Tough Coach

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For as far back as Pat Murphy can remember, he was a Fighting Irish fanatic, listening to games on the radio, memorizing statistics, living and dying with the team, and always dreaming of someday being part of the mythical South Bend experience.

(Murphy bears an interesting resemblance to Knute Rockne, the iconic Notre Dame football coach of 1918 to 1930 said to have composed the famed "Win One for the Gipper" speech.)

Murphy was the last of the siblings at home as he hit his teens. He describes himself as a wild child, mad at the world.

"I had this girlfriend who lived eight miles from us," he says, "and I'd sneak out at night and get my ass over there. I'd walk back at dawn or whenever, and I made sure I'd walk right through a bad part of town, slow as could be. What made me want to walk so slow? It was always, 'What's that white boy doing? He's gotta be crazy.'"

Murphy attended Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse. He lettered in three sports, and won a reputation that has stuck.

"Toughest guy I've ever met, bar none, physically and mentally, and also the most loyal person I know," says Greg Dunn, who played high school baseball with Murphy and still lives in upstate New York.

"We'd play these contests -- who could hit the ball the hardest and the farthest -- and Murph always won. His shoulder used to pop out when he played first base if you threw wild to him. He'd drop his glove and come at you. He was and is a piece of work."

Dunn adds that "Pat Murphy was born to be at Notre Dame. It just took him a while to get there."

One reason was that Murphy lacked academic discipline. He says Notre Dame rejected him for admission as a student four times before he finally gave up.

Instead, he first went to Le Moyne College in upstate New York. He stayed there a year, transferred to Bowling Green University for another year, then moved in 1981 to Florida Atlantic University, which was just starting its own baseball program with just 12 players.

Murphy played there for two years under Steve Traylor, whom he cites as a mentor. Last year, Murphy invited Traylor to be his guest in Omaha at the College World Series.

After graduating from Florida Atlantic (he later earned his master's degree in developmental studies from the institution), he played pro ball in the lower levels for four years.

When Murphy still was in his mid-20s, he already was well on the road to becoming a baseball lifer, which usually means being a kind of gypsy.

At the age of 24 in 1983, he accepted a job as head baseball coach at little Maryville College in Tennessee, where he also served as an assistant football coach.

Murphy spent much of 1984 in Australia, where he coached baseball in the outpost of New South Wales.

After a stint coaching for a minor-league professional team, he took a job in Southern California at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps College, a school bereft of a baseball tradition.

Murphy turned the program into an immediate winner.

Two significant events in Murphy's life happened during his two years at Claremont:

He met Michelle Whaley, who would become his first wife. Whaley was a volleyball player in her senior year at Claremont when she met Murphy, just five years older than her.

"Murph was a compelling and dynamic person, and still is," says Whaley. "Even then, he was thinking deeply about life and the way he should be as a person. Despite his reputation, he's extremely intelligent and reflective. He knew what he wanted and he was going to go for it."

She and Murphy got married in 1987, the same year that a series of serendipitous circumstances opened the door to his dream job, the head coaching position at the University of Notre Dame.

The short story is that, in the summer of 1987, Murphy begged, cajoled, prayed and basically forced his way into a program literally teetering on the edge of extinction.

Finally, after years of trying, Murphy had made it to his own campus of dreams in South Bend, Indiana.

He was 29 years old, and was paid $7,000 his first year at the helm of the Fighting Irish baseball team.

Coach Murphy's first recruit at Notre Dame in 1988 was a 135-pound kid from South Bend named Craig Counsell.

He offered the unheralded infielder a $500 scholarship to a private school where annual tuition then ran about $20,000.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin