More than 20 years ago, when I was with the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, we had a group of Senior Executives who volunteered for ceremonial projects such as ribbon cuttings, grand openings and member visitations.
We had an all-star crew that included Art Allen, a retired executive with State Farm Insurance; retired Murfreesboro Mayor and former State Representative W.H. Westbrooks; beloved educator and former Murfreesboro City Schools Superintendent Baxter Hobgood, for whom a school is named; successful business executive and entrepreneur Lewis McCauley; Dr. Howard Kirksey for whom Kirksey Old Main at MTSU is named; banking executive Charlie Hawkins; retired retail executive Faison Adams; and Coach Charles (Bubber) Murphy, to name only a few.
They were all fun to be around. Their senses of humor wer contagious and the stories they told, whether true or not, kept me spellbound. I must admit that I was almost in awe by their legacies in our community.
I spent time with them each month as we discussed upcoming chamber projects and how they could have a role. Then, there were special times for me to be one-on-one with them individually; one being Coach Murphy, for whom Murphy Center on the MTSU campus is named.
I remember the times when visiting Coach Murphy at the building that bears his name. He would proudly walk me through Murphy Center while recalling what seemed to be at least 1,001 interesting stories about the complex and MTSU sports.
He told about growing up in Nashville, attending high school there and coming to Murfreesboro to play sports for the college where his name would one day become synonymous; both as a coach and athletic director.
While we were walking inside Floyd Stadium one day, his eyes grew wider and his smile broader as he shared the university’s football lore that included Boots Donnelly, Clark Maples, Teddy Morris and the rest of his all-stars from the gridiron.
Coach Murphy was a self-professed chain smoker in his early years as a college football mentor. He laughed loudly while recalling a big rivalry game that was touch-and-go until the final horn. He was caught up in the game, trying to second guess the opposing coach, and putting his own strategy to the test. From what he said, nearly a pack of cigarettes was spent; one-right-after-the other.
What happened next was a turning point with his smoking vice. The game was intense, the adrenalin was flowing, the men in zebra suits were being chastised both verbally and also under his breath.
Now for the rest … of the story. Coach Murphy, unknowingly at the time, stuffed a lit cigarette into his overcoat pocket. It was not obvious for a while, but then the night air seemed to be a little different; a smell of something burning. For a split second, he remembered the cigarette. Though the night was cold, Coach Murphy quickly yanked the coat to the ground and gave it a hefty stomp.
That was it. He decided right then and there that his cigarette-smoking days were over.
Coach Murphy is a legend on and off the field. I count it a privilege to have known him for the small number of years that we were friends.