Gene also missed his wife. After 20 years of marriage, he and Dot arc best buddies, hunting partners (Dot bagged the biggest of the four deer heads mounted on their living-room wall) and personal sounding boards, on and off the field. During a game it's not uncommon to see the Murphys screaming at each other, and more often than not the head coach defers to his wife. A few years ago Dot encouraged Gene to can the Eagles' conservative wing T offense in favor of a pass-oriented, no-huddle, one-back attack. "I guess Mrs. Murphy can get away with more yelling, being my wife," says Gene. "But she's pulled quite a few game-winning plays out of the hat, so if I didn't listen, I'd be a dummy."
When Dot returned to the sidelines in late August, her impact was immediate. "It was mass confusion without Mrs. Murphy," says Mike DiBiase, a freshman wide-out. "They tried having Taylor Morton, who has coached at Auburn, work with us, but he didn't have the experience Mrs. Murphy has. When she came back, everything started clicking."
She is a hands-on coach who preaches basics until her players perfect them. For 20 minutes during a typical workout this fall, Murphy made the receivers practice deking around a dummy defender—Murphy herself—while moving off the line of scrimmage. Then, after a water break, everybody returned for more deking. "I was shocked when I got here and found out I had a lady coach," says Kevin Prentiss, a sophomore and Hinds's top receiver. "But then I figured I'd give her a shot and listen. She started teaching me all this intricate stuff about the game, how to read defenses, how to see the ball into my hands. She showed me the little things I need to get to the next level. Mrs. Murphy, she is good."
But her expertise isn't limited to receivers. She also works with kickers, quarterbacks and anybody else who wants help. "I'll never forget it," says Purvis Hunt, a guard with the Houston Oilers who played at Hinds from 1990 to '91. "In one game I got beat twice for sacks in the first half. I came off the field baffled. Dot says, 'If he head-fakes you inside, step forward and go. Don't fall for the fake.' I did what she said, and it worked."
Ultimately, though, players respect Murphy for more than knowing her X's and O's. It's the way she delivers them. "Mrs. Murphy, she can yell just like Coach [Bill] Par-cells," says Hason Graham, a wide receiver with the New England Patriots who was at Hinds in '91. But Murphy balances her temper with something men can't give-motherly love. "You can talk with her," says Richard Caston, a sophomore wideout and quarterback. "When everybody else is yelling at you, she's the one who always peps you back up. She's like our mom."
Having a female coach has still other benefits, such as motivation. Four years ago a Mississippi Delta defensive back waltzed by Hinds's sideline and said derisively to Dot, "Why don't you go get in the stands? You don't belong out here." Dumb move, bozo. "Our boys went ballistic," says Gene. "Sometimes, if we're getting whupped, I pray for other teams to be so stupid." Hinds roared back from a 7-0 deficit to win 13-7.
Despite Murphy's success at Hinds, there is no sign that she has started a trend, because she remains the only female college football coach at any level in the U.S. There are many reasons why more women have not broken into football coaching in college or the NFL'. Hinds alumni in the NFL say it's because most men don't believe women can do the job. Ashley thinks it's because women are too smart to work so hard for so little money. "I'm going to be a lawyer," says Ashley. "They can yell and get rich, too."
Gene gives a different reason why there are no other women football coaches: "There's only one Dot Murphy."