This is an opinion piece.
This is the time of year for Phillip Murphy.
In his 18th season as McGill-Toolen’s head basketball coach, he has a state championship on his resume and has taken the Yellow Jackets to five finals since 2016.
But he hasn’t coached a single game this season and won’t for a while after undergoing emergency surgery in Birmingham earlier this month and spending 10 days in ICU.
“We’ve always been taught to be prepared for anything that can happen to you,” he said this week. “You never know what’s coming or going and, when things go wrong, you have to be ready to push through and try to bounce back.
“That’s where I am right now. It stinks not to be with my team. It sucks not being with my son Jack in his senior years, but we will do our best to make it back. “
Murphy’s medical history began on Halloween.
“We practiced that morning,” he said. “In the evening of that day I felt the worst pain in my stomach than ever, but I just thought it was an abscess or something deadly or something strange. I tried to fight it.”
The next day the plan was for Murphy to take his family and the McGill basketball team to Birmingham to watch the school’s volleyball team compete for the state title.
“He woke up that day with stomach pains and lower back pain,” his wife Brandi said. “He said he feels rude but he’ll be fine, but he looks bad. He’s stubborn sometimes it’s like he’s talking to a wall.”
The team and the couple ended up traveling to Birmingham to watch the McGill volleyball team play in the 7A final the next day. Murphy’s condition seemed to be improving but so were his thoughts.
Thursday, Nov. 2, the Dirty Dozen won another state title.
“He stayed at the game,” Brandi said. “I saw that he was in trouble. After the game, everyone was celebrating, and I found him lying on the floor. It was four shades of green.”
No more “pushing.”
Brandi convinced her husband that she needed to go to the emergency room, and called Murphy’s mother, who lives in Birmingham, to pick her up. With the children in tow, Brandi took the bus back home and waited for news before returning to Birmingham.
The first diagnosis was a perforated bowel. Without immediate treatment, the disease can be life-threatening. Murphy knew.
“That first realization was terrifying,” he said. “I had second thoughts. Have I waited too long? It all started to get too much for me and to be honest, I didn’t know any of the answers at the time.”
Doctors initially treated Murphy with antibiotics in hopes of stabilizing him and returning him to Mobile. Brandi said she felt fine… for about 24 hours.
“But at midnight on Friday (Nov. 3), he was in excruciating pain,” he said. “He was scared to death. We all were. “
The next day, doctors confirmed that Murphy had a rare birth defect called Meckel’s diverticulum, a small tumor in the small intestine. They were infected and caused the small intestine to rupture. Instead, Brandi said her husband had two liters of infection in his stomach.
Emergency surgery was needed immediately.
“He was cut from the sternum to the hip bone,” Brandi said. “They have 32 left. Two days later, the cow got sick, and they had to open it up again. They thought it might be because of its size. It was all scary.”
Finally, last Monday, Murphy and Brandi returned to Mobile.
“I was scared,” Brandi said. “He has never been sick like that, he has never had an operation. He was scared. That stressed me out because it was difficult. It’s probably the hardest thing we’ve ever been through, and we’ve been through ups and downs. Knowing that she was sick and being so scared and seeing her in danger was hard. We were also away from the kids, which was difficult. We have a lot of support now at home, and it has helped me a lot. “
Murphy also said the national basketball team has been very supportive along the way, including Theodore coach Philip Roebling and Spain Park coach Chris Laatsch.
Doctors have told Mr Murphy that he is making progress but it may be six weeks before he can do much. He watched his first McGill basketball game at home Wednesday night. It may take some time to check them individually.
“They told me that if I agreed to walk in a wheelchair and sit in the corner with my mouth open I could go see,” Murphy said. “This cannot happen.”
Brandi and McGill girls coach Carla Berry shared a laugh when Murphy told me the news over the phone Thursday. You see, Phillip isn’t much of a standout when he’s on the sidelines (see photo above). In fact, quite the opposite.
Assistant coach Terry Buckner has led the team in Murphy’s absence along with other McGill assistants. The Yellow Jackets are 3-1 following a 61-45 win over St. Paul on Wednesday night.
“I emailed the staff after I went to the ER and just said, ‘things don’t look good, and I’m probably going to be out for a while,'” Murphy said. “I said, ‘It’s all hands on deck.’ I will not be available to fill gaps and holes. You have to figure out how to deal with it for a while.’ They have done a great job.
“My son Jack has been very helpful. He’s been my voice. He’s been listening to me his whole life. He knows what we do before the game, how we sit in the stadium before the game, on the bus or in the living room. It’s all part of the culture. ours. I really appreciate all the guys and coaches.”
Murphy said he pushed the team harder than most in the preseason, mostly due to youth and inexperience. He said: “It was good to know that it was going well.”
Murphy and I didn’t hang out much Thursday afternoon. I saw that he was already tired. It will take some time for them to get back on the sidelines, but they will come back. I don’t doubt that.
Having played high school sports in the Mobile area for the past ten years, I have gotten to know Phillip Murphy very well. I respect his teams on the court and the success he has had on the road.
Beyond that, I respect Phillip Murphy the man. In the beginning, he was interested in my life and my family and never fails to ask how I am when he sees me. It’s not something he has to do. It can be easy to forget to follow the big game. But, win or lose, he’s done it without fail every time I’ve seen him.
In fact, after we talked on Thursday, he texted me and asked me the same question because he said he forgot to do so. It may not seem like much to him, but it has meant a lot to me over the years.
Sometimes doing little things can mean a lot, right? Don’t underestimate the impact you can have on others. It’s not hard to be kind to people, and Murphy has certainly been that to me. As I write this, I realize that I may not have thanked him for that. So, thank you, teacher.
Take your time back. The team is in good hands.
Alabama high school basketball needs you.
In the meantime, know that you are being prayed for.
Thought of the Sabbath
“The hands that hold tomorrow are still holding us.
Better days are coming, wait and see. – Mercy Me
Ben Thomas is a high school sportswriter at AL.com. He was named one of the 50 legends of the Alabama Sports Writers Association. Follow him on twitter at @BenThomasPreps or email at [email protected]. He can be heard weekly on “Inside High School Sports” on SportsTalk 99.5 FM in Mobile or on the free IHeart Radio App at 2 pm on Wednesdays.