Murphy Builds Dynasty on the Field

Mark Kelsey

Since taking over as the Harvard football coach before the 1994 season, Tim Murphy has captured six Ivy League titles. In 2011, he became the winningest coach in the program's history, passing his predecessor, Joe Restic.

The Book of Samuels

This article is one of two dueling columns debating "Who's the Better Coach?" The other part of the series can be found here.

The Harvard football program had slowly slipped into middle-of-the-pack status over the previous decade before Tim Murphy was named the head coach at the end of 1993. The Crimson had captured just one Ivy championship in the past 10 years, and worse yet, Harvard had failed to reach the seven-win mark in the previous six seasons.

But it didn’t take Murphy long to right the ship. In just his fourth year at the helm, he led the Crimson to a perfect 7-0 Ivy season en route to a league championship. Four years later, in 2001, Harvard was back on top with its first unbeaten, untied campaign since 1913.

The 2001 season marked the beginning of a historically dominant stretch for Murphy’s Crimson. The numbers are downright eye-popping: 11 seasons, five Ivy League titles. In that stretch, he also racked up two unbeaten, untied seasons, making him the first Crimson coach to accomplish that feat since Hall of Famer Percy Haughton.

But even when Harvard doesn’t come out on top, the team’s always close. The New England Patriots of the Ivy League, the Crimson is always in contention, nipping and scratching and pestering the team that finishes ahead of it. In those 11 seasons, Harvard has won at least seven games every time; by comparison, not a single other school has done that even seven times in a row.

Another fun fact? Every four-year player that Murphy has recruited—every single one—has won an Ivy League title.

Oh, and he’s the winningest coach in Harvard football history.

Murphy’s predecessor, Joe Restic, held the record with 117 wins before Murphy cruised him past late last season. It took Restic 220 games to earn win number 117. (Six games were ties.) How many did it take Murphy to overtake him? Just 177.

“He’s pretty much a universally respected figure because all he really does is win,” said sophomore running back Zach Boden earlier this year.

Murphy has even revolutionized Harvard football for the most casual of fans. You know, those one-a-year folk who only venture across the river the Saturday before Thanksgiving for The Game. Because in his past 11 attempts, Murphy and his Crimson have beaten Yale a whopping 10 times. Under the winningest coach in Harvard history, The Game is becoming as one-sided a battle as that between Indian food and your intestines. It’s almost become an undergraduate ritual: liquor up, get to the field, watch Harvard dominate. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, even Yale football has—finally—acknowledged that Murphy is on to something pretty special in Cambridge. After all, in a move that would’ve made Brutus smile, the Bulldogs hired four Harvard assistants from the 2011 season, including current Yale head coach Tony Reno.

Of course, unlike Tommy Amaker, there isn’t a seemingly limitless ceiling to what Murphy can accomplish. Due to the fact that Ivy League football headscratchingly doesn’t have playoffs or any sort of postseason whatsoever, the most that Murphy can do is win the Ancient Eight championship. And under its long-time coach, Harvard has done that again and again and—well, six times in 18 tries.

But as with all great coaches, Murphy is more than just numbers. He’s the guy who planted the idea that yes, you can be an NFL quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick. (Fitzpatrick ’05 is now the starter for the Buffalo Bills.) He’s the guy who asked a pointed question to Josue Ortiz ’11 (essentially, when he would be a contributor) that helped transform the defensive tackle into the eventual Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year and an integral part of the 2011 championship squad.

Indeed, over the years, Murphy has pulled the right strings time and time again. The result? NFL starters, Ivy League championships, and one of the most enviable coaching records in the nation.

And with a team that has potential NFL prospects and is heavily favored to repeat in 2012, it doesn’t look like Murphy’s unprecedented and historic string of success is going to slow anytime soon.

—Staff writer Robert S. Samuels can be reached at