Tributes poured in Sunday for Cal Murphy, one of the most successful coaches and general managers in Winnipeg Blue Bombers history.
Murphy passed away Saturday night in a Regina hospital at age 79. He guided the Bombers to five Grey Cup games in 14 seasons, winning three of them. He is right up there with Bud Grant when it comes to Bomber icons in the organization’s 82-year history.
“Importance is measured often in your longevity and the continuity that that longevity creates,” said Bombers assistant GM Ross Hodgkinson, who was the team’s athletic trainer in the 1980s under Murphy. “Coaches will often say that you’re hired to be fired, and that’s part of the nature of the business.
“But when you can demonstrate the kind of longevity and stability that Cal made to this organization, you cannot argue with the results. The results speak for themselves.”
Murphy, who is second only to Grant on the Bomber coaching career win list with 86, was given the ironic nickname of ‘Kindly Cal’ for his crusty ways. It might have been an accurate moniker, however.
“We say, ‘Remember the time Cal did …’ and we all laugh, because there was always something that Cal was going to do, a particular way about him that made you laugh,” said Paul Robson, who was the Bomber GM in 1983 when he hired Murphy as head coach. “Underlying all of it, Cal had a sense of humour that really carried the day and helped everybody else that was around him.
“Make no mistake: He was a tough task- master. They don’t call him ‘Kindly Cal’ for nothing. He was hard-nosed, bull-headed … all of those kind of things. But he was one of the greatest friends you could ever have. And all of us who know him will remember him fondly for the rest of our lives.”
Murphy won nine Grey Cups, six as an assistant coach, two as a general manager and one as a head coach. The latter championship happened in 1984, his second year on the job, and ended a 21-year title drought in Winnipeg.
“Winnipeg hadn’t won a Cup in 22 years, and that was exciting as hell,” Murphy said on the day he was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2004. “Having 14 years in one city, that’s pretty good. Not many people get that opportunity.”
Murphy, who was the CFL coach of the year in 1983 and ’84, moved to the GM’s chair in 1987 and hired Mike Riley as head coach. All Riley did was win Grey Cups in two of the next four years. Murphy knew his football.
“He was probably the most complete coach that ever coached in the Canadian Football League,” said Robson, who hired Murphy because the Bombers had gotten “soft” under the previous regime. “He knew offence, defence and special teams. He knew the nuances of the Canadian kicking game. He understood and respected the importance of the Canadian player in the game and then was probably one of the best personnel people that any of us had ever been around.”
Murphy had heart trouble starting in the late 1970s and ultimately needed a heart transplant in 1992, when he was planning to go back to the sidelines. He returned to coach the Bombers the following year and guided them to the Grey Cup.
Murphy’s success wasn’t only on the field. He is credited with bringing the 1991 Grey Cup to Winnipeg, he was a driving force behind the sale of team merchandise, and he vehemently opposed the CFL’s U.S. expansion plan of the 1990s.
Murphy was admitted to a Regina hospital in early February after a reported fall in which he suffered broken ribs. The exact cause of death is not known. Funeral plans were still pending as of Sunday evening, according to a Bomber spokesman.