By Chris McCarthy/Editor
With a national championship, 10 NCAA College World Series berths, five SEC regular season titles, five SEC Tournament titles and 17 straight NCAA Tournament bids under his belt, University of Alabama head softball coach Patrick Murphy knows a thing or two about sustained success.
Last Monday (Jan. 4) at Gadsden City High School, Murphy shared a few insights and tips about guiding and directing softball players from youth leagues through high school to the collegiate level.
“There’s a reason why we’re the only school in Division I softball that has played in all NCAA 11 Super Regionals,” he said. “[Former UA athletic director] Mal Moore once told me that the hardest thing to do is have consistency over the long haul, and that’s what we try to do with our softball program.”
Murphy has compiled a winning record every year since taking over the Crimson Tide softball program prior to the 1999 season. He has won 45 or more games in each of the past 14 years, with a program-best 66 victories in 2000. Murphy also has won 20-plus games in conference play in 11 of his 15 seasons in the SEC. The 2008 campaign marked the third time he had posted 25 conference victories, matching the win totals from the 2006 and 2000 seasons.
Including his two years as an assistant coach, Murphy has seen every game in the history of the UA softball program. Murphy has a career mark of 817-233 (.778), including one year at Northwest Missouri State, and sports a 323-112 record in SEC play with a .743 winning percentage.
“Our goal at Alabama is to make every practice tougher than the game,” said Murphy, who was inducted into the NFCA Hall of Fame in 2013. “I’ve said from Day 1 that practice is for the coaches and games are for the players. You teach your kids as much as you can, then sit back and let them do their thing when game time comes.”
Murphy recommended that softball coaches encourage their players to play different sports.
“That way they’ll have different coaches, a new set of teammates and a different dynamic,” he said. “They’ll learn a lot of life’s lessons, especially if a team is horrible. For example, can you be as mentally tough when you’re team is 2-20 as when it’s 20-2?”
Murphy emphasized the importance for coaches to accept responsibility if their players did not perform or respond well in preparation for a game.
“If you had a bad practice, don’t blame it on the kids; it’s disruptive. It’s on you. Think about what went wrong and try something different next time. The most important thing your players have to buy into fundamental repetition, in that you do the same drill over and over and over again until you master it.”
Murphy shared the story of UA senior and four-time All-American outfielder Brittany Rogers, who during the 2009 College World Series was pinch-hit for by freshman Jazlyn Lunceford in an elimination game against Arizona State, even though Alabama was trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the fourth inning with two outs and the bases loaded.
“I had a gut feeling that Jaz was going to do something good, so I told Brittany to go tell Jaz that she would be pinch hitting for her, even though it could have been Brittany’s final at-bat in her career,” said Murphy. “What does Brittany do? She goes over and pumps Jaz up and tell her that she could do it.”
Six pitches later, Lunceford hit a grand slam that eventually won the game. Murphy pointed out that Rogers, who went on to play for the U.S. National Softball Team, was the first person to greet Lunsford when the latter arrived at home plate.
“No way in heck does Jaz do what she does if Brittany doesn’t pump her up beforehand,” he said. “There was not an ounce of jealousy on that team. I think that’s the thing that personifies our program – celebrating a teammate’s success as enthusiastically as if you did it yourself. That’s why [UA head football coach Nick] Saban is so good – he gets five-star athletes at every position, and somehow and someway they play as a team.”
Murphy has coached 95 All-Americans, 90 All-SEC performers and 83 NFCA All-Region players, as well as 17 CoSIDA Academic All-Americans and 183 SEC All-Academic selections.
“Make sure that everybody on your team know that she is appreciated and she’s important to the success of the team,’ said Murphy. “Anytime you have a small role player do a big thing, make a big deal out of it.”
This story was supplemented by www.rolltide.com.