To say that Pat Murphy lives his life with a high level of energy and motivation would be like saying those cars at the Indianapolis 500 go pretty fast.
The Syracuse, N.Y. native fulfilled his dream of coaching the Notre Dame baseball team from 1988-94, which he parlayed into college baseball’s most coveted job – Arizona State -- in the mid-1990s.
After a successful but sometimes tumultuous ride through the ranks, he’s landed on his feet as the manager of the San Diego Padres’ AAA affiliate – the El Paso Chihuahuas -- where he now has not one but two major league baseball organizations coveting his expertise.
As a 29-year-old dynamo, he came knocking on the door of then-Notre Dame athletics director Gene Corrigan, convincing Corrigan that he – despite his youth and inexperience as a head coach on the collegiate level – was the right man to try to resuscitate the Fighting Irish baseball program.
“I get a lot of the credit, but it was really unwarranted,” said Murphy, who took a program that was 30 games under .500 the previous five seasons and immediately shattered the single-season mark for victories with a 39-22 record in his first season.
“I was so fortunate. I had the right group of guys that were given to me. I lucked into a couple recruits. We had a great administration and the right people.”
The fact is Murphy willed Notre Dame to 318 victories in his seven seasons in South Bend, leading the Irish to their first NCAA tournament appearance in 19 years and three more from 1992-94. Over his final six seasons at Notre Dame, the Irish averaged 46.5 victories and just 15.6 losses.
Murphy did more than create a path to success; he was the architect of the map upon which Notre Dame baseball became a legitimate national power, even before affiliating itself with the Big East.
“There was a belief system amongst those guys that they were here to win,” said Murphy, rattling off his list of captains, including Craig Counsell, who is now the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers – the other MLB organization currently vying for his talents.
“There was an expectation to win and they liked it. With the type of kids we had, they were used to that in life.”
Murphy’s fire and determination is legendary, and it propelled Notre Dame baseball above and beyond, even after he left the Irish to lead Arizona State to 629 victories, four Pac 10 titles and a national runner-up finish in 15 seasons in Tempe.
Paul Mainieri’s 12-year run with the Irish (1995-2006) – before he departed for LSU, which arguably has been the nation’s top program in recent years – led to nine NCAA tournament appearances, including a trip to the 2002 College World Series. Mainieri leads his Tigers this week into the 2015 NCAA tournament as the No. 2 overall seed in the 64-team field.
Murphy’s career path has had a few twists and turns. After being found innocent of violations during his stint with the Sun Devils, he was out of baseball briefly before latching on as the Special Assistant to Baseball Operations with the San Diego Padres’ organization. He eventually would lead Single A affiliate Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds to a pair of Northwest League titles in 2011-12 before his elevation to the Triple A level.
Murphy has wondered through the years if he should have stayed at his dream school – Notre Dame – and tried to make the Irish a perennial college power.
“That was a fun time in my life,” Murphy said. “Notre Dame has great people. With people that decide to go to school there and the people that make a commitment to representing the university in sports, anything can happen.”
During the back-to-back reigns of Murphy and Mainieri, Notre Dame won 851 games over a 19-year span for an average of 44.7 victories per year.
“We didn’t have many scholarships, but it didn’t matter,” Murphy said. “When you were eyeballing the other team, it didn’t matter who was getting scholarship money and who wasn’t. It mattered who was prepared to play winning baseball.”
A key piece in Murphy’s final run with the Irish that took them to three straight NCAA appearances as a member of the Midwestern Collegiate Conference was Counsell, an eventual 11th-round draft choice of the Colorado Rockies who helped lead the Florida Marlins to a 2001 World Series title.
“I out-recruited Wisconsin for Counsell, and Wisconsin didn’t have a baseball program,” deadpans Murphy, who at present is not at liberty to discuss the tug-of-war between the Padres’ organization and Counsell’s desire to hire and elevate him to the Brewers’ major-league staff.
“My first recruiting class was the most special class ever. You look at what those guys are doing in life right now. And then there’s Counsell, (Toledo head coach) Cory Mee, and (Ohio doctor) Joe Binkiewicz. Just thinking of those guys, I’m like, ‘Wow, did I get lucky.’”
Murphy also credits his predecessor at Notre Dame – Larry Gallo – with helping set the foundation for two decades of unprecedented Irish baseball success.
“He might not go down in the record books as having a great overall record, but he helped me so much in the transition,” said Murphy of Gallo, whose record at Notre Dame in his first two seasons as head coach (1981-82) was 80-39-1.
“When I took over and I had on-paper success, people looked at Larry like he couldn’t do it. But he helped me so much in that transition. He spent hours with me talking about Notre Dame and how to operate. He deserves a lot of credit, but mostly it was the kids and the school.”
From the outside looking in, mostly it was Murphy’s will to lead Notre Dame baseball to prominence.
“I was a shot in the arm, and then Mainieri took it to the top,” Murphy said. “Now (Mik Aoki) looks like he’s got it on track.”
A track blazed nearly three decades ago by the dynamic Murphy.