New England Soccer Today

Coaching Course

John Murphy (right), seen here with former Revolution goalkeeper Adin Brown, served as an assistant coach for the Revs from 2000 till February of 2004. (Photo by Art Donahue/

Taylor Twellman, Sharie Joseph, Pat Noonan, Clint Dempsey – four stars of the New England Revolution in the 2000s that came through the MLS SuperDraft thanks in part to John Murphy’s input into the team’s draft decisions. Draft picks can’t all be winners, but when Murphy was on the staff, there sure seemed to be a lot more hits than misses for the Revs.

Murphy, an assistant coach for the Revolution from 2000 to February of 2004, played a key role in a series of successful drafts that helped to spark the team to their impressive run in the early-mid 2000s.

“At that time, back around 2000-2001, I think people really weren’t taking the time to go to the colleges and certainly not calling the college coaches,” said Murphy, now an assistant coach at Clemson University. “There are so many great college coaches that I think would’ve done very well in MLS as professional coaches, but they chose to stay in college and these people know the game and they certainly know players.

“So, one, I wasn’t afraid to get on the phone and call people and, two, I wasn’t afraid of jumping in the car and driving somewhere or jumping in a plane and flying somewhere just to see people play,” added Murphy, who at the time of this interview was driving back from a recruiting trip for Clemson. “I don’t think it was anything special. I don’t think it was anything with having a great eye for talent. I think I just worked very hard and it paid off most of the time. Not everyone we drafted worked out, but I think most of them did and in this business that’s a good thing.”

Such scouting trips were hardly a new concept to Murphy upon joining the Revolution. The Quincy, Mass. native had plenty of experience with recruiting trips as a college coach. Prior to moving up to the professional ranks, he helped coach Massasoit Community College, Brown University (under Mike Noonan) and Assumption College (where he was given the head coaching duties) to championship titles at each school and earned six different all-league or regional Coach of the Year awards.

But, despite all that success at the college level, Murphy’s position with the Revs was hardly handed to him.

“I used to be at Brown University and a colleague of mine at Brown, Derek Aframe, was working in the Revolution organization when Fernando [Clavijo] took over,” said Murphy. “They needed a part time goalkeeper coach and Derek brought my name forward. I interviewed with Fernando, it was the first time I had met him. He said, ‘look you have a great resume and great references, but I’ve never seen you coach before, why don’t you come in and do a week of training and we’ll see how it goes’.”

With that, Murphy was essentially on trial as goalkeeper coach. Three days later he had earned himself the job. What started as a part-time position as goalkeeper coach in 2000 turned into a full-time job as assistant coach and director of youth development tasked with helping get the original Revs youth academy off the ground a year later.

By 2002, the Revolution coaching staff recognized Murphy’s knowledge of the college game and he became heavily involved in the team’s drafting. That year the team’s SuperDraft picks included stars Taylor Twellman and Shalrie Joseph in the first two rounds and a fourth round pick in Marshall Leonard who became a regular contributor.

When Steve Nicol took over midway through the 2002 season, he made Matt Driver his “right hand guy”, but kept Murphy, whom he was originally an assistant with under Clavijo, on board. The trio led the team to its first MLS Cup final in 2002 with Nicol winning MLS Coach of the Year.

Meanwhile, Murphy and the Revs continued their draft success in 2003. Although the team traded away several picks, it added Pat Noonan in the first round and reached the Eastern Conference final. In 2004, with just four picks at their disposal, the Revs grabbed Clint Dempsey, now a star in the English Premier League with Fulham and with the U.S. National Team, in the first round, Jeremiah White, who just signed with the Revs after stints in Europe, in the third round, and Felix Brilliant and Andy Dorman, who impressed with the Revs before going to Scotland, both in the sixth round.

Leaving home

But the 2004 draft would be the last for Murphy in New England. He left shortly after Dempsey, White and Dorman were selected to join the Columbus Crew as an assistant coach. Without the youth academy role at Columbus, Murphy was now working fulltime with the first team – a move he was ready to make.

“I didn’t necessarily leave because I wanted to leave, but there was interest from other clubs in MLS and Columbus seemed like a good situation for me,” said Murphy. “The way I saw it was either take one of these jobs or I’m going to be in New England for the rest of my life, which I don’t think would’ve been the worst thing in the world, but I just figured that would be the time to try something and branch out a little bit, so that’s what brought me to Columbus in 2004.”

The Crew would win the Supporters’ Shield as the best regular season team in 2004 before losing to the Revolution in the playoffs. Head coach Greg Andrulis was named MLS Coach of the Year marking the second time in three years the MLS Coach of the Year had Murphy as an assistant.

Yet, for the second time in two years, Murphy was on the move. When Clavijo took over as head coach in Colorado in 2005, he offered Murphy a chance to finally be his primary assistant coach and help launch their youth academy.

“I enjoy working with kids and I enjoy the academy work,” said Murphy. “I’m proud that both the New England academies and the Colorado academies are fantastic. They’re big, they’re comprehensive and certainly even bigger than what we envisioned back at the time when we started them. But, I take a lot of pride that we got both those programs off the ground.”

“I was very happy to go out to Colorado,” added Murphy, who stayed with the Rapids through 2008. “It’s a beautiful place, fantastic new stadium and the team that won MLS Cup (in 2010) were a lot of guys that we brought in, so lots of good feelings for my time out there.”

Across the pond

It was after leaving Colorado when Murphy’s career took its most surprising turn. The man who was born and raised in New England and had spent his entire coaching career in the region prior to his stints in Columbus and Colorado was headed for a move across the Atlantic to Scotland.

“My mother’s from Scotland and I’d been going over to Scotland for years doing my coaching badges,” said Murphy, who has attained the prestigious UEFA Professional Badge from the Scottish Football Association, a U.S. Soccer “A” License, NSCAA Advanced National Diploma and is the first foreign born coach to earn a UEFA “A” Goalkeeper Coaching Badge from the English Football Association. “If I had any free time I’d go over and watch games and spend time at training with different clubs. You get to know people just like you would in any way of life – you network a little bit.”

After leaving Colorado, Murphy headed to Scotland for three months to finish up his UEFA Pro Badge. Staying in one of his agent’s apartments for free in Glasgow city center allowed Murphy to travel to different clubs and make connections.

“I did a lot of work with Falkirk FC with (then head coach) John Hughes working with their goalkeepers purely as a volunteer,” said Murphy. “A position opened up at Livingston and I had the chance to work there as a goalkeeper coach and an assistant coach under Paul Hegarty, who was a fantastic guy.”

But, things quickly turned sour for Livingston. With the club in severe financial troubles, Hegarty was suspended as manager without explanation while the club let his contract expire. David Hay, then the director of football, was appointed managed on an interim basis, but never wanted to keep the job long term. The club offered Murphy the chance to make history. Already the first American to work in British football as an assistant, he became the first American to work in Britain as a head coach.

“[Hay] didn’t want the job full time and they offered it to me,” said Murphy. “I was kind of apprehensive out of loyalty to Paul, but Paul gave me his blessing, so I took the job.”

Murphy was appointed head coach on June 30, 2009 with the team struggling to meet their financial obligations. As a result, Livingston was forced to sell its top players. On July 24, Livingston was placed into administration. By mid-August, after an ownership change, the head coach position was taken from Murphy and given to Gary Bollan without Murphy getting a chance to coach a single league game. Murphy’s brief stint in charge was highlighted by a 2-1 preseason victory over English Championship side Plymouth-Argyle.

“I think I had it for 49 days, which I think is five days longer than Brian Clough was at Leeds United,” Murphy joked. “I can’t say it was the longest tenure in the history of football, but it was a great time. I really enjoyed it. I thought the players responded really well to me and it was a very enjoyable time, albeit too short.”

Back to college

Murphy was soon given a chance to head back to the United States and back into college coaching again with Mike Noonan. This time Noonan, a legend at Brown for leading the team to 10 NCAA tournaments in his 15 years as head coach there, was headed to Clemson.

“I came back basically in November of 2009,” said Murphy. “Mike and I always stayed in touch over the years and there were some inklings that something might happen at Clemson, so we started to talk a little bit and then he took the job in December.

“He asked me if I wanted to come down and work for him and I said yes,” Murphy continued. “Mike is someone I feel is one of the best coaches in the country. He’s certainly been a mentor of mine and someone that I’ve known for a long time. I’d never been to Clemson before, but the people that I’d worked with before, particularly in MLS, spoke so highly of it and really thought it was a special place. When I went down for my interview I was really impressed. It was a no brainer for me and my family.”

While Murphy has moved clubs several times in the past ten years, don’t expect him to leave Clemson anytime soon. He and his family are enjoying the comfortable climes of South Carolina and Murphy is committed to helping Noonan bring Clemson back to prominence.

“I think one thing the past couple of years has taught me – I don’t think I was ever a slacker with my work, I’ve always been a hard worker, but I was certainly someone that was always looking ahead and ambitious,” said Murphy. “But, I don’t think ambitious in a bad way – ambitious because I enjoy what I do. The last couple of years have taught me is ‘you know what, you need to find a good place and if you’re at a good place really focus on doing the best you can there and then if something comes from that all the better.’

“Right now I’m really focusing on Clemson,” he continued. “It’s a pretty comprehensive job to get it back up where it was – two national championships, 13 ACC titles. I feel like I owe Mike quite a bit, so I’m really obligated to make sure that I’m focusing on my job here and trying to get us back to national prominence, which is not going to be easy and is going to be a multi-year project, so I’ve given Mike a multiple year commitment. I’m not looking at anything beyond that, whether it be college, pro, high school, youth – I’m here at Clemson and for the short term that’s all I’m focusing on.”

Spreading experience

Yet, even with all the time commitments to Clemson, Murphy recently found time to publish his second book. Through Word Class Coaching Murphy published his first book, The Full Season Goalkeeper Training Program, while with the Revs – detailing every training session with the Revs goalkeepers on their way to the 2002 MLS Cup. Since returning to the U.S., Murphy completed his second book, Team Training for the Goalkeeper.

“Particularly for those of us that don’t have fulltime goalkeeper coaches or if you’re kind of stretched for time, you’re trying to get as much as you can in a short amount of time, I’ve always been a big believer in getting the goalkeepers into the warm-ups as quickly as possible and not separating them so much,” said Murphy. “Basically that’s what the book is about. I think it’s a good book for a coach at any level because a lot of times in the pros I’d integrate the goalkeepers right into the warm-up and I think the goalkeepers and the team appreciated when you can get everybody in there together and it builds that chemistry.

“It also builds in the philosophy that the goalkeeper’s a soccer player first,” he added. “It’s not its own sport; it’s a position within a sport. I think sometimes goalkeeper specialty can go a little too far. First and foremost they’ve got to be a soccer player. If you look at [Revs goalkeeper] Matt Reis, he’s fantastic with his feet. He can take penalties. You can probably play Matt Reis as a functional striker in MLS and he would do decently. He’s a great example of your prototypical modern goalkeeper.”

Murphy also recently released two DVDs about goalkeeper training through Championship Productions.

Keeping up with the hometown team

When he’s not coaching, recruiting for Clemson or writing books and creating instructional DVDs, Murphy still finds time to follow MLS and is a subscriber to the MLS Direct Kick package. One team he’ll be keeping an eye on this year: New England, where Jay Heaps, who played under Murphy in New England from 2001-2003, is now the head coach.

“Jay’s a natural leader,” said Murphy. “He’s got charisma. He’s a fantastic competitor. I always used to say if you were playing a small sided game you always want Jay on your team because Jay’s teams would always win. You can count on Taylor [Twellman] always scoring goals and you can count on Jay Heaps always winning games. I think it’s a great fit for the club.

“I think people need to understand and appreciate what Steve Nicol did over ten years and I think people will have more appreciation for that as the time gets further away, but I think Steve’s time needs to be properly recognized by Revolution supporters,” he continued. “It really was tremendous, but all things in soccer change and if you’re going to make a change I think bringing Jay in is a great one. He’s a New England kid; he’s going to bring a ton of energy and commitment to it. He has a great mind for the game and obviously a very bright guy.”

Murphy has already spoken to Heaps a couple times and offered his advice if Heaps ever needs it.

“He has my full support,” said Murphy. “He knows that and I told him he could reach out to me any time if he wants advice on these college kids coming through.”

With Murphy’s track record, Heaps would be wise to give the experienced coach a call around draft day each year.

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