Still in the infancy of what she hopes is a long and productive coaching career, Stephanie Murphy says she would have left Meridian only for the ideal job.

"But Tupelo is the ideal job for me," Murphy said Wednesday, the day after the Tupelo school board approved her as the new girls basketball coach.

Murphy spent the last two seasons at Meridian High School — where she led the Lady Wildcats to a 59-15 record and back-to-back appearances in the Class 5A state championship game. MHS, which has never won a girls' basketball state title, finished as the runnerup both years.

"She has been a pleasure to work with and will be missed," Meridian High athletic director Jermaine Brown said of Murphy, adding that a replacement for a new coach for the Lady Wildcats is under way. "We hope to have someone in place no later than mid-June."

Murphy, a former star at West Tallahatchie who was a four-year starter at Ole Miss, was given her first shot at coaching by Tupelo's Nanci Gray more than four years ago. Now, she'll replace Gray — who earlier this month took the head women's basketball job at Itawamba Community College.

"Coach Gray gave me the opportunity," the 28-year-old Murphy said of her two years at Tupelo. "She taught me how to run a program.

"It would have been tough to leave Meridian for most any other job," Murphy said. "But Tupelo is ideal ... it's closer to home for me and it puts me closer to Ole Miss. The thing is, I left Tupelo to be a head coach. Otherwise, I would have never left."

Now, she'll be back to take over a Lady Wave team that was 26-6 a year ago and returns all-state guard Katie Hancock.

At Meridian, Murphy had four graduating seniors who all moved on to the next level — but she was set to return 6-foot-2 all-state forward Whitney Hood and sharpshooter Tiara Parker from this year's 31-6 squad.

"It was difficult to leave. It was a tough decision for me," Murphy said. "It was pretty emotional with the kids and especially with the senior class. But it was emotional for me, too.

"Anytime you coach, you get an attachment to the kids and I certainly did."

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