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Thursday, December 09, 2004

Murphy for Football Coach at Notre Dame

He's a perfect fit.

He's won everywhere he's been.

Most, if not all, of his players graduate.

Since he's been at his last stop, every kid on his team has been on a squad that's won a league title.

His most recent team dominated his league. They went undefeated.

They even overcame his league's 800-pound guerrilla. Relatively speaking, his school has higher academic standards than that of the team that they overtook (and beat to a pulp in this year's showdown for what was tantamount to the league's title game).

His wife's maiden name is Kennedy.

Who is this coach, you may ask?

Tim Murphy, that's who.

Who? Where?

Harvard. That's where.

And the idea isn't as far-fetched as you think. Murphy's record at Cambridge is now 66-43 (as this year's 10-0 season isn't reflected in the Harvard bio I linked to, which was written before tis past season began). He did well at Maine as a 30 year-old head coach, then turned around Cincinnati's program, and then did the same at Harvard, making the Blue States' version of the Crimson into an outstanding football program. And at least one Chicago-area writer has put Murphy on the Fighting Irish's "B" list of candidates. Murphy apparently was on Florida's short list when it chose Ron Zook to replace Steve Spurrier three years ago.

Okay, so you're still not convinced. Maine, Cincinnati and Harvard combined, you'd argue, haven't given Murphy the battle testing he'd need to weather the storms he'd face at Notre Dame, both internally and externally. A staunch "big-time" football fan or alum would argue that a Tim Murphy would wither in this type of environment.

Perhaps you'd be right, but it says here you'd be wrong. But this coach is a winner. He's won everywhere he's been, and he's figured out a way to do it. Winning begets winning, and it's fair to say that Coach Murphy has some algorithm floating around in his head that's a formula for success at any college. Including Notre Dame.

Oh, the alumni would kick and shout. The rivals would laugh, derisively, at the awful choice that Notre Dame made. "What next?" some would ask. "Are they going to ask to join the Ivy League? Are they going to drop Michigan and play Yale?"

Notre Dame would have to allow for the doubting. Playing Michigan in Ann Arbor would be a more difficult test than, say, playing Pennsylvania at Franklin Field in front of 29,722 people (less than half capacity) in the Ivies' biggest game. All that is true.

But Tim Murphy is a winner. You can't take that away from him.

And don't think winning at Harvard is easy. With Harvard's vast and differing priorities, and with its abundant prestige, it's not like the powers that be at Harvard really care whether any of their teams do really well. Oh, yes, their men's ice hockey team has had its moments, and now their football team is good, but outside of those achievements the Crimson have been in the middle to the bottom of the Ivy pack in almost everything. Other Ivies (Princeton, Penn) make their athletic programs more of a priority. Somehow, some way, Tim Murphy has figured out a way to make Harvard football, relatively speaking, as good as the Harvard English Department.

That's no small feat, either.

But many will laugh, chalk up this post to a utopian musing, and say, "Okay, now who do you really believe should get the job?"

Well, I've posted before about Penn State football and who should succeed Joe Paterno, and, quite frankly, I've been stumped. Especially in light of the mess at Ohio State and the posting of graduation rates at the schools who are going to bowl games. So, if Penn State has had its issues given its standards, Notre Dame's challenge is even more vexing because it's Notre Dame.

So, I'll pose the question differently, then.

If not Tim Murphy, who?


Blogger Andy said...

His graduation rates are good, but I wonder how much of the graduation rate is due to the near impossibility of getting a grade lower than a B at an Ivy League school. I've heard that Ivies are hard to get into, but harder to fail out. The players with their admission slots have an advantage in getting over the first hurdle, though of course they meet tougher requirements than, say, Ohio State. I take nothing away from Murphy, but I would like it if you addressed this aspect of Ivy League athletics for those of us less familiar with the way things work there.

8:13 AM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks, Andy.

First, it's so hard to get into an Ivy school that the selection process virtually eliminates players who cannot do the work (even at an Ivy).

Second, the kids who do get in at the margins, as it were, are all pretty good students. It's all relative.

Third, the kids who might have trouble get a lot of support. The environments are conducive to learning, and it's easy to go to the library to study when everyone else is doing it. You're not missing out on any parties at those places on a week night.

Fourth, the Ivies are pretty tough on themselves, and there has been grade inflation. No one is hiding that problem. That said, it's one thing for professors to inflate grades, but wholly another for them to pass kids who don't do the work. The professors are sticklers for respect and attention, so there really is no such thing as a free lunch.

It's pretty easy to contrast Harvard and Ohio State. The former really could care less whether its sports teams win, and the latter couldn't care more.

9:06 AM  
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