Swimming coach trades cubicle for poolside view
In his former life, while working in the sales world of an investment management firm in Silicon Valley, swimming head coach Rich Murphy discovered that his mind was giving him hints as to what he was probably supposed to be doing with his life.
On top of his day job, Murphy served as a coach with an advanced-age swim group in Palo Alto, Calif.
“I found myself sometimes, during the day, writing workouts when I was supposed to be cold-calling,” he said. “I was looking forward more toward when my regular work day ended, and I could go coach afterwards. That was where I was deriving a lot of my enjoyment.”
The four-year letter winner at the University of Notre Dame then drifted to Arizona State as a volunteer assistant, eventually becoming the head coach for the Sun Devils. He also had stops at Bowling Green University and Auburn before taking an associate head coach position at the Dynamo Swim Club in Atlanta, leading them to a national championship and landing more than 20 of his swimmers Division I scholarships. From there, he landed in Houston. All these steps up the coaching ladder seemed natural to a man who is analytical.
“On some level, I (would) always think about what the (head) coach was thinking today and why are we’re doing what we’re doing,” Murphy said. “I would be lying if I didn’t say there were some times when I thought I had a better idea of what we could or should do. From that standpoint, even as far back as high school, I was always thinking, ‘Well, what if we did that?’ or ‘How about that?’ ”
The realm of competitive collegiate swimming in the Lone Star State has been dominated by Texas and Texas A&M, but Murphy sees potential in his squad with its array of age and experience.
“I think Texas on the whole is a strong swimming state. There are other options within the state, and we think we compare favorably with most of those,” Murphy said. “I think through a combination of what we have, combined with our location in a major metro area as well as from a facilities standpoint, we’re very fortunate. It’s just a matter of growing and making the most of the resources we have.”
The brand names of Texas and A&M, forever specters upon the sports landscape, were close in Murphy’s head as he considered taking the UH job.
“To be honest, I talked to the Texas head coach and assistant head coach prior to committing to come to Houston,” Murphy said. “I was curious in-state what our school’s reputation is. I want to build the UH swimming brand. I have a set of expectations in my mind for a handful of years down the line. I can see this program, swimming-specific, being in a different place than it is now.”
While not the most well-known sport, the swimming and diving program has 24 student athletes, whom Murphy classified as having a mix of senior leadership and what he calls “young eagerness.” He recognizes that a collegiate swimming career is a finite role in life, so pushing players to reach their academic potential is a goal, too, Murphy said.
Like any other collegiate sport, the next step is always on the minds of just enough players to get the coaching staff to notice. In the case of swimming, the highest step is the Olympics, which proves to be a great motivator while being simultaneously distant. UH has produced 18 Olympians from the women’s swimming and diving team.
“The Olympics are such a high level, and only a select few ever make it that far,” said assistant coach Keith Dawley. “But reaching goals and setting goals is something that drives athletes at all levels. Swimming is no different than any other sport. Everyone has their goals, and everyone has different levels that they reach in those goals. I think it’s fair to say that there are athletes here at Houston, not just on the swim team, that have that ability and have that desire. It’s just a matter of things falling into place.”
Murphy’s work so far has played well with his swimmers.
“He’s a great coach,” said sophomore Maggie McCord. “He’s taking the program in a good direction.”