In the heart of Mississippi, 25 miles southwest of Jackson, lies
the town of Raymond (pop. 2,275), which goes hog-wild for its
Hinds Community College football team. The Eagles are one of the
top junior college programs in the nation, having won 70% of
their games and four state junior college titles in the last 10
years. Fifty-four Eagles have gone on to play at Division I
schools, and 14 have made it to the NFL. This year, after a 7-3
regular season (the three losses were forfeits because the
Eagles used an ineligible player), Hinds won its third straight
state title, beating Holmes Community College in Goodman, Miss.,
It's not hard to imagine, then, how curiosity was piqued in 1984
when Bill Buckner, Hinds's head coach, hired Dorothy Faye (Dot)
Murphy to coach his receivers. Not only was Murphy a woman, but
she was also married to Hinds's defensive coordinator, Gene
Murphy. Most folks felt Dot's hiring was a publicity stunt, a
favor to Gene or just an idiotic decision.
But Coach Buckner had a different motive. He was desperate for
somebody to handle his receivers, and the program could afford
only a part-time coach. Dot Murphy's main game was basketball.
She had been an All-America forward at Mississippi University
for Women in 1974, a starter on the U.S. team that won a silver
medal at the 1973 World University Games and the head coach at
her alma mater from 1977 to '82.
Though Murphy had never coached football, she had known the game
since childhood. Her father, Thad Easterwood, was a high school
football coach in Mississippi, and Dot grew up playing tackle
football with her 10 male cousins. "Look," says Murphy, raising
her crooked right middle finger, "I busted this diving for a
pass when I was 12." Then she opens her mouth, points to an
upper incisor and says, "I chipped this while making a tackle in
the fourth grade. I wish they'd had football for girls when I
was a kid."
December 9, 1996
As for why Buckner hired her, he says, "I just wanted to find
the best talent I could. To coach receivers, you deal with
eye-hand coordination, running patterns, deceiving defenders,
things that are similar to moves in basketball. Dot was also a
certified athletic trainer. She was the most qualified person we
Murphy quickly validated Buckner's decision. In a few weeks
Hinds's receivers were running pinpoint patters and diving for
every ball. After every dropped pass in practice, Murphy made
her charges hit the dirt and do 10 cutaway push-ups. She gained
the players' respect with an unusual mix of yelling and
coddling. "From the start, Dot was so intense that she had more
respect from the players than the rest of the coaches did," says
Buckner. When Buckner retired in 1987, Gene Murphy became
Hinds's head coach. His first decision was to keep his wife on
On a Tuesday afternoon in early November, a couple of hours
before practice, Murphy is sifting through paperwork in her
spartan office, which, except for a little basket filled with
potpourri and some books on coaching women, offers no evidence
that it belongs to a woman. Murphy is just back from her lunch
break, but she is still hungry, because instead of eating she
took a cat to the vet, went to a doctor to have an ingrown
toenail removed and dropped laundry off at the cleaners. She
also stopped to pick up yearbook portraits of her son, Kelly, a
high school senior.
Yes, Murphy is a coach who eats, sleeps and dreams football, but
she is also a mom with three children: Kelly, 18, Jennifer, 14,
and Ashley, 10. Last season the tug-of-war between coaching and
motherhood became such a strain that Murphy decided she would
retire her whistle for a year and limit her work at Hinds to
chairing the school's phys-ed department and being the football
team's academic adviser and its liaison with coaches at
But when two-a-day practices began in mid-August, the Hinds
receivers were a mess without Murphy. Their timing was way off.
They didn't know how to run their patterns. Murphy wasn't in
much better shape, moping around campus and grumpy at home. "I'd
been on the field, working side by side with Gene for 13 years,"
says Dot, 44. "Now there was this gaping hole. I missed Gene,
and I missed football."
It was Dot's children who pushed her back into football. "I
could just tell Mama wanted to be out there screaming and
yelling," says Ashley. "And she's a great mom. We all pitch in
with chores, but she keeps us going."
Gene also missed his wife. After 20 years of marriage, he and
Dot are best buddies, hunting partners (Dot bagged the biggest
of the four deer heads mounted on their living-room wall) and
personal sounding boards, on and off the field. During a game
it's not uncommon to see the Murphys screaming at each other,
and more often than not the head coach defers to his wife. A few
years ago Dot encouraged Gene to can the Eagles' conservative
wing T offense in favor of a pass-oriented, no-huddle, one-back
attack. "I guess Mrs. Murphy can get away with more yelling,
being my wife," says Gene. "But she's pulled quite a few
game-winning plays out of the hat, so if I didn't listen, I'd be
When Dot returned to the sidelines in late August, her impact
was immediate. "It was mass confusion without Mrs. Murphy," says
Mike DiBiase, a freshman wideout. "They tried having Taylor
Morton, who has coached at Auburn, work with us, but he didn't
have the experience Mrs. Murphy has. When she came back,
everything started clicking."
She is a hands-on coach who preaches basics until her players
perfect them. For 20 minutes during a typical workout this fall,
Murphy made the receivers practice deking around a dummy
defender--Murphy herself--while moving off the line of
scrimmage. Then, after a water break, everybody returned for
more deking. "I was shocked when I got here and found out I had
a lady coach," says Kevin Prentiss, a sophomore and Hinds's top
receiver. "But then I figured I'd give her a shot and listen.
She started teaching me all this intricate stuff about the game,
how to read defenses, how to see the ball into my hands. She
showed me the little things I need to get to the next level.
Mrs. Murphy, she is good."
But her expertise isn't limited to receivers. She also works
with kickers, quarterbacks and anybody else who wants help.
"I'll never forget it," says Purvis Hunt, a guard with the
Houston Oilers who played at Hinds from 1990 to '91. "In one
game I got beat twice for sacks in the first half. I came off
the field baffled. Dot says, 'If he head-fakes you inside, step
forward and go. Don't fall for the fake.' I did what she said,
and it worked."
Ultimately, though, players respect Murphy for more than knowing
her X's and O's. It's the way she delivers them. "Mrs. Murphy,
she can yell just like Coach [Bill] Parcells," says Hason
Graham, a wide receiver with the New England Patriots who was at
Hinds in '91. But Murphy balances her temper with something men
can't give--motherly love. "You can talk with her," says Richard
Caston, a sophomore wideout and quarterback. "When everybody
else is yelling at you, she's the one who always peps you back
up. She's like our mom."
Having a female coach has still other benefits, such as
motivation. Four years ago a Mississippi Delta defensive back
waltzed by Hinds's sideline and said derisively to Dot, "Why
don't you go get in the stands? You don't belong out here."
Dumb move, bozo. "Our boys went ballistic," says Gene.
"Sometimes, if we're getting whupped, I pray for other teams to
be so stupid." Hinds roared back from a 7-0 deficit to win 13-7.
Despite Murphy's success at Hinds, there is no sign that she has
started a trend, because she remains the only female college
football coach at any level in the U.S. There are many reasons
why more women have not broken into football coaching in college
or the NFL. Hinds alumni in the NFL say it's because most men
don't believe women can do the job. Ashley thinks it's because
women are too smart to work so hard for so little money. "I'm
going to be a lawyer," says Ashley. "They can yell and get rich,
Gene gives a different reason why there are no other women
football coaches: "There's only one Dot Murphy."