ORLANDO, Fla. – There are not many English majors currently leading MLS clubs into action, but Bobby Murphy has more than just a college degree in literature to help him through the turbulent waters as Orlando City SC’s interim head coach.
Murphy is the man in the Central Florida hot seat recently vacated by Adrian Heath. While he may be a surprise choice to lead the team given that he has been in Orlando just six months and was only an assistant coach behind Heath and Mark Watson, he has had plenty of experience when it comes to soccer challenges.
After a stint playing in the NCAAs at Syracuse, Murphy pursued a coaching career in New Hampshire (where he got that English qualification) before becoming director of coaching for the South Texas Youth Soccer Association and then for the soccer academy at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin, one of the biggest residential academies in the country.
He was also recruited as an assistant coach for a fledgling PDL team in Austin shortly before Phil Rawlins arrived with a new USL franchise coached by Heath in 2008. Murphy was promptly recruited as Heath’s right-hand man. Together, they negotiated some testing times during a period of enormous flux for both the USL and Rawlins’ hopeful Aztex team.
When the franchise relocated to Orlando in 2011, Murphy’s "other" job with St. Stephen’s kept him in Austin until his kids finished school there. The Heaths and Murphys had become firm family friends – hence Harrison Heath referring to the new coach as “like a second dad to me” – and, when a new opportunity arose with the Lions in January, Bobby was able to answer the call.
What he lacked in MLS experience, he made up for with a glittering coaching resume that included the US Soccer Federation National Staff, a US Youth Soccer National Instructor qualification and a South Region (III) Olympic Development Program staff coach. He also knew Heath’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system inside out and had kept in touch with the team last summer, so he was already acquainted with many of the players.
Now, while he is very much a new face in league coaching circles, his wide and varied career to date means there isn’t much that he hasn’t already seen in many respects, and he likes to keep things simple.
“I’m just a guy who coaches soccer,” he said at training on Tuesday. “The big thing for me is that I take the work seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously. It has never been about me, and I think the players understand that.
“What we are trying to do now is restore some normalcy after a highly emotional last month or so, when we had the Pulse nightclub tragedy and there was the feeling we had a responsibility to help this community heal, then losing Adrian Winter [to family issues back in Switzerland] and finally losing a coach that so many players were close to.”
If anything, Murphy has become the team’s Mr. Fixit, an all-purpose coach who can deal with problems both on and off the field. That role dates back to three seasons in the USL when there was seemingly a crisis of one kind or another every week, from problems with training facilities to wacky travel demands that once saw them take 24 hours to get to Puerto Rico for a game.
“I think that has been good for me, because, back then, you HAD to make it work,” he explained. “That has been pretty much my MO, to find solutions and keep things going, and that’s obviously the situation now.”
Murphy remains a low-key guy who exudes positivity from a personal life outlook that has had its share of challenges, including a failed college career at Syracuse that he admits was his own fault and an early coaching road that considered no job too small and often featured three or four at a time.
“I’ve said it before, but in situations like this, it’s a choice,” he insisted. “Being miserable doesn’t get you anywhere. Even if things aren’t going great, you have to find positives. You don’t ignore the negatives, you just step up and embrace the challenge, and you do it with a smile on your face. That makes life much easier for everybody.
“Now, we’re working hard to identify the best qualities that each player brings and how best to utilize those, trying to put people in the best spots to be successful. They’ve all been great in recognizing that the group comes first, and they’re willing to do what needs to be done.”
Murphy also has a light, almost humorous touch in his day-to-day responsibilities, including dealing directly with the media for the first time. Asked why he took English as his college major, he wisecracked, “Because it meant that I had to take the fewest number of math classes!”
Being able to tell a joke is certainly not central to the job of a coach, but Murphy’s wit and spirit may well help steer Orlando City through the most troubled period of its young MLS existence to date.