Former ASU, ND Coach Looks Toward Return To College…
(NOTE-Video interviews with Murphy and current Irish head coach Mik Aoki are at the bottom of this post.)
In more than two decades as a college baseball coach Pat Murphy was never at a loss for words. On Saturday in South Bend, Ind. the former Arizona State and Notre Dame skipper was as close as he’s likely ever been.
Murphy was surprised at a ceremony at Frank Eck Stadium, where he was informed that the new baseball clubhouse had been named in his honor. The newly renovated home of the Fighting Irish baseball team, where Murphy coached from 1988-1994, is now known as the Coach Pat Murphy Locker Room. He was also presented an honorary monogram and jacket by the Notre Dame Monogram Club.
Murphy was unwittingly lured to Notre Dame by his brother, Dan, under the guise that he was throwing out the first pitch at Saturday’s Notre Dame-South Florida game.
“How stupid I was not to know there was something more than throwing out the first pitch,” he said. “I’m shocked by myself, thinking how could I have not known this? My brother pushed me to ask permission from the Padres to leave for three days (Murphy is the manager of the Padres’ minor league affiliate in Eugene, Ore). I’m like well, it might be nice to get out of the heat. I just had no idea. I’m stunned, stunned…blown away.”
While Murphy gained national prominence at Arizona State, he blazed a trail to the desert in his seven seasons under the Golden Dome. Murphy’s Irish, which included the likes of future Major Leaguers Craig Counsell and Dan Peltier, were 318-116-1 (.732) prior to his departure. Notre Dame made trips to the NCAA Regional finals in his last three seasons in South Bend from 1992-’94.
Collegebaseball360.com asked the self described lifelong Fighting Irish fan if he could have ever envisioned being commemorated in such a way when he was hired by former ND Athletic Director Gene Corrigan in 1987.
“No. I never even thought about it,” he said. “I’m not a guy with a small ego, so I guess a guy like myself you’d probably think I was thinking about it, but never in a million years did I dream like something like this. This is Notre Dame, this isn’t some other institution trying to make it. This is Notre Dame and to be a speck on their radar is a great honor.”
The recognition came inside the same locker room he helped originally build just before his departure to Arizona State. The Coach Pat Murphy Locker Room, located within Notre Dame’s Frank Eck Stadium, is the first major renovation endeavor since the stadium’s construction in 1994-Murphy’s last season in the Irish dugout.
The project includes a redesign of the team space to make it more efficient and improve circulation between the clubhouse, shower, rest room facilities and the dugout. A kitchenette and mudroom (which replaced the former coaches’ office) were added along with direct access to and from the dugout area.
The locker space was completely overhauled with the installation of 36 brand new, 30-inch wood lockers including four specially designed corner lockers for catchers. New flat screen, high definition televisions and state-of-the-art RightView Pro technology was installed as well.
The project was funded by donations of Daniel Murphy, David Murphy, Bert Bondi , Craig Counsell and John Counsell, as well as other donors.
The entryway to the locker room now includes Murphy’s likeness.
“You know you don’t feel worthy, you just don’t,” said Murphy. “You know all the stupid mistakes you made, you know what a jerk you were sometimes and all the players you might not have treated exactly the way you would now today, but as a 27 year old I did it from my heart. I didn’t do it with any other intention other than trying to make Notre Dame the best place and not to embarrass my family.”
Notre Dame went from a 15-29 team the year before Murphy’s arrival in 1987 to 39-22 in 1988.
Murphy left Notre Dame to become the head coach at Arizona State in 1995. He was 629-284-1 with four trips to the College World Series from 1995-2009. However, despite his success, Murphy was forced to resign in Nov. 1999 while the program was under NCAA investigation (the program was placed on postseason probation, but is still eligible for the 2011 postseason as the appeals process is ongoing).
Murphy said his departure from ASU is a wound that has not yet healed.
“It’s been real tough. The tougher part is the perception people have without knowing the facts. That’s the part that kills you and that’s what I think is the exclamation point today is that a university like this would look into it and see what’s real and what’s not.”
“You just feel so much joy inside that someone recognizes that you’re not dishonest, you’re not a cheater. Just like the NCAA found, they found that there was no dishonesty, no cheating. This was a matter of paperwork and this was a matter of a lot of other strategic things and it hurt me deeply.”
“The last game I coached was against Texas in the (2009) College World Series for the right to play for the national championship. It’s been hurtful for the last 18 months.”
Murphy’s Sun Devils dropped that game to the Longhorns, but had they won he would have gone head-to-head with his successor at Notre Dame, Paul Mainieri, who defeated Texas in the CWS Championship Series to claim the 2009 national title.
Mainieri coached at Notre Dame from 1995-2006, and even hosted Murphy and the Sun Devils at Eck Stadium on April 26, 2002. The Irish won that game 9-4 en-route to a trip to that year’s College World Series. ASU’s roster included current Major Leaguers like Dustin Pedroia and Andre Ethier.
Murphy is currently working with young professionals as the manager of the Eugene Emeralds, but he says he hopes for a return to the college game.
“I think so. I like the pro element, I’m learning a lot, but I think my calling is college baseball and I’m just getting started, so I look forward to it. I’ve already been contacted by a few clubs, but I just gotta look for the right fit and be able to do the things I can do.”
In the meantime, Murphy is satisfied with his new found place at Notre Dame.
“Notre Dame has done for me far more than I could ever do for it,” he said. “I’ve been gone for 17 years and in 17 years it’s come-up every day. It’s just special.”
Murphy did eventually throw out the first pitch prior to the Notre Dame-South Florida game at Eck Stadium. His son, Kai, also worked that day at the Irish bat boy.