Q&A With Pat Murphy: His Resignation, His Rebirth And His New Role
It has been nearly nine years since Pat Murphy was forced to resign as Arizona State’s head coach amidst an NCAA investigation. It was a startling end for a coach who was the public face and seemingly omnipotent leader of one of college baseball’s most renowned programs, and one that forced him to restart his career at the lowest levels of pro ball.
Murphy spent two years managing the Eugene Emeralds of the short-season Northwest League. That was followed by two years managing the Padres Triple-A affiliate. He broke through to the majors in 2015, when he was named Padres' interim manager following the firing of Bud Black and went 42-54.
Now, Murphy in his third season as the Brewers' bench coach under Craig Counsell, his former player at Notre Dame.
The NCAA eventually cleared Murphy of charges of unethical conduct, although it did criticize him for a “cavalier attitude” towards NCAA regulations. Arizona State welcomed Murphy back in 2014 for a ceremony honoring his contributions to the program as the school closed its on-campus stadium.
Baseball America sat down with Murphy during the Brewers’ season-opening series in San Diego to discuss the past nine years—his departure from Arizona State, going from all-powerful college coach to short-season manager in an off-the-grid league, his rise back up the pro ranks and how he’s grown and changed through it all.
(Full disclosure: I attended Arizona State from 2006-10 and covered Murphy’s resignation for the student newspaper. I also covered Murphy in 2015 as the Padres' beat writer for the Riverside Press-Enterprise.)
This conversation has been lightly edited for both length and clarity.
To those watching from afar and who knew you in college, it seems like big league coach Pat Murphy is less intense that college coach Pat Murphy. Do you feel like you’ve changed at all as the years have gone by and your role has changed?
Pat Murphy: I hope so. I think one of the keys to any leadership position is your openness to growth. My intention is to try to grow and get better and be conscious of my responsibility and conscious of the possibilities. I hope I’ve grown.
What would you say is the biggest difference between Pat Murphy today and the Pat Murphy who left Arizona State?
Murphy: I’ve been blessed with so many great opportunities in baseball and I’ve been surrounded by so many good people that you can’t help maturing and growing. The biggest difference maybe is your perspective on things changes a little bit. I’m proud of a lot things that were accomplished at ASU that really set a standard, but also things that no one ever knows about that were part of my life. I’m grateful for everything that went down and happened. It doesn’t matter if things are justified for not. It’s an opportunity for growth.
Things went down at ASU in not the most ceremonious way. That experience, going through that and then having to start your coaching career back at the lowest levels of the minors, is humbling the right word for it?
Murphy: It was definitely humbling and that was a good thing. Any time you can be humbled, I think it’s a real positive thing in your life because at the end of the day, the depth of who you are and the number of people you can positively affect in the right way is the most important thing. Not your own personal accomplishments or justification, or whether or not you got a bad deal. My bad deal was a lot less than a lot others’ bad deals. There’s a lot of people in this world that had a lot worse things happen to them. It’s unfortunate what happened. I know it’s a business and a political thing and it’s happened to many people. And you can’t feel sorry for yourself. I think I did a pretty good job with the people around me of listening to them and responding in a fairly good way. It hurt very much, mostly because our program was so healthy and was doing such good things besides winning and turning out big leaguers. It was turning out quality people. The program was really being steered by the players in a lot of ways. It was a tradition-building that was just really getting into it. When you think of 2003-09, it was just really powerful. It took on an identity a few programs would be lucky to have. That was a tough pill to swallow when it happened, but again, a lot of people have been through a lot worse.
When you moved into pro ball and started down in short-season managing was the goal to get to the major leagues as a coach?
Murphy: It’s interesting you ask that question. I was really just trying to recover from what had happened. The rug had never been pulled out from under me in any way, shape or form and I had never been part of something that was such an injustice. And at the same time, I look back now and I know I could have done things to change that. I mean, I could have been part of the solution to that and done things to change that.
Do you have an example of something you feel like you could have done?
Murphy: I didn’t handle it. But when I saw it all coming down I knew I had never…there’s no evidence of any dishonesty, of any cheating, of any knowingly breaking rules. There’s no evidence of dishonesty. We were transparent about everything. My compliance evaluations every single year were A-plus. But then the stories that came out, the nonsense that grew out of it…
You feel like you didn’t handle it the way you wanted to?
Murphy: No. Of course when somebody is saying things that aren’t true you defend yourself. I just got, I was a little reactive and defensive and didn’t need to be, and emotional about my response. I could have handled it better. That put me in a bad light. But live and learn, you know. Of that scenario—the NCAA, ASU, myself—I like who I was in the deal. Even though I didn’t respond well, I like who I was. The role that I played obviously, I didn’t help myself, but if somebody looks into that whole story you can see the role that I played, I just didn’t handle it very well and the response to it. I didn’t think something like that could possibly happen, get blown out like that.
You get back into managing with the Padres short-season affiliate. With the pro game so different than the college game, was it almost like starting back to square one?
Murphy: I don’t think you change as a person at all. From your guys’ perspective, the media, you see the person I was at ASU and that part of my career, you’re really the same person, but you have to adapt to the focus of pro baseball. We won a lot of games in the minor leagues and I probably emphasized winning a little too much. I look back now, but I think that’s a debate, how important is that, but I had to learn how the pro game works and working for an organization and what they want, so I had to try to adjust my style to what they wanted.
You go from being the head boss of everything to now having to answer to someone else.
Murphy: Right, and that’s a very good exercise to go through. The people (in San Diego)—and I was really through four different general managers if you count the interim—I’m friends with all those guys and they’re all great. I still communicate with all of them, they’re all great people and I learned a lot. I’m thankful for the opportunities. And what can I say, I get an opportunity to do this with a close, close friend in terms of (Counsell) and I always stayed in touch. We just stayed in touch and he played in Arizona so I’d see him all the time. I went to dinner with him quite often. We might have even watched the horses run around the track sometimes together. And we just kept talking and when I was in Triple-A and he took the job with the Brewers he called me that day and said, 'Hey I want to try and make something happen here,' and I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s work it out.’ Things happened with the Padres at that time and they were going through some huge transitions, so Couns was the one that advised me, ‘Hey, stay there. If they want you to be the interim, while interims don’t usually get hired, it’s still a great experience for you.’ So he was looking out for my best interests, you know what I mean. That says volumes about Craig. It’s been great. It’s a good role for me.
Going back to that 2015 season, Buddy Black gets fired and you’re brought in to manage a clubhouse with playoff expectations and some big personalities like Matt Kemp, James Shields and Justin Upton. You’re the new guy. What was that experience and dynamic like for you?
Murphy: It happened so fast and I didn’t go to spring training that year with those guys so they didn’t know me at all. I chose to stay down in the minor leagues and (Padres general manager) A.J. (Preller) thought it was best I stay in the minor leagues so I could come out with all the new people in the minors taking over. That was a blessing and curse because I didn’t get to know any of the players. Same staff, just change the guy who they loved at the top, it was very challenging. We didn’t move the needle very much. We had some really good players that were either hurt or at a bad time in their career or not having their best year. I have no hard feelings. There was points of it—you look at back at Aug. 1—we were in a really good spot.
Third place, six and a half games out of wild card, and then you dropped seven of eight.
Murphy: And then at the end it was more about everybody shutting it down, giving other people a chance, so we didn’t have any chance to win in September. We had some 4A type players playing, but what a great experience. I got to learn about it.
Coaching in college, even coaching in the minors, is a whole different world than coaching major leaguers. What were the biggest things you learned that season, both good and bad, about you and what you needed to do to be a coach or manager at the major league level?
Murphy: Looking back I would’ve done things a lot different. Specifically, again, it happened so fast. I found out at 7:30 in the morning that I was a manager and at noon I was standing on those steps. My family didn’t even know. They’re watching on TV saying what were you doing today. So I mean, I just, nothing can prepare you for that. It would be foolish to say that I was ready for it.
Because you were new and didn’t know any of the guys, was there a bit of tentativeness to show that assertiveness you were known for?
Murphy: My boy, Kai, whose been with me every step of the way, it’s just been him and I growing up, he said to me about 10 days in, we were here in San Diego and got back from our road trip, 'Dad, you’re just not being yourself.' So I think that says it all.
The year ends. You come to Milwaukee, and now you have to play a more secondary, behind-the-scenes role as a bench coach. Do you ever have times where, forgive the phrase, the old, loud Pat Murphy is going to come out and you have to catch yourself a little bit?
Murphy: I’m still loud (laughs). My personality, I’m very much comfortable. You talk to Eric Sogard who played for me at ASU, Jason Lane who played for me and is now a coach with me, talk to Shaw, Yelich…
Take someone like Christian Yelich, a young guy but already successful. Again, because it’s different instructing an 18-year old versus a 25-year-old professional, how much have you had to change your approach?
Murphy: It’s way different, but it’s still about people. It’s about earning their trust. It’s about letting them know who you are and what you’re willing to talk about. I’ve been able to grow and in this role I’m in learning mode all the time and that’s been fun.
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You’ve previously mentioned you were pretty hard on Craig Counsell when he played for you at Notre Dame. What were some of the things you would do?
Murphy: I was always on him, man. I was on him constantly. One of the times, I used to make him yell 'I got it' when he’d take ground balls in the indoor facility because he’d never speak. I’d say, 'This kid doesn’t speak. You gotta learn to speak up. You gotta learn to be assertive.' He was assertive, but he wasn’t talkative, so I made him yell, ‘I got it’ every ground ball.’ That was very fun.
Watching him go from being that quiet kid to now being the public face of a franchise hosting press conferences 200 days a year, does it make you chuckle a little bit?
Murphy: It doesn’t make me chuckle, it makes me feel great for him. You could always see that he was a special guy and very, very bright, has a really good feel for all parts of the game, it’s great to watch. I’m thankful to be a part of it. I really am.
You go from being his coach to 30 years later now working for him. Is that change in dynamic odd or surreal at all?
Murphy: It’s not, and I know that most people would probably say it has to be, but it’s really not because our relationship was always just like, it’s genuine. He knows I care about him as an individual. I care about his family and I care about the job he’s got to do right now. And I know a little bit what it’s like, the job he’s got to do, and I really want to help him be successful at it. That’s my only thought, and that’s my job. Help him be successful at it, whatever way he’s fit to use me. It’s been great. It’s been fulfilling. Everybody says, 'Oh you want to get back to managing again, this opening is coming up,' and you get calls in the offseason, it’s like, try not to go there, you know what I mean? I love what I’m doing and I really like what we’ve done the last two years and I think we can do more. I think the view from the media from who I was back then is what people get confused with, because the person I showed you was more, I never wanted to show the media what was really going on. I coach out of love. I always coached out of love. Players that know me know that. But I didn’t always come off that way.
Do you feel like you’ve gotten better at coming off that way since getting to pro ball?
Murphy: I think I’ve always had a good way of communicating with players. I think players would always tell you, it’s been well-documented what players say about wanting to play hard, knowing my expectations and my standards. I think I always communicated well. What I don’t think is, I didn’t reveal to a lot of people what I was about. I think I was a little more closed off to who I was. When you get here you get exposed and you gotta show it.
It’s always not easy to reveal yourself. Was that a process?
Murphy: When I go speak I tell people all the time I had a lot of on-paper success. You look at my years at Notre Dame it was instant success, and I get a lot of credit for that. Then I go to Arizona State, it’s instant success and then you start churning out these undrafted guys who are big leaguers making $50 million when you talk about Kole Calhoun or Dustin Pedroia or Andre Ethier or Jason Kipnis. They were undrafted (out of high school) and now they’re making $50-100 million in contracts and you’re like, 'How did that happen?' and you hear 'It’s Murph.' It wasn’t me. And I get a lot of credit for it. But when you have that much success right off the bat, 27 years old and you’re getting touted for big jobs, beware because you might not be that good of a coach. You might have a lot of developing to do as a coach. What I’m thankful about is I kept getting myself in situations where I really had to develop and kept shooting big, keep taking on big challenges and then all the sudden it forces you to change and develop and grow. I got a long way to go. It’s been fun. I’ve been very fortunate.
Dating back to 2015, every time we’ve talked, there’s always multiple people from the other team that will walk over to say hey and catch up. This interview alone we’ve been stopped by three different guys. Having that many connections throughout the game, is that what you think is your ultimate legacy?
Murphy: I don’t know. You can look at records, you can look at accomplishments in different ways. The only thing you have, I think the only thing that’s important, is what you gave. How many people you ended up affecting in some way, whether they’re big leaguers or just kids you coached or people you tried to help in other ways, and I think everybody’s legacy is defined by how many people you’ve helped and how many people you’ve changed and what your intent has been as a coach. If your intent is just to be transactional and just win rather than help people feel better about themselves and grow and become the people they can become…because often times these young players don’t know how good they could become.
Helping these young players become how good they can become, that’s something that’s similar to college and coaching 18 year olds who don’t know yet. How much do you find yourself leaning back on that experience versus what you’ve had to learn in pro ball?
Murphy: I think it’s people. It’s helping people at different stages of their life, and that’s ultimately it’s all about. I’ve had a unique set of circumstances that not many people have had, and I’m grateful for that, but it is still about people and helping people understand how good they can be and how consistent they can be and have people understand how lucky they are and not take things for granted. Same things. These are still young people. They help me and hopefully I help them.
Do you have to consciously to be aware that you’re second or third in command, when you’re natural instinct for more than 30 years was 'I’m the guy at the top.'?
Murphy: Actually it’s been really enjoyable to see it from this point of view that I’ve never had the chance to see it from really. In a couple years of my life have I seen it from a different point of view. Having that point of view really helps, knowing that I’ve been there my whole life, and I think at the same time it really helps me.
What would you say is the biggest difference in point of view from being the manager to the bench coach?
Murphy: When you’re the manager there’s not a lot of time. You don’t have a lot of time. Where the bench coach you have a lot of time to think and to put things in perspective more than the manager does. And I think that’s smart, it takes me longer anyway, so it’s given me a little more time.
At Arizona State you experienced a lot of success, a lot of great teams, but were never quite able to get that College World Series championship. Now that you’re with a team with World Series aspirations, how much of getting that championship ring is what motivates you?
Murphy: I mean that drives you every single day. That doesn’t define you, it just drives you because that’s what you’re ultimately looking for. And you know that it’s a special thing and being so close so many times in college, it was gonna happen. What what we had growing with three straight, four straight Pac-10 championships if you really look at it because I coached the 2010 team for half the year in the fall, four straight championships—that hadn’t been done since college baseball was a whole different animal, 35-plus years since that had been done at any major program, and we were on the verge of it. I’m confident that it would have happened, but it didn’t. I swear I don’t think about it that much. I just know that every year that I’m here we like to get better and grow and ultimately be part of that World Series
A lot of people have had a lot of different opinions of you over the years. What’s the main thing you want people to know about Pat Murphy, Milwaukee Brewers bench coach, who he is today?
Murphy: I think everybody knows who I am as a person. They know my kids are most important and they know that I’ve had a lot of great experiences and met a lot of great people, I’m not looking for them to know anything or send any message. I’m really grateful for all the great experiences that I’ve had. It is what it is. The people that know me know who I am. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but when you’ve had all the opportunities I’ve had you have a lot of opportunities to make mistakes. I’m nothing special. I’m average. I’m average with a lot of great opportunities and a lot of great people in my corner.