Coming into the 2011 season, Tim Murphy had already put together a sterling resume in his 17 years as the head coach of the Harvard football team. Five Ivy League titles. 111 wins. Two unbeaten and untied seasons.
And with his team’s performance this past year, Murphy cemented his place as one of, if not the greatest coach in Crimson football history.
After an early loss to Holy Cross, Harvard swept its next nine games, giving Murphy his sixth Ivy League title. In the process, Murphy earned his 118th win at Harvard, making him the winningest coach in program history.
“He’s pretty much a universally respected figure because all he really does is win,” says freshman running back Zach Boden.
And the man who opened the eyes of current Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05 to his potential in the NFL, the coach whose frank discussion with senior Josue Ortiz following the 2008 season marked a turning point in his career, seemed to have all the answers again in 2011.
When talking with Ortiz in the spring of 2011 about whether the All-American should return in the fall to play as a fifth-year senior, Murphy told his star defensive tackle, “‘Josue, I really believe that you’re going to be the Player of the Year in the Ivy League. I think that’s the kind of potential you have.’”
Just as Murphy had hoped, Ortiz returned to play in 2011. And just as Murphy had predicted, Ortiz was named the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, terrorizing offensive lines and quarterbacks around the Ancient Eight.
Anchored by Ortiz and his 10 sacks against constant double teams, the Crimson defense yielded just 17.1 points per game, the best in the Ivy League.
Murphy also decided to deviate from his normal offense and used two tight ends rather than just one. He hoped to incorporate both junior Kyle Juszczyk and sophomore Cam Brate— “among our most valuable and versatile athletes,” Murphy says—into the offense.
But even the 25-year head coach was taken aback by how well the change worked.
“I can’t say for a second that I knew it would work out, that it would be the highest scoring offense in school history, and those guys would team up for almost 80 catches and 14 touchdowns,” Murphy says.
The two tight ends combined for 898 yards in the season’s 10 games, helping the Crimson offense to a modern-era record 374 points.
Midway through the season, Murphy was faced with one of his toughest decisions of the year: starting junior Colton Chapple, who had just completed perhaps the greatest two-game stretch any Crimson quarterback has ever had, or previous starter and fifth-year senior Collier Winters, who was returning from injury.
“[It was] definitely not unanimous [among the coaching staff]. It was very much split,” Murphy recalls of the decision. “But I knew what I wanted to. I knew it was going to be Collier quite frankly even before I asked the staff, because at the end of the day, that’s what you’re paid to do. You’re paid to make the decision you feel most comfortable with.”
Getting the coach’s vote of confidence, Winters vindicated Murphy’s decision, throwing for 403 yards and five touchdowns against Princeton while leading Harvard to 214 points in its final five games.