The Central Jersey track and field community lost a familiar face last week when longtime coach Mike Murphy was laid to rest. The 79-year-old Pittstown resident had waged a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Over 48 years Murphy mentored high school athletes at a dozen stops, including Hillsborough, North Hunterdon, Voorhees, Ridge, Hunterdon Central, Colonia and St. Joseph-Metuchen. He also coached at Princeton University and served as meet director of the Rutgers Relays.
“You might call him a gypsy coach because he was at so many places, but I think he saw his mission as spreading the gospel of track,” said former Franklin track coach Jim MacLuskie, who knew Murphy for 40 years and coached with him at Hillsborough.
“He had a forte in the hurdles and shot put, but he coached everything. And here’s the most important thing: Mike Murphy coached coaches. We’re going to miss him.”
In addition to tutoring a litany of state champions and record-breakers, Murphy was a legendary character who combined a tough edge with a sense of humor.
“On St. Patrick’s Day, he would really torture the color green — green shirt, green pants, green socks, a derby, the whole bit,” MacLuskie said. “The kids would snicker and laugh, but he would run a no-nonsense practice.”
Hillsborough coaches reported having seen Murphy bench press close to 300 pounds — at age 65.
“He was very, very passionate about the sport,” Hillsborough coach Rich Refi said. “He was really intense, but he was also extremely funny. And I think any coach would agree that he was one of the most knowledgeable coaches there was.”
Despite the onset of Parkinson’s, Murphy continued to coach until the last five years, and he served as a meet official up until about two years ago. In his last coaching stop, at Voorhees, he used a golf cart to get around and dispense his wisdom.
“I thought I was hot stuff because I coached for 32 years,” MacLuskie said. “I couldn’t even carry his gym bag.”