Murphy and his wife, Dot, made history during his 24 years as head coach. He became the winningest active coach in the National Junior College Athletic Association, and Dot became the first female college football coach in America.
Billy Watkins/The Clarion-Ledger
He grew up in Bigbee Valley, near Deerbrook and Cliftonville, 12 miles off U.S. 45 in northern Noxubee County.
Gene Murphy will tell you the foundation for his success as head football coach at Hinds Community College for 24 years was formed there, surrounded by ordinary people who did extraordinary things.
“Most have never had headlines or stories written about them,” he says. “But they showed me how to be successful, and how to treat people.”
Murphy was surprised Sept. 14 when Hinds Community College’s football field in Raymond was named for him. When he stepped down as head coach in August due to an inner ear problem that causes dizziness and fatigue, Murphy retired as the winningest active coach in the National Junior College Athletic Association. His record of 172-76-5 includes 14 trips to the state playoffs and eight bowl games.
Murphy, who will remain as athletic director, is especially proud of this: Hinds has earned the David Halbrook Award 15 times during his tenure, for the community college that has the highest percentage of graduates or completers in its athletic program’s district.
Of course, he owes a portion of his success to his wife of 40 years, the former Dot Easterwood — a star basketball player at Mississippi University for Women from 1971-74 — who has coached wide receivers at Hinds alongside her husband. She also works with the training staff.
Gene is quick to point out, “I didn’t hire her. (The late) Coach (Bill) Buckner hired her before I became the head coach.”
She had been a head women’s basketball coach at Itawamba Junior College and MUW for six seasons when Buckner hired the person he always called “the best candidate for the job.”
“I knew she would do well,” says Murphy, who worked as Buckner’s defensive coordinator. “She understood what it took to play wide receiver. She had a great eye, hand and feet coordination. And she coached those guys hard. They realized pretty quick that she meant business.”
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Dot Murphy has been featured in “Sports Illustrated” and was the subject of a documentary by NFL Films as the first female college football coach in the country. She was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.
Gene Murphy shakes his head when the documentary is mentioned. “Might have cost us a national championship,” he says.
“NFL Films had cameras down here a week and were all over the place when we went down (to Ellisville) to play Jones (Junior College) one night. Can you imagine how fired up they were seeing all those cameras on our sideline? They beat us 39-37 in a game when anything that could go wrong for us did.”
And there was a memorable disagreement between husband and wife that was part of the documentary.
“I would call the play, and Dot would signal it in,” he says. “Well, she signaled a play to the short side of the field, and that just messed it all up. I started letting her know about it, and she said, ‘Shut up and call the next play.’
“I’ve never had an assistant coach tell me that before or since.”
Dot Murphy remembers it a bit differently: “I had asked him twice if he wanted to run it to the short side or the wide side, and he never answered me. I screwed up and he comes down there and lets me know about it. He walks off, then comes back again. I finally said, ‘Just shut up and call the plays.’ ”
She also remembers how the couple’s one-on-one basketball games turned out soon after they married.
“He does, too,” she laughs.
Hay bales and faithfulness
Gene Murphy, who retired in August as Hinds Community College’s football coach, was honored by having the Eagles’ field named after him. Murphy retired as the winningest coach in the National Junior College Athletic Association. (Photo: Courtesy of April Garon/Hinds Community College)
I first met Gene Murphy on a youth baseball field.
He was a left-handed pitcher for Brooksville, I was a second baseman for Shuqualak. He threw relatively hard, but he was “comfortable” to hit against because he had pinpoint control. You never had to worry about taking one in the ear. Getting hits against him, however, was another matter.
Three of the best high school punt returners I’ve ever seen are from my home county: Carroll Walker, Robert Temkovits and Murphy.
Listed at 5’8″, 180 pounds, Murphy was tough to knock off his feet. I’ve seen him return punts for touchdowns when he had to put his hand on the ground three or four times to stay up as opponents bounced off him.
“I don’t belong in the same sentence with those other two guys,” he says. “But I will admit that I had pretty good balance, and I can tell you where that comes from: carrying two square bales of hay 20 or 30 steps in ankle-deep mud. That’ll test your balance, and you’ll do anything to stay on your feet.”
He played two years at East Mississippi Community College. A neck injury ended his career before he played a down at Delta State.
While in high school, Murphy became known for his quiet faith. He couldn’t stand to hear other students curse. Of course, that just made some of them curse more around him. He would turn red in the face but never say a word. He would shake his head and keep walking.
“I grew up around a lot of godly people,” he says. First and foremost, his parents, Ray and Elma Hugh, who are deceased. Murphy also mentions Dr. James Ratcliff, farmer John Roland and former state representative Cecil Simmons.
“Those people were ‘somebody’ in our neck of the woods, and they treated me — a little nobody — with respect and kindness,” he says. “That sticks with you.”
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Murphy says the same thing about two of his high school coaches, Wayne Stewart and David Butler, and Buckner, his coach at East Mississippi.
“I think a lot about how things work in a person’s life,” he says. “My daddy used to run a country store for Mr. John Cunningham. Reluctantly, I worked there when I’d rather been off hunting or doing something else. But — ”
Murphy’s voice breaks and he begins to cry.
“I had the opportunity to see my daddy in action, impacting little kids’ lives, old people’s lives — always being nice, always trying to help them any way he could. I saw my daddy work with a servant’s attitude, and that has always stuck with me.”
Nothing could mean more
Murphy is proud of his record and his players’ accomplishments. More than 100 have made their way onto NFL fields, including such stars as former Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Leon Lett and Super Bowl 49 hero Malcolm Butler of the New England Patriots. Many others have gone on to successful careers in the military or business.
“I came from a tough work ethic, and that’s the way I coached,” he says. “I was hard. But, you know, I’ve never had one player come back and say, ‘You worked me too hard, Coach.’ But I’ve had a lot tell me, ‘All that hard work, Coach, helped me succeed in life.’ There is no way to measure that.”
Watching the games every Thursday or Saturday from the Hinds sideline “is tough, no getting around that.” But he enjoys watching his and Dot’s son, Kelly, serve as offensive coordinator and their daughter, Ashley, work as cheerleading coach. Another daughter, Jennifer, teaches anatomy and physiology at Hinds.
Murphy says Hinds couldn’t have awarded him an honor that means more to him than having the field bear his name.
“That field is special to me,” he says. “Before each season, I would take the team through the stands and out onto the field. We would have a huge imprint of an Eagle at midfield, and we would put a star there that represented each championship, whether it was south state or state or whatever.
“I wanted them to know what they were representing, what they were defending. It’s always a tear-jerk moment for me, but it’s fun to reflect back on what that field has come to mean to me. Especially now.”
Contact Billy Watkins at 769-257-3079 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.
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