Toward the end of spring practices in 2009, Harvard football coach Tim Murphy called then-sophomore Josue Ortiz into his office, as he does with every player on the roster. The two were set to discuss Ortiz’s thoughts on the team and perform standard player evaluations as the Crimson geared up for its summer practices and fall season.
But the defensive tackle wasn’t prepared for what was coming.
“I sat down with him, and he kind of just blindsided me,” said Ortiz, now a fifth-year senior. “I was very highly recruited when I came out here. [From] where I was playing and how I was playing in high school, [Murphy said] they anticipated me being more of a contributor, more developed as an athlete and as a football player by then. He was asking me when I thought I was going to be a good football player.”
To Ortiz, it was the beginning of his transformation, one that has led him to become arguably the best defender in the Ivy League.
To Murphy, it’s just one of many success stories he’s helped create.
The 2011 football season is Murphy’s 25th as a head coach and his 18th leading the Harvard squad.
The coach and his team look poised to make history this season. If Harvard wins at least seven games in 2011—something the team hasn’t failed to do since 2000—Murphy will pass legendary Harvard coach Joe Restic as the winningest coach in program history.
And if Murphy does pass Restic’s 117 wins at the helm of the Crimson, he will have done it five seasons faster than his predecessor.
“The expectations are much higher now. We set the bar high,” Murphy said. “The alumni have those expectations, the administration has those expectations, and it’s all good, because we’re going to do it the right way—we’re going to do it with great kids.”
When Murphy’s team first beat Cornell in 1997, it was Harvard’s first triumph over the Big Red since 1985. Since then, the Crimson is 11-3 head-to-head.
Under Restic, Harvard went 10-13 against Yale; under Murphy, the Crimson is 12-5 in The Game.
Murphy began his career in the Ivy League, working as an assistant in the Brown coaching staff. After bouncing around between Lafayette, Boston University, and Maine in the early-to-mid-80s, he landed his first head coaching job for the Maine Black Bears in 1987. In his rookie season, the team shared the now-defunct Yankee Conference title.
After two years with Maine, Murphy left the school to take the head coaching position at Cincinnati. His teams struggled during the first four years of his tenure—he failed to lead the team to more than four wins, and during the 1990 season, the Bearcats went 1-10.
But after a few years of futility, Cincinnati finally broke through, finishing the 1993 season with an 8-3 record, the team’s best since 1976.
After the successful season, Murphy came to Harvard in 1994, a change he said he made for a number of reasons, including a desire to be closer to home and to tend to his ailing mother. But football played a role as well.