Tough Coach

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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.

Figueroa says she hadn't laughed that hard in years.

Almost every Monday night in the Murphy backyard (which the coach has dubbed The Sandlot), neighborhood kids and family friends gather with their parents. Craig Counsell and his family, and ASU women's basketball coach Charli Turner-Thorne and her family are among the regulars.

It's a child's fantasyland, what with a miniature baseball infield, a manual scoreboard on a concrete retaining wall, a basketball court, and decent lights.

Murphy alternates throwing soft baseballs to the little ones with one of his baseball staffers or players who happen to be on hand. The kids obviously love the tough-guy coach, even when he pretends to be peeved at them for not swinging the bat properly.

The burgers and hot dogs come later.

A prime example of the "new" Murphy (please don't even try to suggest to his ballplayers that he's going soft) came against Cal State-Fullerton in last year's super-regional playoff.

Murphy ordered Zechry Zinicola to intentionally walk a Fullerton batter in the bottom of the ninth inning, with the game tied and the potential winning run on third base.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin