In today’s world of collegiate athletics, few can claim to have been at a program since the beginning. Not many can say they were there at the origin of a program, having been present from the very inception to where it stands today. And certainly nobody can claim to have brought a program further, and in shorter time, than Crimson Tide head softball coach Patrick Murphy, entering his 21st season as the program’s leader in 2019.
From a humble start to a national championship, Murphy has taken Alabama to the top of the college softball world. Beginning with his days as an assistant in the very first years of the Alabama softball program, Murphy has emerged as the face of a team that has grown under his leadership to become one of the most consistently successful programs in the nation.
The accomplishments are there for everyone to see. A 2012 National Championship, 11 Women’s College World Series berths, five SEC regular season titles, five SEC Tournament titles and 20-straight NCAA Tournament bids are only a few of the team honors that Murphy has brought to Tuscaloosa during his tenure.
The individual honors are equally as impressive. Tide players have earned NFCA All-America honors 54 times under Murphy’s watch. He has tutored 97 All-SEC performers and 95 NFCA All-Region honorees. His teams have been just as successful in the classroom, with 24 CoSIDA Academic All-America honors and 223 SEC Honor Roll selections.
Even more impressively, Murphy has led the program to a surge of popularity among Tide fans. Alabama has become a regular atop the nation’s attendance standings, with an ever-growing group of loyal fans who fill the stands at Rhoads Stadium throughout the season. The 2008 campaign was a sellout, setting a new benchmark in season tickets sold with more than 1,200 allocated to loyal fans. During the 2009 season, Alabama broke the single-season attendance record formerly held by Fresno State. Then, in 2010, a record total of 80,690 fans were part of the atmosphere in Tuscaloosa.
Attendance eventually topped the 90,000 mark in back-to-back seasons, with 91,541 fans in 2012 and 93,332 in 2013. Alabama led the nation in attendance in 2014 as well, welcoming 83,233 fans to Rhoads Stadium. In 2015, Alabama surpassed 90,000 for the third time in four years, as 90,021 fans made for yet another electric home season in Tuscaloosa. In 2016, Alabama became the first program in NCAA history to average over 3,000 fans per game. The Tide set a single-game attendance record in 2017 with a sellout crowd of 4,015 attending the May 5 contest against Auburn. Fans kept packing the seats the entire weekend, as all three games of the series sold out for a weekend total of 12,045.
Murphy has turned his program into an absolute model of consistency, having guided Alabama to its first national title, 20 consecutive NCAA tournaments, and appearances in 11 Women’s College World Series (2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016). Since the Super Regional round was introduced to the NCAA Tournament in 2005, Alabama is the only team in the country to appear in all 14 series, winning nine of them.
Alabama’s coaching staff has been named the NFCA South Region Coaching Staff of the Year 10 times (2000, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016), including national staff of the year honors in 2012 following the team’s national title.
In 2012, a magical season for the Tide culminated in defeating Oklahoma for the NCAA Championship, the first in program history and the first for any SEC team. Alabama finished 60-8 and claimed its third-straight SEC regular-season championship. The Tide also won the SEC Tournament, becoming the first team ever to host the highly competitive tournament and come out champions. The NFCA ultimately named the Alabama coaches the 2012 National Coaching Staff of the Year.
Since taking over prior to the 1999 season, Murphy has compiled a winning record in all 20 seasons. He has won 45 or more games in 18 of the last 19 years, including a program-best 66 victories in 2000. Murphy also has won 20-plus games in conference play in 11 of his 19 seasons in the SEC. The 2008 campaign marked the third time he had posted 25 conference victories, matching the win totals from the 2006 and 2000 seasons.
Murphy’s ability to build and maintain the impressive level of consistency places him among the nation’s elite. He has a career mark of 1,023-293 (.777) in 20 seasons as the head coach at Alabama, including a 399-145 (.733) record in league play.
It is Murphy’s desire for perfection that has guided the Tide to the upper echelon of the softball world. His hard-nosed work ethic has led the program to as high as No. 1 in the national rankings, reached for the first time in program history during the 2007 season. The 2010 squad earned the number one overall seed in the NCAA tournament after finishing the season on a 21-game winning streak, a run that saw the Tide capture both the SEC regular season and tournament titles.
Murphy officially acquired the title of Alabama’s head coach on July 12, 1998. He spent the previous two years as an assistant coach on the Crimson Tide coaching staff. In his first season as the head coach, Murphy took the team to its first NCAA Tournament en route to a 39-26 final record. In his second season, Murphy took the program to the next step, leading Alabama to its first-ever Women’s College World Series berth after the best regular season in school history. That 2000 team won a school-record 66 games (66-14) and 25 SEC games (25-5). They finished in the top 10 for the first time in school history, after earning a 6-4 victory over DePaul for the school’s first win in the WCWS.
One could almost say that Murphy was born to be on the diamond. In the third grade, the Fayette, Iowa, native put on his first baseball glove and took to the little league fields. He later made Fayette High School’s varsity baseball squad as an eighth-grader and played for five years under five different coaches.
“I always knew I wanted to be a coach,” Murphy says. “My high school was such a small school that I got to play varsity baseball in eighth grade. Every year it was something different I learned, either good or bad, from each coach. My senior year, I tried to put everything together I had learned from all the different coaches and came up with a good collaborative plan.”
After hanging up his spikes on his prep career, Murphy made the trip to the campus of the University of Northern Iowa where he spent the next four years. Murphy took his first job doing what he always had wanted to do, but on a smaller scale, when he became a little league head coach. Three years after taking that job, he graduated from Northern Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in history education.
Even with his youngest players on that team being close to his own age at the time, Murphy concedes that his first job as a head coach was where he learned the most about himself and the game.
“Those kids were baseball nuts,” he says. “They played baseball on the town tennis court because that was the only place in town that had lights. The lights would go off automatically at midnight, so that is when they knew they had to go home. They taught me so many things about the game of baseball. They played because they loved it so much.”
It took only two years for Murphy to become a success as a head coach. After leading the Sumner High School boys to a 22-3 record in his first year as head coach, he guided the Aces to the state championship game the next season. Following a short stay at Sumner, Murphy continued his education as a graduate student at the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now known as the University of Louisiana). While at USL, he broke into the collegiate coaching ranks as an assistant softball coach while finishing his master’s degree in communications in 1992.
“The head coach at USL knew I had coached baseball in Iowa and she told me about the job,” Murphy remembers. “It only paid six thousand dollars, but I was in grad school there and she asked me if I wanted another duty. That’s where it all started and I just got hooked.”
Prospering with the Ragin’ Cajuns through a five-year record (1990-94) of 239-46 – including a trip to the 1993 Women’s College World Series on the shoulders of former player and current Alabama associate head coach Alyson Habetz – Murphy moonlighted as head coach of the Independence Iowa high school baseball team from 1992-95. Due to the high recognition of his duties as an assistant coach at USL, along with the solid success of his duties as a high school coach, Murphy was hired as interim head coach at Northwest Missouri State in 1995. Although he was officially hired only three weeks before spring practice in 1995, Murphy led the Bearcats to a 28-20 record.
Murphy has proven himself to be a leader capable of recruiting and developing talented players who perform on the field and in the classroom. Combining that with the lure of athletic tradition at Alabama and the nation’s finest facilities, the Tide softball team remains among the best in the nation.