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After the Harvard football team’s 35-21 victory at Columbia Saturday, the game ball wasn’t awarded to senior quarterback Collier W. Winters ’12, who threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns while also running for a score. Nor did it go to tight end Kyle P. Juszczyk ’13, who caught a season-high seven balls for 118 yards and two touchdowns. It didn’t even get tossed to cornerback Brian F. Owusu ’13, whose third-quarter interception in a tied ball game helped swing the balance of the contest in the Crimson’s favor.
Instead, captain Alex A. Gedeon ’12 handed the game ball to the man who led them all into battle: Harvard football coach Tim Murphy. The win over Columbia marked the 118th time that Murphy had marched Harvard off of the gridiron with a victory—a school record.
While the team doesn’t usually award game balls, Gedeon and Winters had decided in advance of the contest that it would be the best way to honor their coach.
“We didn’t want to put too much emphasis on it because we are in the middle of our season,” Winters said. “But we did want to think of something to commemorate it, something that he can hold on to and remember the game.”
Surpassing his predecessor Joseph Restic, Murphy now finds himself seventh all-time in wins among Ivy League coaches. It took Murphy only 18 years to reach the milestone, while Restic collected his 117 wins over a span of 23 seasons.
Murphy, a former Springfield College linebacker, has accrued his wins fairly consistently over his Harvard tenure. The Crimson hasn’t posted a losing record since 1998 and, thanks to its win Saturday, has now recorded 11 straight seven-win seasons—a feat no other Ancient Eight squad has ever accomplished.
To many, Murphy breaking the school record was inevitable.
“It was just a matter of time before this was going to happen,” former Crimson running back Kai-Cheng Ho ’10 said. “That’s probably been established since he first came to Harvard. Just by the way he leads, the way he implements the program and selects players and the coaching staff, it doesn’t surprise me at all that he broke the record.”
After nearly a decade as an assistant coach at three schools, Murphy got his first chance to run the show at Maine University in 1987. Following two successful campaigns—including earning a share of the Yankee Conference crown in his first season—Murphy moved on to the University of Cincinnati.
In his fifth season in the Queen City, Murphy led the Bearcats to their first winning campaign in over a decade, laying the groundwork for what would be their first bowl game appearance in 46 years in 1997. By that time though, Murphy was already in Cambridge, where he arrived following the 1993 season.
While racking up wins, Murphy has garnered respect from coaches around the Ivy League.
“His teams are always very well prepared. They are well-conditioned and they play hard year after year after year,” said Dartmouth coach Eugene ‘Buddy’ Teevens. “He’s demanding. He’s direct. He has high expectations of his players and his team. But he’s always very supportive and encouraging.”
And Murphy’s role on the board of the American Football Coaches Association highlights the respect he receives nationwide. The Harvard coach is currently the first vice president of the 11,000-member organization and will likely become the next president—a position Teevens said was his trade’s greatest honor.
When Murphy attains that title, he will join the likes of legendary coaches Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes, as well as Restic.
If there is a group that reveres Murphy more than his coaching peers, it would be his players.
“He’s just a man of tremendous character and courage,” Ho said. “He’s a coach of life. I’m very fortunate to have spent four years under his wing.”
Another former running back, Clifton Dawson ’07, praised his coach for his leadership skills.
“Players from all walks of life come join the football team, and he’s always been able to unite players to be a team and represent Harvard,” Dawson said. “He’s an incredible sort of leader, not only for football but for the University.”
Current team members said they felt honored to help their coach reach this significant milestone.
“It feels great to be a part of that,” Juszczyk said after the game. “I know Coach Murphy won’t give himself enough credit, but he’s done a great job coaching us, and I couldn’t be happier.”
As Murphy continues to rewrite the record book, Teevens said the 55-year-old will cement his spot among the current greats of the game.
“You look at Joe Paterno and the top coaches,” Teevens said. “And [Murphy] is in that category.”
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