Longform

Tough Coach

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Counsell later would earn his degree in accounting, and was selected in the 11th round by the Colorado Rockies.

Arizona Diamondbacks fans know Counsell as a pivotal player on the 2001 World Series championship team, and an extremely popular current mainstay of the rapidly rebuilding team.

"Other than my Mom and Dad, who got me going, Murph was more responsible for me becoming a baseball player than anyone else," says Counsell, now 35. "He made me understand what mental toughness really is, and that I could become a player even though I wasn't the most talented guy around. He can make enemies from time to time because what you see is what you get with Murph. But he won't back down from anyone or anything, and if you stick with him as a player, he has so much good to offer."

Murphy looked and felt like Notre Dame when he was there, and the community and student body responded to him. He had a swagger to his step from the moment he first stepped on the campus.

"We were nothing and we became something," the coach says.

The Irish hadn't reached the NCAA tourney for two decades, but twice just missed earning trips to the College World Series during Murphy's seven-year tenure.

Murphy's marriage ended in 1992, but he remains close to Michelle Whaley.

"We always have had a lot of respect for each other, but sometimes it doesn't work out," says Whaley, who earned her doctorate at Notre Dame in molecular genetics and now teaches there.

"Professionally, I learned some amazing things from him about direction and focus. I know that Pat ruffles feathers, because he did it here. But he's a very genuine, good guy."

In 1994, ASU's baseball team took a poignant journey to the College World Series, where they finished third under veteran head coach Jim Brock. The coach died of cancer a few days after his team was eliminated ("Brock Solid," May 25, 1994, and "Jim Brock Lived for Baseball," June 29, 1994).

Brock had been at ASU for 23 years, 1,100 wins and two national championships when he passed away. He had succeeded Bobby Winkles, another big-time winner who won 75 percent of his games in 13 years (1959-71) and three national titles.

With his success at Notre Dame, Murphy was a natural candidate for the plum job in Tempe. But most people around South Bend and college baseball suspected that Murphy would never leave Notre Dame of his own volition.

A few years earlier, Murphy had turned down a prestigious job at the University of Miami, another perennial college baseball powerhouse. But he expressed interest when ASU courted him.

"People would tell me, 'You built a new stadium at Notre Dame with money you raised. How could you leave?'" Murphy says. "I don't know why. Maybe immaturity. Everything I did was based on emotion, and I made the decision to leave. Thank God I did. I never would have been what I could be if I didn't leave."

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.

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."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin