Harvard: Ahead of head coach Tim Murphy’s 28th season, Crimson fully committed to quest for an Ivy League title

CAMBRIDGE – As winds whipped around and the sun barely started to rise on Monday morning, there were loud echoes rolling throughout Harvard Stadium.

It wasn’t the sound of 22,000, but the noise coming from the football team as they began the first padded practice of the spring could be heard all the way from Fenway.

Just about every one of the 15 Division 1 teams in New England are practicing indoors this spring as guys get back into football mode. Not Harvard. Head coach Tim Murphy has been here for almost 30 years now and he’s one of the last few “old school” coaches left. You’re going to be fully committed to your teammates and the staff if you’re playing for him. Hence the early season test of a football practice at sunrise in New England in what many might refer to as winter No. 2.

“We’ve been doing 6:15 A.M. workouts and spring football since I arrived in January of 1994,” Murphy said in a phone interview Monday afternoon. “They’re used to it, we feel like we get a lot accomplished. There’s no crossover with it, there’s no problems or issues, they’re 100% committed and focused on football.

“We also take pride in getting up early, the challenge that is and not everybody can do it. If you’re going to be an elite team, an elite athlete, you have to pay the price so to speak and this is one of the ways we do it. If you’re not going to be 100% fully committed, you’re sure as heck not getting yourself out of bed at 5:30 in the morning in the dark cold.”

Harvard’s practice lasted about two hours. Murphy and his staff split things up about 60-40 it felt like when it came to team stuff and individual periods. The quarterbacks all looked pretty good, as did the receivers and tight ends. Running back is arguably the biggest question this year with Aaron Shampklin departing for the NFL Draft and all of them ran hard and showed an ability to hit a hole quickly.

Running back Aidan Borguet – who is one of the guys tasked with replacing Shampklin – talked about the commitment to the daily grind that Murphy has stressed throughout his career and how it relates to championship aspirations.

“It’s always the ultimate goal,” he said of an Ivy League title. “We keep that in mind, but with that being said, Rome wasn’t built in a day. We have to come out here every day and be better if we want to hang a banner up there. It’s cool to say we want to go 10-0, but we want to win the day in order for that to happen.

“We just have to have constantly better days and progress in the direction we need to and then everything will take care of itself.”

The defensive backs and linebackers all showed some pretty good speed and tackling ability, although it wasn’t “full” contact. Up front, the matchup was pretty much even. At the end of practice, the offense and defense split up for up-downs and sprints just as the sun finally started to provide a little bit of warmth around 8:20.

The progress that was made on Monday – albeit minor – and the commitment from everyone around him to his vision for the program is what keeps Murphy going after so much time around the game.

“I love my job,” he said. “It’s fair to say you’ve got to be a little crazy to be a Division 1 football coach, or any coach really. Is there any other profession where you have approximately 100 consecutive 12-15 hour shifts? It’s very challenging. Unless you really love what you do this profession can certainly weigh you down. Being with elite kids, elite in the context of high-character, highly driven kids that accept challenges. Getting up in the cold in the pre-spring of New England, not everybody can do it.

“Working with great teammates for me, not just the student athletes, but our assistant coaches who are very similar in their mindset. It gives you the opportunity to achieve and set high goals and we’ve been fortunate to set the bar pretty high for our program. That’s what still gets me up and makes me enjoy coming to work every day.”

Now, that doesn’t mean when Murphy is done he’s not going to have some fun. Think Frank Costanza down at Del Boca Vista.

“People kid me about, ‘hey what are you going to do when you retire?’ and I said ‘I’m going to have a blast,” Murphy explained with a laugh. “The only thing I love more than coaching is playing, and people say ‘what do you mean?’ Golf, tennis, fitness, fishing, biking, those are things I love to do. I just really have very little opportunity to do much of them.

“Especially in New England and especially as a college football coach.”

Don’t worry Crimson fans, Coach Murphy isn’t going anywhere. There’s too many guys relying on him just as much as he’s relying on them. The buy-in is the key to any program’s success, but of course, you don’t get that unless you recruit well and bring in guys who truly love the school and their teammates and coaches.

Thankfully for Murphy, local guys like CM’s Jack McGowan want to do everything they can to bring an Ivy League title home this season.

“It means everything to me,” McGowan said of playing at Harvard. “This is going to be my fifth year here, I decided to stay the extra year here and I think that says a lot about what this program means to me. Just being so close, I have all my family members come to every game, that’s huge for my parents, grandparents, family, friends, relatives and all that. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I love this place with all my heart and everyday’s a blessing to be out here.”

As the Harvard football team enters its 148th season and the 28th with Murphy at the helm this fall, it could be a special one, but it takes a certain kind of player to be part of this program and to play for Coach Murphy.

“We have very specific goals for spring football,” Murphy said. “A lot of that is identifying players that can make a difference, identifying players that can replace really outstanding players that we’re losing. We lost some really outstanding kids. Filling those shoes and getting back up to speed to challenge for an Ivy League championship are the goals. The reality is, you’ve got to be a driven kid in an elite way with a certain mentality to be a Division 1 athlete, especially at an Ivy League school where you don’t have to play.

“When I was the head coach at the University of Cincinnati, you obviously had some pretty good motivation to keep your scholarship. Here, whether you’re playing or not, they’re not going to lose it if they don’t play. That’s why it’s critical for us to recruit those kids that love football, that have that commitment and pursue it to the max just like they do everything else.”