Tonight, Jim Murphy has his first chance to go where only two men before him have ever been.
Hope Christian’s longtime boys basketball coach, who is 799-215 (78.8 winning percentage) in his 37th season, can reach the 800-win milestone when the Huskies (13-8) visit Highland in a District 6-4A contest at 7 tonight.
Only Ralph Tasker (1,122) and Pete Shock (854) have more victories in this sport than Murphy, 59, who sat down with the Journal for a wide-ranging Q&A session (some of the answers have been edited and condensed):
Journal: You’re on the verge of 800 wins. What impresses you more about your career, to reach that number or the 37 years you’ve been coaching this program?
Jim Murphy: Probably the 37 years of just consistency. I’ve never missed a game in 37 years, so I’m just very thankful to the Lord that I’ve been healthy and had the support of my family. That’s probably the most impressive thing, that I’ve not missed any games.
Journal: You just went into the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame. What did that mean to you?
JM: It was a very humbling honor. To see some of those names up there, to be placed in that group of people, is pretty exciting. I don’t really love all the attention that comes with it — I kind of feel more comfortable in the gym — but it’s a very nice honor. We’ve achieved a lot here at Hope, a small school.
Journal: Describe your coaching philosophy and why you think it works so well here.
JM: Man, that’s a tough one. I would say overall, just hard-work ethic, loving the game, passion for the game, getting the most out of you. The John Wooden quote, success is reaching your potential and trying to get the potential out of the kids that you have each and every year.
Journal: Prep basketball has evolved since you started. Athletes have evolved. How has your coaching style evolved?
JM: All my kids come back and tell me that I’m softer now and not as tough as I used to be. I’m probably a little more seasoned as far as not having the energy to yell and scream at halftime or during practices and such, but I think I’ve evolved kind of like Mike Krzyzewski, in relating to kids. Technology and the way kids are today are a little bit different, but you’re still the same person. But you have to treat kids a little differently sometimes. And dealing with parents and expectations, they do evolve and change, too, and hopefully I’ve been able to adjust to that.
Journal: You mentioned your voice. Does it always sound like this? Never heard it anything but scratchy. Is there a normal Jim Murphy voice?
JM: I guess it’s not there anymore. I would go back and visit my parents and my brothers back east, and they’d always say, ‘What happened to your voice?’ I’m used to it now. I don’t know when it totally went. I had one parent who told me he would buy me a microphone if I went to get my voice checked out, but I didn’t want to miss practice that day. (Laughs) So I ended up not going to the doctor. Hopefully it’s only done damage to my singing career.
Journal: How many days in a calendar year are you working on your program or thinking about it?
JM: I think we’re thinking about it all the time. When the season is over, we’re like general managers, thinking about this kid and that one, and how it will all fall together in the future. So we’re probably thinking about it nonstop.
Journal: Who is the best coach you’ve ever faced?
JM: Wow, that’s a great question. I’m afraid to say just one, I really am.
Journal: Have you ever had a hankering, or an offer, to go to a bigger program?
JM: One time, when the Rio Rancho job opened up. But one of my (children) was going to be a senior, and I didn’t want to leave him. I also had a couple of small Division III schools from back east, and there were one or two times I put my name in and talked to them.
Journal: You said in the preseason you would probably only do this five more years. Do you think you’ll stay long enough to approach 1,000 victories?
JM: I’m back and forth on that. I was in the gym last Saturday and I told Lon (Perry, a longtime Huskies assistant), it doesn’t get any better than this, we need to stick around another 10 years. And there’s other times when I want to quit tomorrow. (Laughs). I guess I’ll go year by year.
Journal: Let’s get to a couple of questions about the sport. Does high school basketball need a shot clock?
JM: You know, I think it would be neat. There’s a lot of strategy when you can hold the ball and so forth, but I do think it would be probably more fan-friendly if we didn’t hold it as much. It’s a great strategy and I’m not opposed to using that to win games, but I think (a shot clock) would be more exciting for the fans.
Journal: Speaking of fans, poor behavior is certainly one of the things we’re talking about more these days, and not in a good way. What are your observations about the way fans behave from when you started to today?
JM: Unfortunately, fans were bad 30 years ago, but I think they’re worse today, for sure. The parents may be trying to live out their dreams through their kids, and they have these high expectations. I think they just need to sit back and enjoy their kids growing up.
Journal: Do you have a coaching role model?
JM: Without a doubt, John Wooden. He’s probably the greatest coach of all time.
Journal: Of all your 16 championship teams, do you have a favorite?
JM: Hard to say. I think 1985, our first one. I never knew what I was getting into. I came from New York, and I didn’t know it was such a big deal. We won that championship, and we were on the front page of the newspaper. … That first one was pretty special.
Journal: Is there one that surprised you more than any other?
JM: (Pause) There are some state championships we shouldn’t have won, and some we should have won. You remember the losses sometimes more than the wins.
Journal: Does the loss to St. Michael’s in the 2012 championship game still linger?
JM: It does. It does. There’s more to life than basketball, but that was hard. I thought we had that game won. But a lot of credit to St. Mike’s, they played a great game.
Journal: You won’t like this question. Best player you ever coached?
JM: Michael Jordan (1999). And best coach Lon Perry, according to him.
Journal: Let’s test your knowledge of this gym. There is a fan capacity number here, do you know what it is?
JM: I want to say 764.
Journal: Not even close. It’s 938. It’s right there on the wall.
JM: (Laughing) We’ve broken the fire marshal’s law a lot when we have our tournament here.
Journal: Has this move into a higher classification been as challenging as you expected?
JM: I think so. We’re (at) 425 students going against teams like Los Lunas, who are 1,300. It’s gonna be a challenge for sure.
Journal: You have a chance to win your 17th state title, tied for most all-time with Hobbs, and your seventh title in a row this year. When you say it out loud like that, it just sounds staggering.
JM: It’s gonna be tough this year. I think we have the ability and the talent, but it won’t be easy. You have to be good, but you have to be lucky, too.
Journal: You’ve accomplished all there is to accomplish, so what still drives you?
JM: I enjoy the game of basketball. … I’m looking forward to the game (tonight at Highland). I’m like a kid, you still get pumped up for the games, even as an adult. I look forward to the competition and having the chess match against the other coach and putting your kids in a position to hopefully win a game each night out. I still get excited about that. I love the competition.
Journal: Last question. What would Jim Murphy have done for a living if he never coached high school basketball?
JM: My dad wanted me to be a pastor, or a preacher. But I don’t enjoy public speaking that much. That’s a good question. My bachelor’s degree was in Bible and Christian Education, so I thought I’d be a youth pastor at a church. But this opened up to teach Bible here, and when I got the job … (Hope) said, we need a Bible teacher and a JV boys basketball coach.