Tough Coach

Another winning season ends for Pat Murphy and his baseball team. Now, it's ASU management's turn at bat

Murphy accepted the ASU job in August 1994.

He was succeeding two legends and was expected to win immediately, or else.

Though his team wouldn't reach the College World Series until 1998, his fourth season, Murphy won enough games to keep all but the most rabid alumni off his back.

ASU baseball coach Pat Murphy
Peter Scanlon
ASU baseball coach Pat Murphy
Coach Murphy keeps in close contact with his players.
Peter Scanlon
Coach Murphy keeps in close contact with his players.

But his unbridled brashness earned him precious few friends outside of his team.

"ASU already was crawling with respect in the world of college baseball," says writer Bob Eger, who had covered coaches Winkles and Brock for various publications.

"It was a clash of cultures between Murph and some people out here. He'd rather come out of the weeds and get you than be the favorite every time out like ASU usually is."

Says pioneering sports psychologist and author Harvey Dorfman, who met Murphy years ago while working for the Oakland A's:

"Murph had it really tough out in Tempe at first. It was twofold in that he was following the two icons, and also there was the immediate perception that he was a bad guy. That was exacerbated at first by some of his responses to things, especially to pockets of fans who were absurd toward him at games, saying this cruel stuff."

Dorfman says Murphy showed something about himself by surviving those first years as a Sun Devil.

"Slowly, he's redefined his self as he wanted to redefine it," Dorfman says. "He's had so many things to deal with within himself, things from his upbringing, perceived inadequacies and so on. A lesser person would have buckled under far less pressure. But he's turned himself into something whole and viable after being perceived as something completely the opposite. Things have gotten easier for him, and not because the external circumstances are necessarily easier. He's still expected to win big every year."

Beat reporter types such as Bob Eger have grown to respect Murphy as a coach and as a person.

"The common bond I see between the three coaches [Winkles, Brock and Murphy] are the intense way they attack their jobs," Eger says. "But there are differences. Brock brought in big-time assistants and just let them coach. Winkles didn't even have an assistant most of the time. Murph is as hands-on as I've ever seen, though he spreads himself awfully thin. He doesn't miss anything, and he totally has his finger on the pulse of his team."

The rigor of playing for a taskmaster has proved too much for a number of ASU players, including some future professionals. But more often than not, those who stick with Murphy through thick and thin are thankful they did.

"I'd heard lots of things about Murph, good, bad and ugly -- mostly the ugly," says Willie Bloomquist, who starred for ASU in the late 1990s and now plays for the big-league Seattle Mariners. "I'd heard about all these demands he has of his players, and that a lot of people out there thought of him, frankly, as an ass. But after speaking with him, I knew that, if that's an ass, I guess I'm going to play for an ass."

Bloomquist goes on to say that "Murph doesn't care about external bullshit. He holds everyone accountable, and the players hold each other accountable. That's the sign of a great program. I've spoken to former ASU players who hated him and left. They all tell me that Murph was right all along, that they'd screwed up. He's not for everyone."

On August 26, 2000, Kai Murphy was born to Pat and Argelia Murphy.

Though the union between Murphy and his second wife lasted only a few years, the addition of the little boy into the coach's life was profound.

Within a few years, he found himself in a bitter court dispute over Kai, after which he became the primary custodial parent.

"I've had to address a lot of things in myself to do the job properly with Kai, and it's an ongoing process," Murphy says.

His daughter Keli also came back into his life, another source of great joy.

In recent months, Murphy has been assisted in child-rearing by his fiancée, Francheska Figueroa, a 41-year-old schoolteacher.

With Figueroa, a beautiful woman with a direct manner, the coach finally may have met his match, and in more ways than one.

A breast-cancer survivor whose own life story has had its dramatic ups and downs, Figueroa is apparently as strong-willed as Murphy.

The pair met after Murphy moved to Tempe in 1994, but then fell out of touch until last year.

"A friend of mine who's a private investigator asked me, 'Isn't there a woman out there for you?'" Murphy says. "I said I didn't really think so. I've been in and out of a lot of relationships, and I've never really understood them. It's always been about me. I mentioned this sweet girl Francheska from years ago. I'd never forgotten her. He tracked her down and checked her out, and actually told her I'd like to see her again."

Their first date last October was at a Starbucks, and a nervous Murphy had nine of his ballplayers show up at the coffee shop for moral support.

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