Patrick Murphy and the wild ride of Alabama softball history | Hurt
“Smooth seas never made a skilled sailor”
That is one of the motivational sayings that hangs in the Alabama softball locker room, not a specific reference to the tumultuous past 14 months that turned the sport upside down.
The seas haven’t been smooth in that stretch, but the truth is that, since its inception, there have been uncharted waters for Patrick Murphy to navigate. He has been a part of the program since its inception, and while you could say that Alabama is one of the pinnacle programs in the sport, that’s hardly where it started.
”It was actually (interim athletics director) Glen Tuckett who announced that we would have a program in 1995,” Murphy said. “What he didn’t want to do was build facilities at that time. He felt like it should be up to the permanent AD to decide that.”
Tuckett’s replacement was Bob Bockrath, a surprise choice but one that had a commitment to softball, both from his prior experience at Arizona and, at least in part, to the political and financial climate at UA in the mid-1990s.
For one thing, the huge revenues from SEC television did not exist and enable all league members to spend lavishly on facilities. For another, fairly or unfairly, Bockrath had a rocky relationship with some donors who had wanted an AD with stronger ties to Alabama football. Fundraising for the next great wave of football upgrades came after Mal Moore succeeded Bockrath, but instead of doing nothing, Bockrath focused on what he could afford: a softball stadium.
”Mr. Bockrath saw what it could become because he had seen it at Arizona, so he really got behind it,” Murphy said. “It made a huge difference for us in those early years because we were ahead of the other schools in the conference, stadium-wise.”
With Murphy serving as an assistant to Alabama’s first softball coach, Kalum Haack, Alabama was an immediate winner in its inaugural season in 1997 and the SEC champion in 1998. When Haack resigned for personal reasons in 1998, Bockrath turned to Murphy.
”He told me, ‘This isn’t an interim tag, but you need to approach it like it’s a dress rehearsal,” Murphy recalled. “So I left his office and was like, ‘Well, OK... But I was confident I could do it.
”I’d worked for five years under Yvette Girouard at Louisiana, and for those five years, we did things from scratch. I’ve never seen anyone work as hard as she did. She recognized that Houston was a booming softball town, and I can remember being on so many rides down I-10, just listening to her as we were going to recruit.
”She would talk about being a head coach and say, ‘Yes, you have influence over the players, but you also have influence over the fans.’ We built a great fan base in Lafayette because she was always working at it, and I wanted to bring that here.”
Murphy says the support built among fans and former players was a major factor in helping the program through the COVID-19 year.
”They never wavered in their support,” Murphy said. “That’s why it’s still heartwarming today. When you have Kelly Kretschman, who is on the Olympic team and has a lot of good friends all over the world in softball watching your game and texting me to be sure and tell Bailey (Hemphill) how proud she was when Bailey broke her home run record, that shows that after 20 years, she still loves Alabama.”
Alabama, which won the SEC Tournament at home Saturday, will open NCAA Regional play on Friday against Alabama State at Rhoads Stadium.
“Last weekend was amazing,” Murphy said. “The games, the crowds, the weather. It was like a 72-hour televised commercial for Alabama softball. It was the first time for a lot of our players to see what it is really like at Rhoads. One of our managers who is in her second year didn’t get to experience it last year, and she came up to me after that championship and said, 'That’s the most fun I’ve ever had.' ”
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt