been resolved with Coach Murphy and we are all moving forward,” MMSD Public Information Officer Tim LeMonds wrote in an email on Friday.
However, LeMonds also said “it was established by the WIAA that there were no (out-of-season) coach contact violations during the gathering.”
Two West parents said Friday the incident involved an informal pickup game organized by West players to “blow off steam” following the Friday arrest of their former football teammate, Khari Sanford.
Sanford, 18, was arrested April 3 in connection with the shooting deaths of Dr. Beth Potter and her husband, Robin Carre, who were found March 31 at the University of Wisconsin Arboretum. UW Police Chief Kristen Roman said the act was not random and was "calculated, cold-blooded and senseless."
The parents said Murphy attended the gathering out of concern for his players’ well-being after they heard the news of the arrest.
“Everything I know about coach Murphy and his ethical commitment to this game and these boys and to West, it’s so unbelievably genuine that he never in a million years would have done anything to jeopardize that,” said Andrea Dearlove, whose son, junior kicker and wide receiver Joshua Dearlove, was part of the April 5 gathering.
Sanford was charged April 7 in connection with the homicides. Also charged was Sanford’s friend, 18-year-old Ali’jah Larrue, alleged in the criminal complaint to have served as Sanford’s accomplice. On April 17, both were ordered to stand trial for two counts of homicide.
With Sanford due in court the afternoon of April 5, and reports of the murders dominating the previous weekend's news, the West parents said players were in need of an outlet of some sort.
“We’re talking about 17-year-old boys and the way they handle pain and disappointment and anger. They all handle it in very different ways,” Dearlove said. “I know it was weighing on my son, and I know it was for others on the team.
“It became very real for them that week,” Dearlove said. “The boys were just getting together to throw the ball around and blow off some steam, and when they asked Coach to come, under the circumstances he thought he should be there.”
Jeff Horvath’s son, junior lineman Michael Horvath, did not attend the April 5 gathering. However, Jeff Horvath said Murphy felt he had to be present for his players’ sake.
“Some of the kids organized themselves,” Horvath said. “Eight kids arranged to get together and asked the coach if he would come by. The coach decided to stop by and see how his kids were doing."
Horvath said he was told Murphy thought the gathering was not illegal because Evers’ first “Safer at Home” order limited gatherings to 10 people. Horvath said Murphy apparently did not know that tighter guidelines had been imposed before the April 5 gathering.
In March, Murphy was awarded a national “Double-Goal Coach Award” from the Positive Coaching Alliance for his attentiveness toward developing student-athletes as people as well as players.
“What makes Murphy stand out as a double-goal coach are his extra efforts to listen and to recognize the uniqueness of each individual on the team, and what each individual needs to fill his personal emotional tank,” the Alliance wrote on its Facebook page.
“Since motivation is an individual trait, his efforts allow him to understand what obstacles might need to be worked through and what each player needs and wants to reach to achieve his desired potential on and off the field.”
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