Progress: No. 1 fan: Coach Pat Murphy keep morale high at West

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 20, 2023

By Dan Kibler

There isn’t a student and hardly a staff member or teacher at West Forsyth High School who can remember a time when Pat Murphy wasn’t the Titans’ No. 1 fan.

Murphy made his first appearance on campus 31 years ago, a neighbor of Dave McConnell, then a coach at West Forsyth, who started driving him to school to attend games and practices. McConnell has now been retired for several years, and Murphy has outlasted five principals during his time as a top-drawer fan and volunteer “assistant coach” in a number of different sports.

“Murphy is West Forsyth,” said Kevin McIntosh, an assistant baseball coach at West. “Think about it; you go to a basketball game, a football game, a baseball game, and he’s always there. If there were tiddlywinks matches, he’d be there.”

In 2017, when K.J. Henry, a West Forsyth football player who was among the most-highly recruited seniors in North Carolina as a senior, got ready to announce his college intentions, Murphy was at the podium with him, holding a microphone. He announced that Henry was headed to Clemson, shortly before Henry handed him a Clemson cap to wear.

“I didn’t think twice about it, because he made such a difference in my life. He made me smile every day, especially during football. It was the least I could do,” said Henry, who will likely be drafted by an NFL team later this month. “There’s only one Murph.”

Last year, the Shallow Ford Foundation established a “The Coach Murphy Scholarship” in honor of Murphy, 65, who was born with a mental disability. It was funded by the WF Family Fund, for a “West Forsyth senior who demonstrates the same qualities as Coach Murph: good character, hard work, leadership and the ability to overcome challenges while a leader on the field of play, in the classroom and the community.”

Seed money for the scholarship, worth $2,500 annually to a student attending a 2-year or 4-year school, came from the the Wall family, whose matriarch, Jennifer, met Murphy while she was a pitcher on the Titans’ softball team in the early 1990s, and who features a son, Cam, a freshman baseball player at Belmont Abbey who was a West Forsyth baseball player for four years — under the watchful eye of Murphy. Janie Peterson, now a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill, was the first recipient of the scholarship.

“We have always told our kids, if they ever felt like the Lord was calling them to do something, let us know,” said Brad Wall, the family’s patriarch. “Cam had that connection with Murph. He enjoyed being around him so much. We’ve all been blessed to have him around, but it’s not about us — it’s about Murph.”

Shannon Casey, an assistant athletic director at West Forsyth who was Jennifer Wall’s catcher in high school, said several years ago that she “can’t remember (Murphy) not being here. He’s the sunshine that comes every day, rain or shine.”

Adrian Snow, who recently retired as the Titans’ winningest football coach over a 15-year career, is one of Murphy’s biggest supporters.

“His family will talk about how much we have done for Murph,” Snow said. “Oh, how they have it wrong. He has done so much for our kids, our school, our community.”

How do the Titans’ really feel about Murphy? He’s listed in the Titans’ football game programs as an assistant coach, and a metal sign that’s tacked up in the West Forsyth baseball stadium lists names of the players on the 2014 Class 4-A state championship team, plus six coaches — including Pat Murphy, who got a state-championship ring.

Stories about Murphy and his West Forsyth doings are numerous and memorable.

Several years ago, Murphy grew a beard because one of the Titans’ baseball coaches was growing a beard. He has flooded coaches with calls and voicemails for a number of reasons, including reminding them about games, but also to take their trash out.

A month ago, Brad Bullard, the Titans’ baseball coach, got eight phone calls from Murphy while he was doing an hour of physical therapy after a work-related injury.

“I called somebody with baseball and asked if Murph was around,” Bullard said. “I told them to tell him if he called me again, I wasn’t going to let him on the (team) bus.”

Murphy, who recently returned from a two-week trip to Ireland to spread the ashes of his father, who died last year, was on the bus that afternoon, headed to another game. According to several coaches, Murphy has the routes to each school the Titans play memorized — even if he doesn’t know the names of the roads.

And then there is Murphy discipline. If you’re a coach or administrator at West, you’d better not get out of line.

“If you haven’t been fired by Murph, you haven’t been alive,” McIntosh said.

T.R. Richards, a former athletic director for the Titans, admits that Murphy “fired” him “eight or 10 times.

“Anytime I’d cancel a baseball game, even if it had rained 3 inches that day, Murph would say, ‘T.R., you’re fired.’”

For a West Forsyth coach, there may not be a bigger honor.