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A steady climb up the coaching ladder

Assistant soccer post suits Murphy, for now

QUINCY -- John Murphy, an assistant coach for Major League Soccer's Columbus Crew team in Ohio, knew from the time he was an athlete at North Quincy High School that he wanted to be a coach.

While the world is full of part-time coaches, not many make it as a full-time professional.

Moving up the coaching ranks in any sport is a nebulous path. It begins as an apprenticeship, involving long hours filled with thankless tasks. And if you do get there, heading a professional franchise or a major college varsity, you are always second-guessed. You are there on a whim, and if the team begins to falter, particularly if you are blessed with talented players, you are the first one to feel the heat. The profession's mantra is well-known: Every coach who is hired will eventually be fired.

Despite the insecurity, men and women flock to the coaching ranks, hoping for their shot at the big time.

As a youngster in the early 1970s, like all his neighborhood pals, Murphy played baseball in the spring, football in the fall, and basketball or hockey in the winter.

His dream was to play basketball, and he thought he would become a basketball coach. It was the sport of choice in the Murphy household; his sister, Clare, was an outstanding player at Fontbonne Academy in Milton, and she later returned to her alma mater to become the school's winningest coach.

''Over the years, we've talked a lot about coaching," said Murphy. ''She's done so well, I'm so proud of her."

When John Murphy entered high school, sports programs diversified at an unprecedented pace. Girls' sports blossomed like dandelions. Sports such as soccer were added to the boys' program.

Murphy was 15 when they started a soccer team at North Quincy High School.

''My friends and I went out for the team, and the coach put me in the goal because I played basketball and had a good pair of hands. He figured I could catch, or at least deflect, shots. I also liked the diving and leaping like a goalie," he said.

That was the beginning of a lifelong relationship with goalkeeping. He has since worked many odd jobs in an effort to keep his dream alive.

''When I started playing, I was a late-comer. I didn't know that much about it. I just loved the action," said Murphy.

From North Quincy High School, he went to Massasoit Community College in Brockton, where he was a goalkeeper for its national junior college championship team. He later returned to Massasoit in 1994 as head coach, leading the team to an 18-4-1 record and to the national championship tournament, advancing to the semifinals. He moved on to a better position at Brown University as an assistant coach.

Murphy attended several coaching clinics, not only in the United States but around the world, in an effort to sharpen his skills. He became a Class A certified coach in Scotland and England. He even became fluent in Spanish, to help him in most of the rest of the soccer playing world.

In 1997, Assumption College offered Murphy the head coaching position. The Worcester school was a doormat of the Northeast-10 Conference, without a winning season from the time the league was formed in 1978.

In two seasons, Murphy turned around the program. After 21 losing seasons, the Greyhounds were 6-2 in 1999 and 9-3-1 in 2000. He earned Northeast-10 and New England Intercollegiate Soccer League Division 2 Coach of the Year honors.

However, it wasn't a full-time position. ''You had to hold camps and do so many other things to make ends meet," said Murphy.

That's when he took a full-time job with the New England Revolution as an assistant coach, working with the team's goaltenders.

In four seasons, New England earned three MLS playoff appearances. One of the keys to the team's success was the play of its goalkeeper, Adin Brown, who became one of the league's most effective shot stoppers.

Besides coaching, though, Murphy served as director of youth development. Under his guidance, the Revolution Academy grew to more than 2,000 participants per year.

Last year the Columbus Crew offered him a full-time position as an assistant coach, and Murphy jumped at the offer.

''Leaving New England was difficult," he said. ''I grew up here. All my family is here, but this is a terrific opportunity."

Some day he would like to be the head coach of a professional soccer team. He is one step closer to that goal today.

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