Murphy reunited with his ASU legacy

Originally Published: February 13, 2014
By Eric Sorenson | Special to ESPN.com

Pat MurphyJed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesPat Murphy won 629 games with Arizona State from 1995 to 2009.

If there is a man in college baseball who needs redemption, it's Pat Murphy.

He is considered a legend in Arizona State baseball lore, but it was the ASU athletic department that unceremoniously kicked him to the curb in the fall of 2009 amid an investigation by the NCAA's Division I committee on infractions that eventually led to postseason probation. He left ASU bitter by the way his exit was handled by the NCAA.

Four years after that ugly time, a rejuvenated Murphy will finally get his due this weekend from the program he so loved, and some long-burned bridges will be crossed again at the same time.

ASU will hold a special ceremony before Saturday's game against Baylor to honor Murphy as part of a salute to historic Packard Stadium, which is in its final season.

"We are honoring the great ASU baseball tradition during our final season at Packard Stadium, and our former coaches and players play a big role in this." Rocky Harris, senior associate AD for external relations, said in a press release. "Pat Murphy is the cornerstone of one of the most decorated eras in Sun Devil Athletics and we are going to have him kick off our season-long celebration of Packard Stadium. It has been part of our overall plan to continue to reach out to everyone who has contributed to ASU's success over the years and this is an important step in accomplishing that objective."

It doesn't take much explaining to understand where Murphy fits into the Sun Devils' success in the 2000s. The four-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year took four teams to the College World Series and sent more than 100 players to the MLB draft in his 15 seasons at ASU.

"I'm very, very thankful," Murphy said of his upcoming recognition. "It's very exciting to be able to go back and have this honor. I'm excited about it, but I'm also very humbled over it."

When you review the names of some of the players who went from his tutelage in Tempe onto pro diamonds, there's not a lot of reason to be humble. Dustin Pedroia, Andre Ethier, Willie Bloomquist, Cole Kalhoun, Jason Kipnis, Brett Wallace and Ike Davis are just the tip of the iceberg.

"It's a real thrill and very gratifying to see these guys succeed at the highest level," Murphy said. "Although the truth is that they brought out the best in themselves to get where they are. We all know it wasn't me who did it, but I like that I had a small part in making them successful at that level."

A large part of Pat Murphy's winning formula was never failing to get the most out of his players, or his staff. According to former assistant coach Mike Rooney, who was with Murphy at Arizona State for five years in the early 2000s, he knows that game plan quite well.

"He's everything a great coach should be," Rooney said. "I think people knew that he was very tough on us. He held us to a high standard and pushed us beyond our comfort level. But that's what a great coach is all about."

Though he has reason to still be indignant about the ending of his days in the Valley of the Sun, Murphy has not let that hinder the upward momentum of his career. After leaving ASU, he became a baseball operations assistant for the San Diego Padres, then he went on to manage in the minor leagues, currently with the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas (the team was based in Tucson in 2013, Murphy's first year with the club).

"I've learned a lot about baseball and about myself since my Sun Devils days," he said. "As a minor league manager, you're only part of the system. I've never had to be just part of a bigger picture, but now I'm more accountable."

In a strange twist, Murphy, a boxer in his younger days, has had to temper his zest for winning now that he's in pro ball.

[+] EnlargePat Murphy
Andy Hayt/San Diego Padres/Getty ImagesPat Murphy joined the San Diego Padres as a special assistant to baseball operations shortly after he was fired by Arizona State.

"It's very, very different than in college baseball," he said. "I'm still a competitive guy, but it's more about player development and what you can do for the organization. In fact, one of the things I like to say about managing in minor league ball is that there is only one 'W' that counts, and that is the one that the San Diego Padres get."

Still, his winning touch was in full force with the Triple-A club. In his first year with Tucson, Murphy led the Padres to 21 more wins than the year before, the biggest jump in team history.

But Murphy is also quick to point out that there is a higher priority than player development or even winning: his 13-year-old son, Kai.

"Right now Kai is heavily involved in youth sports and travel ball in the summer," he stated proudly. "So that's where my priorities are right now. No matter what happens, I want what's best for him."

With all that on his mind, does he still want to get back into college coaching?

"I don't know if the answer is 'want,' but I am open to it," Murphy said. "To be honest, I've had a dozen athletic directors approach me about coming back to college ball. I miss the college game. So if someone comes knocking, I am willing to listen."

Whether or not he goes back to college coaching, his legacy at Arizona State is secure.

"I think the people who are still there from my time as head coach were interested in galvanizing the tradition of ASU baseball and that might be part of why they brought me back for this honor," Murphy said. "I think a lot of them know that I was in a tough spot at the time and ASU was in a tough spot at the time, too. So this is sort of a way of celebrating the success we had and I'm really honored they're doing this.

"The university did much more for me than I could have ever done for the university."

It seems time is starting to do its work on healing wounds, and Saturday's ceremony will not only be vindication for Murphy, but proof the animosity between him and Arizona State University is finally subsiding.

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