As Penn men’s lacrosse coach Mike Murphy embarks on a 2021 season with unprecedented circumstances, he continues to employ the same drive and mentality that have proven to be worthy of several Ivy League titles and NCAA championship appearances.
There is no shortage of athleticism in the Murphy bloodline, with a father who played college football and a mother who played college basketball. Moving from North Carolina to Connecticut in seventh grade, Murphy was first exposed to lacrosse when he attended an NCAA championship game. It was in middle school that Murphy ultimately knew lacrosse was the sport for him.
Murphy had an impressive college career as a three-year starter at Duke University, serving as captain his senior year. As graduation approached, Murphy decided that he was not ready to say goodbye to the sport he loved just yet.
“Most of my friends were going into finance or tech. None of that really appealed to me,” Murphy said. “Once I was a senior, I spoke with my coach about how I could continue with lacrosse, and coaching was the obvious answer.”
Murphy has incorporated his experiences as a player into his coaching style today, but he also recognizes the way his role has changed, going from a member of a team to the head of a program.
“I definitely have a different mindset from when I was a 22-year-old athlete versus now being a father of four kids who’s responsible for a program, it’s a much broader scope of awareness,” Murphy said. “Similar to when I was a player though, I try to leave no stone unturned and get better all the time. I think those things correlate to how I approach coaching today.”
The family mentality Murphy creates for the Red and Blue has been one of the keys to this tight-knit and exceptional program. “Family” is the word the team says together at the end of each practice.
“I’ve learned a lot about coaching through parenting, and vice versa,” Murphy said. “I try to treat the guys on my team like I do my kids, in terms of holding them to standards and taking care of them. Trying to make sure we do what’s in their best interests, long-term.”
Murphy affirms that the players Penn lacrosse attracts are some of the most talented yet grounded people he has ever coached.
“To have such a selfless and humble approach to life is something that is invaluable for an athlete,” Murphy said. “Competing at such a high level in a sport while still doing very well in school and serving the community — that makes Penn a very unique place.”
After the 2020 lacrosse season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Murphy still found ways to keep his mind sharp and become an even better coach than before. He sees this unique situation as an opportunity for the Quakers to continue to grow and develop, both on and off the field.
“There are so many important lessons we can instill as coaches, but I would argue that resilience is the most valuable skill a coach can teach,” Murphy said. “The average athlete is going to lose half of their games, so how a player chooses to respond to those losses can determine the kind of athlete they are.”
Murphy emphasizes the significant role this senior class has held — both as players and as people — in the success the Quakers have seen throughout their time here.
“This senior class is remarkable, guys like Sean Lulley and Mitch Bartolo, all of the seniors are just such good people,” Murphy said. “Getting to know this class over the last five, six, seven years, I’m just going to miss the personal side of it. It’s a group of guys with such integrity and kindness, while simultaneously being some of the best players I’ve coached.”
Bartolo returns the same gratitude for his coach, acknowledging that his experience in the Red and Blue would not have been the same without Murphy’s support and friendship.
“One word to describe Coach Murphy would be devoted,” Bartolo said. “He does everything with the best intentions for his family and his team, and will not waver from his commitment to what he finds important and loves. Coach Murphy has made me into the man I am today, and I can’t thank him enough for making my college experience everything I could have asked for.”
With such a strong commitment to constantly improve and be the best team Penn can be, Murphy is no stranger to big wins and celebrations on Franklin Field. Reflecting on his favorite coaching memory to date, Murphy gravitates toward the 2019 Ivy League Championship.
“Taking down Yale in 2019, who were the reigning champs, was a great moment,” Murphy said. “My family was there, so a lot of my memories from that day are seeing my family with the trophy. There was just so much unadulterated joy in the locker room and on the field, so that was definitely one of my favorite moments as a coach.”
Despite being the all-time winningest head coach in Penn men’s lacrosse history, Murphy is most proud of the relationships he has formed with both past and current players for the Red and Blue.
“I hope I leave the program better than I found it, and similar to that, I want every player that goes through the program to leave better than when they arrive,” Murphy said. “The most valuable takeaways will be the relationships that I’ll always have. I’ll be friends with these guys that I’ve coached for the rest of my life, not just a coach to teammate relationship, but a genuine friendship that will continue for long after their time on Franklin Field.”
There’s no doubt that Murphy will be known in the record books as one of the greatest coaches Penn has ever seen, but more importantly, he will also be remembered by those who got the opportunity to grow under his leadership. With many more championships and NCAA tournament appearances in the forecast for the men’s lacrosse team, the best is yet to come for Murphy and his Quakers.