"I took a look at what I had to fight with and then who I had to fight," recalls Murphy, in his smooth, rolling southern voice, "and I knew I had to work fast. Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tennessee had the area's football talent all wrapped up," Murphy added, "so I knew I'd have to go out of state or give up."
Murphy was blessed with friends in all the right places. The end coach he had brought with him from Minnesota, Ray Malavasi, knew the New Jersey area. A fellow Marine from World War 11 days on Okinawa, Paul McKee, now end coach at Harvard, was coaching in Rome, N.Y. and would beat the bushes in New England. A comrade from V-12 days at Duke, Bob Root, a high school coach in Pennsylvania, agreed to scan the rich Ohio- Pennsylvania breeding grounds. And Murphy himself took on the Chicago area.
This year the Tigers opened the season with 52 players from 14 states. Only 16 of them come from Tennessee, Arkansas or Mississippi. No less than 24 of Murphy's 31 linemen weigh over 200 pounds, 13 of these top 220 and nine weigh in excess of 230. With all this beef in the forward wall it is hardly surprising that Memphis State is the third most effective defensive team in the nation.
"I try to sell prospective players on three things," Murphy says. "First, our academic program—that we are likely to have a course of study that they will want. Second, that we are a winning team and intend to stay that way. Third, that Memphis is a big city with some wonderful chances for employment after graduation."
All of Murphy's points are valid, none more so than the first. The academic standards are not so high that deserving athletes are denied entrance to Memphis State. Once enrolled, their course of study need not be too strenuous. In fact 20 members of this year's varsity major in physical education or industrial arts, the latter a college-level version of arts and crafts.
"I probably would have gone to a Big Ten school," says Chuck Brooks, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound end from Oak Park, Ill., "but I didn't have the grades. Now I like it fine down here."
Dick Quast, a 6-foot-2, 238-pound tackle from Chicago who already has been drafted by the pros, transferred to Memphis State because he neglected to make the grades that would have kept him athletically eligible at Wake Forest.
Not all the players came to Memphis because it was the only college they could get into. Harry Schuh, a 6-foot-3, 265-pound tackle from Feasterville, Pa., who received 60 college offers, enrolled at State because "they took the time to introduce me to the faculty in the industrial arts department." Dave Casinelli of Follansbee, W. Va., a stumpy fullback who was too slow to get into any other school but who is now the nation's third leading ground-gainer and third leading scorer, came along on the shirttails of high school chum Ralph Ciccarelli.
If Memphis State's academic standards seem modest when measured against those of other nationally ranked schools, they differ in no respect from those of any state school in the South. They may even be a little higher.
"Last year we actually turned down 500 applicants," says President Humphreys. "That doesn't exactly put us in a class with the Ivy League, but we wouldn't be doing our job as a state college if we accepted only the top 5%."