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‘Battlefield promotions’ put Murphy, Billups in charge of EA athletics


News Staff Writer

In times of war, if a military leader is felled on the battlefield, a soldier might receive a battlefield promotion, elevating that soldier into an immediate leadership role. To a lesser degree, that’s what happened at Escambia Academy.
When an immediate need for a new athletic director and head football coach unexpectedly arose about three weeks ago, school officials turned to Cassidy Murphy and Gex Billups, both untried in their new positions and each of whom traveled a different path.
Murphy, named athletic director, is a 2018 EA graduate who was a standout athlete for five years at the local independent school. Billups, who took over the reins of the Cougars football team, is a graduate of Bayside Academy in Daphne and joined the school’s coaching staff just a few weeks prior to the start of the current school year.
“When the AD job came open, and they asked me, I had already started doing all the stuff it took to do that, scheduling basketball games” said Murphy, a former EA basketball standout, who also played volleyball and softball, was on the track team and was a state champion weightlifter her senior year at EA. “I’m really excited about this being my first year of coaching and getting to do this as AD already.
“I tried to play football, too, but my mom wasn’t too happy about that,” she added of her athletic participation.
At 22, she holds the distinctions of not only being one of the youngest individuals in charge of an Alabama Independent School Association athletics program, but is also reportedly the AISA’s first female AD and possibly the only one in the state.
“My familiarity with the school and athletic department helps because I already know most of teams in the AISA,” said Murphy, who was named the school’s top female athlete her senior year and earned a basketball scholarship to Judson College.
Billups, who served two years as a graduate assistant and defensive quality control coach at Southern Mississippi, his alma mater, and was a defensive line coach at McGill-Toolen in Mobile last year, started the season as the EA football team’s defensive coordinator.
He was awarded his first head coaching job and has guided the Cougars squad, which was 0-3 when he took over, to two straight wins. He said the promotion was sudden and unexpected, but not overwhelming.
“I had to think about it a little bit (before accepting the job),” he said. “It’s been a big change, coming in. I went from position coach to defensive coordinator to head coach really quick, a lot faster than I thought it was going to play out. But all you can do is hit the ground running and don’t look back.”
Billups, who was also an assistant football coach at Starkville Academy (in Starkville, Miss.) for a year, modestly said the football team’s turnaround under his guidance is more a tribute to his players than to his coaching.
“They wanted to change their season,” he said. “It was on them. They have to show up every day, ready to work, with no complaining, and they’ve done pretty well. In the end, it’s for the kids, that’s why we’re all here. I want them to be as successful as they can be, but I didn’t want to just throw them to the wolves.”
Murphy, an Atmore native, is the daughter of Doug and Ginger Murphy. She has a brother, Cameron, who graduated from EA in 2014, and twin sisters Carlie and Callie, who are 4th-graders at the school.
The former Poarch Band of Creek Indians Princess, who was reared on a cattle farm, played on the hardcourt for Judson three years before the school was closed during the COVID pandemic, then transferred to Mississippi University for Women, from which she will graduate in December.
Her goal is to rebuild or maintain successful athletic programs, especially for female student athletes.
“I want all sports programs to succeed, not all the focus to be on one,” she explained. “I want us to get back to an all-around, competitive athletic program. I think it’s already happening. I’ve had kids who have predominantly been playing just one sport who signed up for basketball and asked when track season starts, when softball and baseball start. Also, we already have six girls who want to go to the weightlifting meet this year. That’s going to help us.”
Billups, at age 25 one of the state’s youngest head coaches, was born in Bay St. Louis, Miss., where his mother, Kelli, still lives. His father, Walter, and his 13-year-old sister Presley reside in Fairhope. He is also engaged to a Birmingham lass.
He said the felling of family that prevails at EA made the decision to come here easier than it might have been.
“I had it in mind that it would be a good career step,” he said. “It’s really a family atmosphere here. Everybody knows everybody, and all the parents pitch in and help, and everybody gets along for the most part. I plan to stay here.”
Billups, who also teaches computer classes, and Murphy, who will serve as assistant coach for all EA’s female sports teams, added that the support of the school’s board of directors made the transition a lot smoother than it could have been.
They agreed that board members have “been very supportive” of them as they fit into their new positions.