Penn State Coaching Search: Tim Murphy

Shortly after Joe Paterno's firing, the Sporting News' Chris Hayes randomly floated a name for the Penn State job that nobody had even remotely contemplated: Harvard's Tim Murphy.

Could an Ivy League coach actually work at Penn State? Our last Ivy Leaguer was decent enough for about 60 years, so yeah, let's take a closer look.

Head Coaching Record

Year Team Overall Conference Standing Bowl/playoffs Rank#
Maine Black Bears (Yankee Conference) (1987–1988)
1987 Maine 8–4 6–1 T–1st
1988 Maine 7–4 4–4 T–3rd
Maine: 15–8 10–5
Cincinnati Bearcats (Independent) (1989–1993)
1989 Cincinnati 1–9–1
1990 Cincinnati 1–10
1991 Cincinnati 4–7
1992 Cincinnati 3–8
1993 Cincinnati 8–3
Cincinnati: 17–37–1
Harvard Crimson (Ivy League) (1994–present)
1994 Harvard 4–6 2–5 T–7th
1995 Harvard 2–8 1–6 8th
1996 Harvard 4–6 2–5 T–6th
1997 Harvard 9–1 7–0 1st
1998 Harvard 4–6 3–4 T–5th
1999 Harvard 5–5 3–4 5th
2000 Harvard 5–5 4–3 T–3rd
2001 Harvard 9–0 7–0 1st 19
2002 Harvard 7–3 6–1 2nd
2003 Harvard 7–3 4–3 T–2nd
2004 Harvard 10–0 7–0 1st 13
2005 Harvard 7–3 5–2 T–2nd
2006 Harvard 7–3 4–3 3rd
2007 Harvard 8–2 7–0 1st 21
2008 Harvard 9–1 6–1 T–1st 15
2009 Harvard 7–3 6–1 2nd
2010 Harvard 7–3 5–2 T–2nd
2011 Harvard 9–1 7–0 1st
Harvard: 119–59 85–40
Total: 151–104–1

Coaching Experience

Fun fact, Murphy was the head coach of the Cincinnati team that lost to Penn State 81-0 in 1991. Let's not hold that against him, especially because his Bearcats very nearly beat Penn State at Nippert Stadium one year later (Cincy lost 24-20). His Cincinnati teams steadily improved throughout his tenure there, most especially on defense (they allowed only 197 points in 1993, although against a lowly schedule). Not to be overlooked, he took the Cincinnati job when the program was being hit with a wave of NCAA penalties. His revival of that program remains one of the greatly overlooked coaching accomplishments of the last two decades.

He took the job at Harvard, in part, to be closer to his terminally ill mother (and despite a 40% salary decrease). Since 1994, he has won six Ivy League championships, and hasn't had a losing conference record since 1999. Oh, and he's, like, totally a smartypants:

He was nearly ready to give up on coaching, to head off in another direction. He had, in fact, tendered his resignation as an assistant coach at Maine and was off to Northwestern’s business school for his MBA, when he was offered the Black Bears’ head coaching job in 1987.

"I was actually conflicted at the time,’’ Murphy said. "I always wanted to be a head coach, but I put a lot of hard work in, night school, to get into a top 10 business school.’’

So he asked Northwestern for, and was granted, a deferral.

"I said, ‘Just give me a year and I’ll get this out of my system,’ ’’ Murphy said. "Twenty-five years later, I haven’t gotten it out of my system.’’

Fit - Cultural, Personnel, Etc.

Hard to find in-depth Harvard scouting reports, but there doesn't appear to be much outside of traditionally balanced, solid football here (2010 FCS stats here). Murphy is your standard, blue collar coach who demands much of his team, but don't let it be said that he's a buttoned up, risk-averse kind of guy. His team ran a flawless fake field goal for a touchdown against Yale a few weeks ago. Murphy has also been an effective recruiter at Harvard. It's a different animal, of course, as he's trying to steal players who would otherwise go to Stanford or Northwestern.

Murphy has turned down offers from other schools in the past, including Indiana back in 2005. Indiana is Indiana. Would he be interested in Penn State? He's dropped the "never say never" line in response to a question about the PSU job, but I'm not convinced. He's 55 years old, and is already hinting that he's near the end of his career:

"I love what I do, but I’m not going to be doing this in 10 years,’’ Murphy said. "I’m going to transition to something else. As much as I love it, it’s so all-consuming.’’

He never saw a single one of his daughter’s field hockey games. He has seen just one of his son’s football games. He and his wife, Martha, who have three children, have yet to go on their honeymoon, even though they’ve been married for 23 years.

"There will come a time that I will want to do something that isn’t so all-consuming and maybe experience what life is like,’’ he said. "I look forward to someday on Saturday coming back and watching a Harvard football game and actually tailgating.

"It actually scares me that I’m at this point in my career thinking that. I work out. I’m healthy. I’m young. But when you’re 55 instead of 30, when I became a head coach, you realize you’re a lot closer to the end of your career than you are to the beginning of it, and that’s a little bit sobering.’’

But not too much.

"I love what I’m doing,’’ he said. "I’m more energized than ever. And we’re going to go really hard for the next five years, and then probably figure it out from there.’’


He's already a Harvard legend, obviously nothing to scoff at. Would be be willing to make the leap to Big Ten football? Two weeks ago, Dennis Dodd reported thusly:

Harvard coach Tim Murphy would "definitely" be interested in "looking into" the vacant Penn State job, according to a source close to the situation.

It is not known if Murphy is being considered by Penn State for the job but has been mentioned in reports because of his success at the non-scholarship Ivy League program. The source did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation and because the coaching search to replace Joe Paterno is in its earliest stages.

"I think he’d definitely be interested in looking into it," the source said Tuesday. "He’d have to look … at this one. He’s got plenty of years left in him. He’s absolutely interested in exploring it."

Former Harvard quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick added his own semi-endorsement:

"Obviously they’re looking for a guy with a clean record, a guy that cares a lot about academics and the student part of the student-athlete and in that regard I think he’d be a perfect fit." Fitzpatrick told CBSSports.com Rapid Reporter Mark Ludwiczak, "He possesses all the qualities that I think they would look for."

The verdict? Penn State could do much worse, if you're willing to believe that Murphy would be able to translate his Ivy success to the Big Ten (no small leap of faith, that). Here's the thing about Tim Murphy -- you can't find a bad word written about him or his coaching ability. I mean, nowhere. He's cleaned up scandalous messes before (nothing like Penn State's situation, naturally). He has excelled everywhere he's been.

Age and burnout could be an issue, as noted above, and the intense scrutiny of Big Ten football would be a massive shift from what Murphy is accustomed to at Harvard. Still, I went into this with an extremely skeptical frame of mind, and was pleasantly surprised from beginning to end. Solid guy, great record of success.

Your thoughts?

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Previous Candidate Profiles:

11/27 - Dan Mullen, Mississippi State HC

11/28 - Tom Bradley, PSU Interim HC

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