Coach of the Year

Murphy turns in arguably his finest coaching performance

The untrained eye might have assumed that it was Tim Murphy, not Yale’s Jack Siedlecki, who was on the verge of an undefeated season at the Yale Bowl on Nov. 17. Murphy’s steady hand had guided Harvard through the Ivy League slate unbeaten, setting up a showdown with Yale for the Ivy title with the Bulldogs’ unbeaten season on the line.

It was on this final and greatest stage that Murphy’s coaching ability shined through. He thoroughly outcoached Siedlecki, a fine coach in his own right, in Harvard’s 37-6 beatdown. Before the game, Murphy reminded his team that they could take the Bulldogs.

“We said, ‘In all honesty, there’s no question we can beat this team,’” Murphy said. “‘What we’re going to have to do is play a perfect game. We’re going to have to shut down their running game and make them play with their left hand and throw the ball.’”

The Crimson looked like a well-oiled machine against the highly-ranked and favored home team, outgaining the Bulldogs 434-109 and holding Payton Award candidate Mike McLeod to just 50 yards rushing. Yale quarterback Matt Polhemus was 2-of-18 for 29 yards and two interceptions when forced to throw the ball with his team trailing.

Even Yale recognized that it had run into a perfectly prepared team.

“We really just had no answers offensively,” Siedlecki said after the game. “They seemed to be in our backfield every play, whether we were running or throwing. Obviously it got us completely out of our style of play…They had all the answers, no question. They got it going. They were as balanced as could be with everything that they did.”

The dominating win over Yale, which capped off his fourth Ivy championship, was the conclusion of a long journey for Murphy and his team through a difficult year.

“What really is satisfying about this one is that the essence of coaching is when things aren’t perfect, how you respond to it,” Murphy said after the Yale win. “Just one day at a time, one practice at a time, we said our next practice is our best practice, our next game is our best game, and this is one of those teams that got better and better through the year, closer and closer through the year.”

The victory, however, was the unexpected result of a season of rebuilding, injuries, heartbreak, and redemption.

Everyone knew the 2007 season would pose some unique challenges, but no one foresaw the early-season struggles the Crimson endured, starting with just the third loss to Holy Cross in Murphy’s tenure after Crusader quarterback Dominic Randolph connected on a 40-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds remaining to steal a 31-28 victory.

Murphy’s coaching mettle was tested again, as starting quarterback Liam O’Hagan went down for the remainder of the season in a 20-13 loss to Lehigh, and the Crimson faced the task of developing another quarterback.

Despite the change, Murphy and his players were not to lose again. The Crimson recovered with a decisive 32-15 win at Cornell, a traditionally difficult road trip and a potential trap game for a disappointed 1-2 Harvard squad.

“There’s no question it was just a must-win game for our season,” Murphy said. “We knew no one was going to beat Yale before we played them. Just going up to Cornell with so much pride and so much maturity and coming out with a victory, coming out of there I thought ‘we’re a good football team.’”

Murphy, already one of the top coaches in Harvard history, only solidified his status this season. His 88 wins at the Crimson helm put him second on the all-time win list, behind only Joe Restic’s 117 career victories, and his seven consecutive seasons with at least seven victories are the longest such streak for Harvard in the modern era of college football.

—Staff writer Brad Hinshelwood can be reached at bhinshel@fas.harvard.edu.

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