October 10, 2019

Hogan: Murphy ready for the challenge

It was a huge story, but one that got lost in the excitement.

On Tuesday the Argos brought Michael Clemons back into the family. Inarguably the most popular personality in recent club history, “Pinball’” bounced back, this time as the team’s 20th general manager.

Mike Clemons is an incredible combination of style and substance. His personality is electric, his playing days Hall-of-Fame calibre. He owns every room he walks into.

John Murphy doesn’t.

That’s not a knock on the Argos new vice-president of player personnel, far from it. It’s unfair to compare almost anyone to the uber-popular former No. 31, but as in most cases, when someone is mentioned in the same breath as Pinball, they’re usually forced to take second billing.

But Murphy’s importance to the organization shouldn’t be downplayed.

The 45-year old is a football lifer. Born on Long Island in Merrick, New York, Murphy was a kid who played any sport that was available to him, but always was partial to football, though he kept getting hurt while playing it. After finishing his education at Hofstra University on Long Island, the young man in his early 20s decided to take a chance, one that helped him get his foot in the door.

He travelled to the NFL Combine in Indianapolis without a job waiting for him and only a few dollars in his pocket. The drive to and from Indiana wasn’t a financial hardship, but accommodation would be a different story.

“There’s no way I could handle paying $700-$1,000 for a hotel room,” recalled Murphy. “I noticed at the Convention Centre at the RCA Dome there were lockers there, so I stuck one of my bags there. I’d go hang out at the Convention Centre all day (where the work for the Combine was being done) then walk back to a Steak ‘n Shake because it was open 24 hours and they would give you free refills of coffee or soda. I’d order the one meal I was eating for the day and just sit there as long as I could.”

As for a place to sleep? Well, it wasn’t exactly five-star living.

“I saw that if you went up a flight of escalators at the Convention Centre there was no security, there was nobody around, and they had these big sofas to just crash,” he explained. “Nobody could see you once you were laying down, so I’d leave my two bags in that locker and go lay down, then do the same thing all over again.”

Consider the dues paid.

After making some connections at the Combine, Murphy continued his journey, desperate to meet the right connection at the right time. He’d work for Yahoo! Sports, which allowed him to gain access to the press box of every stadium in North America. That allowed him to meet more NFL contacts so they could put a face to the emails he was constantly sending out.

It wasn’t an NFL game where he met the man who would change his life. It was at a D-3 All-Star game in Virginia in 2006 where he met someone scouting for a team from a foreign country.

His name was Jim Barker, scouting for the Calgary Stampeders.

“I didn’t know who he was,” admitted Murphy. “The guy running the game told me the staff that is supposed to work with him is light, can you just work with him tomorrow? We’re in Virginia around Thanksgiving. He saw me at the one restaurant that was open. He saw me at the one bar that was open that night. That’s how we met.”

Barker brought Murphy to help him at Calgary’s training camp in ’07 and he ended up staying all year. When they made the switch in staff, John Hufnagel interviewed him and kept him on board.

He’d work for Winnipeg and then back to Calgary before going to Saskatchewan where he worked until last year.

Murphy would end up with the Argos, working behind the scenes at the LFA Combine and draft this year, then joining the football operations staff in the war room for free agency, essentially the first day he showed his face in Toronto. He’d become a fixture in time for training camp.

Since then he’s been scouting CFL, NFL and NCAA teams, both live and on video, looking for that diamond in the rough, or the player that could best fit into what the team wants to do. He was stockpiling more information into his encyclopedic memory.

Then came the call from Bill Manning following the blowout in B.C.

“He said ‘I want to have a face-to-face conversation with you, would you be available for that?’” said Murphy, who was at his home in New Orleans at the time.

He said Manning gave him a time and the name of the restaurant where they were to meet on Monday.

“He said it was going to be three of us, but didn’t go into detail, just that there would be a third person there too,” said Murphy of the somewhat clandestine rendevous. “Pinball was at the meeting, so that’s when I learned it was him. I was informed that they had just come from another meeting and I was told what had just happened with Jim (Popp), and he (Manning) just laid out his game plan.”

That was the birth of the Clemons-Murphy era. Less than 24 hours later Manning would introduce the pair to a room full of reporters and cameras at a news conference at BMO Field.

Talking football with Murphy is fascinating, but you had better be ready to listen. In conversation with Argonauts.ca, one of his answers literally lasted 18 minutes and 31 seconds, but if you were willing to hear what the man was saying, you’d be fascinated by what you were hearing.

His answer meandered like the Mississippi river through his adopted hometown of New Orleans, a place he’s called home for the last 18 years, minus some time in Houston post-Katrina – though he will now move to Toronto on a full-time basis.

The topics flowed from team chemistry to player/cost analysis. Discussing the former value of scouting Arena League players, to the future of scouting Global players, to the need to have a team develop both front-line talent and a solid core.

There is zero doubt John Murphy loves the intricacies of player development. His main job is to improve the level of talent on the Argos. There are many talented players on the team, but 2-12 is 2-12.

“You have to take it back to wherever you think things did not work out as planned,” explained Murphy. “Whether it’s by position, or grouping, or one side of the ball or the other, or free agency, or the draft, and review to see where did that not work out? Where did things not go the way we expected to after training camp? After watching film of the pre-season games, what didn’t happen this season to cause the record to be what it is? Once you get through that, you have a better understanding of where exactly some of these players are and what needs to be done to move forward.”

Murphy is willing to put the work in. He’s surrounded by, and supported by a solid staff, both above him and below him on the football operations depth chart.

His task is to turn this 2-12 team into a 12-2 team, and he’s ready for that challenge.