Through everything Mark Murphy has done since college, he has always come back to one man for guidance — Fred Dunlap.
So when Murphy considered leaving his post as Colgate’s athletic director, he sat down with his mentor.
“(Dunlap) said, ‘Young man you’ve got a lot of career ahead of you. This is a great opportunity, you should go for it,'” Murphy said. “So with his blessing, I went for it.”
After graduating from Colgate where Dunlap was his football coach, Murphy’s jobs ranged from free safety for the Washington Redskins to attorney for the Justice Department.
Fifteen years after graduating from Colgate, Murphy went back to his roots and succeeded Dunlap as Colgate’s athletic director. Murphy’s priority was to make sure his student athletes lived up to the standards of the prestigious school. One of his greatest accomplishments was keeping Colgate’s student-athlete graduation rate among the NCAA’s top 10.
Murphy said his wife always teased him about settling on a career, but it seems he might have found the one that sticks.
“I don’t know if you’ve met Mark, but he looks a little bit like Huckleberry Finn,” Dunlap said. “He looks like he’s playing games all the time, but this looks like a real commitment.”
After Dunlap retired, he remained a big influence on Murphy, giving him advice on all facets of his life. After years of working together, Dunlap said working with Murphy was like working with a son. But when asked about Murphy’s character, Dunlap’s response was similar to others who worked with him professionally, including student athletes, coaches at Colgate, directors from other schools in the Patriot league and the director of the Patriot League.
“Mark is an outstanding young man,” Dunlap said. “He’s bright, talented and forthright. His bigness is demonstrated over and over.”
Former Colgate softball player and Student Athlete Advisory Committee President Amanda Brickell remembers working closely with Murphy during her sophomore year. The municipal softball field in Hamilton, N.Y., where Colgate’s softball team played needed lighting. Because the field was not on campus, Murphy and Brickell had to fight city officials for permission to get lights added to the field.
“Over the summer, (Murphy) called me at home at least once a week to give me updates,” Brickell said.
In his 11 years as the director at Colgate, Murphy cultivated relationships with many Colgate athletes. Former co-captain of the basketball team Jeremy Ballard remembers Murphy’s constant interest in how he and other athletes were doing.
“I was always impressed at how he knew almost every athlete, whether it was varsity football or crew,” Ballard said.
Murphy made sure to meet with members of every team each year to, “just check on how their experience was going.”
The care Murphy showed his student athletes extended to his coaches as well, which Erik Ronning found out when he considered leaving the Colgate soccer coaching staff to try for a position at NU in 2001.
When Ronning came to Murphy for advice, the athletic director told the former Colgate player to “go for it.”
Murphy even invited Ronning to his home and helped him practice interview questions.
“He’s more than just an athletic director,” said Ronning, now an assistant coach with the NU men’s soccer team. “He’s a dad, a coach and a referee.”
THE ROAD TO NU
When Murphy stressed academic achievement to students throughout his tenure at Colgate, he spoke from experience.
Murphy obtained his master’s degree in business administration from American University in the middle of his playing career, the spring after he played in the 1983 Pro Bowl. He won a Super Bowl in 1982, and six years later he earned a law degree from Georgetown.
In the NFL, where only 30 percent of the players had college degrees, Murphy said it pained him to see “bright people” who had no options once their football careers were over.
Murphy said academics will always be at the center of his athletic programs.
Sticking to his convictions — especially education — earned him the respect of his colleagues. And according to these colleagues, Murphy has always managed to uphold his high standards while being respectful to those around him. That’s just one of the many reasons the Patriot League will miss Murphy, said Carolyn Femovich, the Patriot League’s executive director.
“Mark is effective without beating on the table,” she said.