"They have given us much more than their prestige," says Cal High principal Katie Curry. "They have given us a new energy, a winning spirit. They are just the sort of coaches you'd want your child to have."
What has been most gratifying about the Davis-Murphy experiment is the unflagging dedication the two men have shown toward the students. "We're teaching life, not just sports," says Davis. "I think the kids need someone they can bounce things off of. You have to be something of a psychiatrist." He laughs. "I'm basically a storyteller, so maybe the kids think I'm a little long-winded. But then, when you hear them throwing things back at you that you've told them, you know you've reached them."
Murphy, even more intense than Davis, sees his job as "getting these kids to believe in themselves. I have had parents call me to ask if I can help them with their children. I believe in hard work, and I try to instill a sense of that in my players."
Murphy's team, dogged by injuries, hampered by inexperience at quarterback, did not do as well this season as last. But despite a 2-8 record, Murphy was able to keep spirits high. With his team leading 14-5 at halftime in a recent game against Livermore High, he summoned up the ghost of Knute Rockne in his locker room oration.
"What's the score?" he bellowed.
"Zero to zero!" the players replied in unison.
"That's right! It's a whole new ball game in the second half. Now let's get out there and give it everything you've got!"
Cal High's Fightin' Grizzlies did just that, holding on for a 14-7 win. The most voluble rooter on the sidelines, the noisiest critic of the officiating, the biggest backslapper (excluding Murphy himself) was Davis, who seldom misses one of his friend's games, just as Murphy rarely misses one of Davis's. Both were exhausted when it was over.
"I'll take a win any way I can get one," said Murphy, heaving a sigh of relief. "These kids are trying hard, doing their best. That's all you can ask of them."
His victorious players, filing onto the team bus that Murphy's fund-raising skills had helped get for them, were exuberant in praise of their coach. "This had been a losing team ever since I got here," said senior tight end John Hill, who is also a catcher for Davis. "Now everything is tremendous. Coach Murphy was a little intimidating for us at first, because we all knew who he was. But that's not the way it is now. We know him as a really good coach."