In the heart of Mississippi, 25 miles southwest of Jackson, lies the town of Raymond (pop. 2,275), which goes hog-wild for its Hinds Community College football team. The Eagles are one of the top junior college programs in the nation, having won 70% of their games and four state junior college titles in the last 10 years. Fifty-four Eagles have gone on to play at Division I schools, and 14 have made it to the NFL. This year, after a 7-3 regular season (the three losses were forfeits because the Eagles used an ineligible player), Hinds won its third straight state title, beating Holmes Community College in Goodman, Miss., 27-22.
It's not hard to imagine, then, how curiosity was piqued in 1984 when Bill Buckner, Hinds's head coach, hired Dorothy Faye (Dot) Murphy to coach his receivers. Not only was Murphy a woman, but she was also married to Hinds's defensive coordinator, Gene Murphy. Most folks felt Dot's hiring was a publicity stunt, a favor to Gene or just an idiotic decision.
But Coach Buckner had a different motive. He was desperate for somebody to handle his receivers, and the program could afford only a part-time coach. Dot Murphy's main game was basketball. She had been an All-America forward at Mississippi University for Women in 1974, a starter on the U.S. team that won a silver medal at the 1973 World University Games and the head coach at her alma mater from 1977 to '82.
Though Murphy had never coached football, she had known the game since childhood. Her father, Thad Easterwood, was a high school football coach in Mississippi, and Dot grew up playing tackle football with her 10 male cousins. "Look," says Murphy, raising her crooked right middle finger, "I busted this diving for a pass when I was 12." Then she opens her mouth, points to an upper incisor and says, "I chipped this while making a tackle in the fourth grade. I wish they'd had football for girls when I was a kid."
As for why Buckner hired her, he says, "I just wanted to find the best talent I could. To coach receivers, you deal with eye-hand coordination, running patterns, deceiving defenders, things that are similar to moves in basketball. Dot was also a certified athletic trainer. She was the most qualified person we could find."
Murphy quickly validated Buckner's decision. In a few weeks Hinds's receivers were running pinpoint patters and diving for every ball. After every dropped pass in practice, Murphy made her charges hit the dirt and do 10 cutaway push-ups. She gained the players' respect with an unusual mix of yelling and coddling. "From the start, Dot was so intense that she had more respect from the players than the rest of the coaches did," says Buckner. When Buckner retired in 1987, Gene Murphy became Hinds's head coach. His first decision was to keep his wife on board.
On a Tuesday afternoon in early November, a couple of hours before practice, Murphy is sifting through paperwork in her spartan office, which, except for a little basket filled with potpourri and some books on coaching women, offers no evidence that it belongs to a woman. Murphy is just back from her lunch break, but she. is still hungry, because instead of eating she took a cat to the vet, went to a doctor to have an ingrown toenail removed and dropped laundry off at the cleaners. She also stopped to pick up yearbook portraits of her son, Kelly, a high school senior.
Yes, Murphy is a coach who eats, sleeps and dreams football, but she is also a mom with three children: Kelly, 18, Jennifer, 14, and Ashley, 10. Last season the tug-of-war between coaching and motherhood became such a strain that Murphy decided she would retire her whistle for a year and limit her work at Hinds to chairing the school's phys-ed department and being the football team's academic adviser and its liaison with coaches at four-year colleges.
But when two-a-day practices began in mid-August, the Hinds receivers were a mess without Murphy. Their timing was way off. They didn't know how to run their patterns. Murphy wasn't in much better shape, moping around campus and grumpy at home. "I'd been on the field, working side by side with Gene for 13 years," says Dot, 44. "Now there was this gaping hole. I missed Gene, and I missed football."
It was Dot's children who pushed her back into football. "I could just tell Mama wanted to be out there screaming and yelling," says Ashley. "And she's a great mom. We all pitch in with chores, but she keeps us going."