Arizona State coach Pat Murphy has evolved over the years into one of the best interviews for those of us who cover college baseball. (My own personal tally of good-quote coaches would include Cal State Fullerton’s George Horton, Tulane’s Rick Jones and Florida State’s Mike Martin. I’m sure I’m leaving someone out but those guys are on any such list, for me.)
There’s no better stage for a coach to quip than the College World Series, and Murphy was close to an 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale for his quotability Saturday. Here’s a rundown of Saturday’s hits:
• The best came after the formal press conference had ended. A reporter was asking about the future of the CWS in Omaha, and Murphy made an excellent West Coast analogy about the Rose Bowl needing to be the Rose Bowl in Pasadena; “You don’t move the Rose Bowl to Cincinnati.” That was good; his follow up was better.
“The College World Series and Omaha is a great marriage,” said the twice-divorced Murphy, “which I would know nothing about, but it’s a great marriage.”
• Murphy interrupted senior third baseman C.J. Retherford, a little-used player until the postseason, when he was asked about his tournament success. Retherford has hit all four of his homers since regional play began, including one Saturday, and was sheepishly addressing his hot streak (he said, “I’m just seeing the ball good” twice) when Murphy broke in.
“Go ahead, tell ‘em what you want to say, which is that coach should have been playing you all year,” Murphy said. “I’ll wear it when I need to wear it.
“We’ve’ been saving him–he’s our secret weapon, one of our shock troops,” Murphy continued. (He also belted out four lines of the Bruce Springsteen song “No Surrender” later, according to our own Aaron Fitt, but I wasn’t there for that.)
• When our own Fitt asked about the matchup of two teams that excel at execution, Murphy ignored his team’s defensive execution and said, “We’re terrible at execution! Irvine is a team that executes. Ask our guys if we execute. You guys, have we executed a bunt all year?”
Most of the Sun Devils on the dais shook their heads in the negative. ‘We’ve got six or seven guys who won’t bunt, who don’t know the signs,” Murphy continued. “I’ll give you their names if you want.”
Murphy has been to the College World Series three times now, and his evolution has been impressive. When he first came to Omaha in ’98, it was his first trip, he was still “Black Hat Pat” to many of his peers, and his intensity seemed to drive his team and inspire complete loyalty.
The Sun Devils lost to Southern California in the old-style one-and-done finals, their only loss of the tournament, and the success seemed to loosen him up. I remember sitting in the terminal at Eppley Airfield after the tournament, waiting for our planes, and while his team had lost, Murphy still seemed like a guy who had enjoyed himself, not one consumed by failure.
But the next year, Arizona State didn’t make it to regionals. The team’s non-conference schedule–produced on the fly thanks to the summer of ’98 demise of the old Six-Pac (Pac-10 South)–was deemed insufficient, and Murphy was as angry as any coach I’ve ever talked to when his 39-win team, which went 12-12 in Pac-10 play, was left out of the tournament.
That intensity and temper certainly is still there. But the 2007 Pat Murphy has been through all this before now, and he’s older and, yes, wise. He’s putting his own stamp on a program that often left him in the shadows of past greats Jim Brock and Bobby Winkles, and he’s become a his own coach. He’s got close friends in the coaching fraternity now, like Oregon State’s Pat Casey, and he’s assembled a staff of assistant coaches that rivals any in the country. He knows he doesn’t have to do it all, and he’s OK with that.
It’s a secure Pat Murphy who has made his third trip to Omaha–one secure enough in himself to make a postgame press conference an opportunity for a few laughs.