You're either with him or against him.
Yes, we're talking about Arizona State coach Pat Murphy.
Murphy has his fans. Each time you talk to him or he takes the podium at a regional, super regional or the College World Series, you're guaranteed something that comes out of his mouth will make you laugh.
Some people like that. There are others that don't.
No matter anyone's thoughts on Murphy, there's one thing that can't be denied. That's his ability to make Arizona State one of the nation's most consistent powers.
In addition to his thoughts on last year's team and the upcoming season, Murphy opened up about his combination of an aggressive and funny personality, his family life with son Kai and his intense love for Bruce Springsteen's music.
It's time to get to know Murphy.
Q: We're going to start you off easy. Looking back at last season, you had a team that for once wasn't expected to compete for the national title. What are your thoughts on what last year's team accomplished?
A: I'm just real proud of that group of guys. We had very few players returning and seven freshmen had starting roles and had to play in big-time situations. Not many expected us to get to Omaha and we found a way to get there. I was proud of that team more than you could imagine. It was just impressive how they seemed to bond together.
Q: It's not too early to start thinking about the 2010 season. After team workouts this fall, what type of club should we expect from the Sun Devils in the spring?
A: When you lose three guys like All-Americans Mike Leake and Jason Kipnis in addition to Carlos Ramirez, that's losing three star-like players that compiled amazing numbers last season. Leake obviously is a huge loss for the pitching staff, and the same can be said about the other two offensive cogs. There are plenty of returning players that must step up in the spring if we want to return to Omaha. The attitude of this club is going to be very good, but we're not going to have the same type of team with the same type of star power. However, the '10 team may actually be deeper than the '09 club.
Q: You've had some good teams in stops at Notre Dame and Arizona throughout your coaching career. Which teams stand out as your favorites?
A: That's an interesting question. I would say last year's club here at Arizona State is right up there. They were as good as it gets from a pleasure to coach standpoint. Some other teams out there that I think of include the '91 team at Notre Dame, '98 ASU team, '03 ASU team and '05 ASU team. Again, those teams were my favorites all for different reasons. I love all my teams, though. You get so close to them and they're like your best friends.
Q: Okay, let's take this question a step further. Who was your favorite player to coach?
A: Boy, you think of a few guys in this situation. The question calls for one, but that's just a little unfair. When you think of how far he has come as an athlete and a player, I would have to say former Notre Dame player and current big leaguers Craig Counsell is right up there. Willie Bloomquist for who he was at Arizona State and of course Dustin Pedroia. He is one of the best stories in baseball. There are plenty of others to remember out there, too. Brett Wallace and Mike Leake the past few seasons were great stories. There also are guys like Phil Lowery that fought through some arm injuries and Cesar Castillo, who never had a scholarship to play anywhere and chose to walk-on here at ASU. He ended up helping us win some ballgames. In terms of my time at Notre Dame, I'd look at Counsell and John Flanagan as guys I'll always remember. Flanagan could hardly pick up his left arm, but he'd run into the wall for you any day of the week. All of these guys are like my closets friends in the world.
Q: The best pitcher and player you've ever coached. Who are they?
A: From a position player standpoint, you have to go with Dustin Pedroia. Talk about a favorite player ever, you have no idea how much of a joy it was to be around Pedroia on the baseball field each day. Mike Leake is the best pitcher I've coached, but current starting pitcher Josh Spence is a close second. I love that guy as an individual.
Q: You've gone to home plate before a lot of big games to exchange lineup cards with some great college baseball coaches. Any stories that you were told stick out in your mind?
A: Florida State coach Mike Martin is a nice guy and always has a lot to say, but I never could understand a word that was coming out of his mouth with that southern draw. I always just laughed because I literally couldn't understand what he was saying. There were a couple of times at home plate with Oregon State coach Pat Casey that I'll always remember. We're playing each other at the College World Series one year and we're talking about our family and kids. The umpires look at us like we're crazy considering this is one of the biggest games of the year. I thought that was funny.
Q: You've had one of the nation's most consistent top-five teams this decade. Do you feel, though, like a national title could be used to validate that accomplishment?
A: I think people are entitled to their opinions on a national title validating things for this program, but I'm just worried about winning the next game. I'm not really worried about evaluating our situation in the national titles department. When someone is looking at us on the recruiting trail, I just say that we've won three-straight Pac-10 titles and been top 10 five of the last seven years. Not many programs in any sport can accomplish that goal these days. Would I like to win a national title? Sure, every coach wants to do that. Still, I'm proud of what this program has accomplished. We're in pretty stiff company even if you compare us to some of the basketball and football powers. We aren't a program that throws a bunch of money into a new stadium or has a huge budget and a wealth of huge salaries. In the old days, ASU was the haves. Now we're sort of the have-nots from a financial standpoint. What we're doing is kind of cool.
Q: Speaking of facilities, you've made it clear in the past that ASU is in need of a renovated or new stadium. Do you feel like ASU eventually will build a new baseball home?
A: I do think Arizona State will put the wheels in motion for a new stadium when the economy gets better. So, yeah, I do think the school eventually will get it done. But I'll say this and I always say it on the recruiting trail, a program is not based on facilities. A program is based on the type of kids and players you take to the field.
Q: You're the type of guy that people in college baseball either love or hate. For those in the hate category, what would you tell them about the type of personality you have?
A: I just like people to know that I'm a father first. It's the most important job in my life as far as I'm concerned and I feel like I'm true and real. I'm also extremely funny. I think I've lived an old life and lived a lot of years, so honestly, I don't take a lot of things that seriously. I don't think things are as serious as maybe some people do. I like our baseball program to get attention and get treated fairly. You know, given the respect it deserves. But as the same time, let's keep things under control. What is important to the kids in this program is getting ready for life, and winning big is a great lesson to teach them. I'm a lot more grateful and thankful than most people think. Sure, baseball is a competitive environment sometimes and there are times where you have to be aggressive. I've made a ton of mistakes and my mouth has gotten me in trouble. But I think lately I've grown up a bit.
Q: You've had the luxury that a lot of fathers don't have. You've had your nine-year-old son with you at a lot of games. A few years ago, he even took the podium with you in Omaha. What is that relationship like and what does it mean to you?
A: I'm so lucky to have him around the program. For years it was just he and I as a family and it's just something that is a great blessing and that I'm so grateful for. It's great for me to be able to have a job like this and have him around. Being around the other coaches and the players in this program has been good for him, too.
Q: In something that often has gone unnoticed, you're into charity work. Can you talk about what type of charity work you're doing?
A: I don't do anything that anyone else doesn't do. We do a great sandlot after-school program on Mondays that benefits underprivileged kids in the Tempe area. It's very beneficial for myself and our players to be put in that type of situation. It encourages our players to have some awareness that there's much more out there than just a baseball or baseball field. Anything that gets publicized about my charity work really isn't the intent of it. It's all about being in position to do some things to help other people. I just hope I've lived my life well enough to impact others.
Q: You've shown up at the podium at the College World Series donning a Bruce Springsteen shirt on several occasions. What's up with the Springsteen obsession?
A: I listen to all types of music, but Springsteen is just in my blood. It's a funny story, though. I had a friend tell me back in '80 to go to a concert with him in Florida. It was a Springsteen concert. I had absolutely no interest in going, but I just tagged along to be a good friend. The stuff he was singing about, though, touched me. I've followed his career and music ever since that day. Now he's kind of a teacher to me. I love his lyrics and like reading a book or poetry, you just kind of listen to his lyrics and figure out what he's talking about. What he sings about makes so much sense to the common folk. I just love what he sings about. I've had a couple of chances to meet him in past years, but I wanted to meet him on better terms. I'd like to meet him at a ballgame and just sit down and talk for a while. Hopefully that someday will happen. In terms of my favorite songs, I'd have to go with "Thunder road", "No surrender" and "Prove it all night". But honestly, there are so many great songs to list.
Q: Think long and hard. What's the greatest memory of your coaching career?
A: Greatest memory in my coaching career. Man, that's tough. Some of it was being at home by myself watching one of my former players, Craig Counsell, touch home plate when the Florida Marlins won the World Series. I remember sitting there and being so excited by myself. Remember being excited the first time in Omaha in '98 when we played for the national title. There have been so many great ones, though. Don't really think I can single one out. Another one to remember is coaching the Mighty Might Titans, my son's football team, this fall. That might take the cake. We were 8-0 and Kai was the quarterback for his team.
- Bruce Springsteen
- College World Series