Cal Murphy leaves Winnipeg a football legacy after building a strong foundation in Vancouver
By Nathan Rumohr
The B.C. Catholic
Canada knew him as a great football coach, but the Archdiocese of Vancouver knew him as a dedicated Catholic role model. Cal Murphy, a CFL coaching legend from Winnipeg, died Feb. 18 at the age of 78.
"You won't find a better Catholic," said Bob DeJulius, former principal of Holy Cross High School in Vancouver. He played under Murphy at Notre Dame High School in Vancouver, and later worked with him as a coach and colleague. "I once told him that he might be too conservative."
He said Murphy was tough but fair as a coach and as a man.
"We were scared to death of him at Notre Dame."
However, once his players and students realized the breadth of "Murphy's Law," they played hard for him on the field.
"Once they got to know him they loved to play for him."
"I'd go to the wall for him," said Tony Toljanich, who played for Murphy's first Notre Dame team in 1958. "He made us believe in ourselves."
Murphy played and coached at Vancouver College and Notre Dame through the 1950s and '60s. He laid the groundwork for the schools' football programs and was an instrumental lay teacher. Murphy had a strong male influence on Notre Dame, taught mostly by nuns at the time.
"What Catholic schools are today was established by guys like Cal," DeJulius said.
He also said Murphy took his faith very seriously. DeJulius recalled a football trip to Oregon where Murphy arranged Mass every morning for his team.
"You would want your kids to be influenced by him. He was my biggest influence, next to my parents."
"Cal was a mentor, I still use his philosophies today," added Toljanich. "Mass attendance was a prerequisite."
Murphy was a committed parishioner, but he wasn't shy about laying down the law. During a basketball practice in the 1950s, one of his players wouldn't stop smoking. Murphy wanted to illustrate how bad the habit was so he made the player smoke a whole cigar while covered by a large garbage bin.
"He was tough but fair, but when you're 15 you don't see it that way," said DeJulius.
Murphy, born in 1932 in Winnipeg, returned there in 1984 as head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He became a Manitoba legend by ending the Bombers' 22-year Grey Cup drought in 1984. He was named coach of the year.
"His best ability was judging players with talent," said DeJulius.
"The identification of talent that he did for this football club and the talent he brought into this league was outstanding," echoed Murphy's former boss, Bombers' GM Paul Robson, to the Winnipeg Free Press Feb. 19.
"He was so much a part of this community and really an innovator in the Canadian Football League. Certainly his record as a coach is unparalleled."
Murphy moved on to management later in the 1980s and won two more Grey Cups as the Bombers' GM. He was planning to return to coaching in 1992 when he suffered a major heart attack. He received emergency bypass surgery which kept him alive long enough for a donor to be found.
He moved on to coach the Saskatchewan Roughriders and spent time in the now defunct XFL before settling into a scouting role with the NFL's Indianapolis Colts until his death.
Among Murphy's many accolades are nine Grey Cups with Edmonton, Montreal, and Winnipeg, induction into the Blue Bombers' Hall of Fame in 2002, and into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2004. He was also honoured by Vancouver College in 2000 as part of the school's Hall of Honour.
Murphy leaves behind his wife Joyce and seven children. His funeral was Feb. 24 in Regina's Holy Cross Church.