Ron Murphy was described Saturday as a role model to his colleagues and football players, a “man of passion” who taught them “how to be a man”—and that it wasn’t how you started that mattered “but how you finished.”
In a 90-minute ceremony, more than a dozen family and friends—many from his alma mater Santana High School in Santee—plus current players recalled Grossmont High School’s football coach in a stadium celebration of life.
“Don’t mistake Ron’s passing on Valentine’s Day as a mere coincidence,” said pastor Todd Tolson of Riverview Community Church, who played defensive line for Murphy at Santana. “He was a man full of love.”
A day after a private family funeral—he was buried next to his parents at El Cajon Cemetery—at least 500 sat in the football stands and 60 on folding chairs on the field to hear how Murphy affected lives of players and fellow teachers.
Former Grossmont Principal Theresa Kemper, now a district assistant superintendent, said: “Those piercing blue eyes told it all. Ron Murphy was a man of passion.”
She said she wanted more than a football coach when she hired him about five years ago. What sealed the deal was hearing the Santana principal say it would be “such a loss to lose Ron as a teacher.”
Murphy taught special education at Grossmont, and “left an indelible mark on the school and the world around him,” Kemper said. “He had a heart for kids in every way.”
Kemper said it was a year ago when she first heard of the melanoma that ultimately claimed his life at age 48, and when he first scheduled surgery it was in the afternoon—“so he wouldn’t miss school.”
He was back the next day, she said.
Several speakers noted that he never missed a day of school, and would be the first person at practices and the last to leave.
Dan Barnes, the new principal at Grossmont, announced under cloudless skies that Murphy had been chosen Teacher of the Year at Grossmont. He showed a plaque that would be displayed at the school in his honor.
A Grossmont assistant to Murphy said that even among the best coaches, “Ron stood out” and went out of his way to care about every player with a “firm and fair style.”
“We had a little magic on our side,” the coach said during the 90-minute memorial that recalled how the Hillers came back from a 25-point halftime deficit to beat Mira Mesa in CIF playoffs in November. “The magic was Coach Murphy.”
Former Grossmont player Colton Alexio said: “Aside from my own father, Coach had the most impact on who I am today. [He was] much more than a teacher or father—he was a teacher of how to be a man.”
Players told of how he “practically lived at the school all year long. Sometimes I wondered if he lived in the back of his truck.”
In fact, he lived in north El Cajon, and hosted a traditional Thanksgiving Day get-together for his players, where he told of his own “dysfunctional” family, including an alcoholic father and financial hardships, and invited players to share their own family stories.
“He didn’t exaggerate,” said his sister, Kim Murphy. “My family was nuts.”
But it isn’t our circumstances that define us, she said, “but how we live.”
Alexio called Murphy “the best role model any of us can ask for,” saying: “The times we spent with him will go down as among the best in our life.”
“I love you, Coach,” said Alexio, wearing a black suit while current players wore their team jerseys. “And I will miss you like crazy.”
Luke Murphy, a recent Grossmont grad and one of the coach’s two sons, urged the Grossmont family to lean on each other, leading into the playing of Lean on Me by Bill Withers, with longtime Murphy friend Jeff Lenhoff encouraging the crowd to clap in unison.
“He loved you and showed how to love,” said Kim Murphy and repeated a theme of the memorial—to “kick obstacles out of the way.”
Pastor Tolson cited the phrase on blue rubber wristbands distributed at the memorial: “Victory goes to the most persevering”
Ronald Richard Murphy was never defeated, Kim Murphy said. “He fought till the end.”
She quoted 2 Timothy 4:7 from the New Testament: “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith” and concluded: “In honor of my brother Ron, let’s finish well.”
Among the remarks were those by Todd Tolson, a former Santana player of Murphy and now a pastor at Riverview Community Church in Santee:
It is times like this that you wonder if there is such a thing as “fair.” Is there such a thing as “justice?” There are plenty of people out there doing things that hurt and harm others, with no apparent retribution. So why is it fair or just that a man in his prime, who has fully dedicated his life to his family and to the upbringing of hundreds and hundreds of young men, die so soon in life?
It’s a good thing that our God is a big enough God, to hear all of our questions, complaints, outrage and demands for justice, without being offended by them. It’s a good thing that our God can see into the future; that He can see how this event we consider “unfair,” will actually be used for good in the lives of other because right now, I can’t see it. All I know is that God is good. He doesn’t waste a hur—that our pain is never in vain.
I remember like yesterday, in the heat of football practice, being sore from repeated poundings by upperclassmen, hearing Coach Ron say, “The more you sweat in practice, the less you bleed in the game.” It didn’t matter who you went one-on-one against, Ron would remind you, “Don’t stop fighting!” “Don’t quit on your team!” and “Whatever you do, never ever give up!”
Little did we know, at the age of 16, Coach Ron wasn’t just preparing us for the game on Friday night. He was preparing us for life. And now I find myself encouraging my own children with the lessons I learned from Coach Ron all those years ago.
More than that, Ron didn’t just teach those lessons, he lived them. In all the years I’ve known him, and even most recently in the last year, Ron has always been the man to never stop fighting, to never quit on his family or his team, and he never ever gave up.
Ron was a multifaceted man. He was a man of faith. He knew that because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross, that God had a plan and a purpose for his life. He was also devoted to his wife, Dani, their daughter, Whitney and their sons, Jordan and Luke.
Then there was Kennedy, his granddaughter. During the fourth quarter of a home game this year at Grossmont, Whitney and I stood outside of the snack shop, and she told me stories about how her Dad would sit at home watching game film, while Kennedy, his granddaughter, snuggled and slept on Grandpa Ron’s chest. I thought to myself: “There’s no way that this can be the same man who made me do countless up/downs for missing a tackle!”
But it was. Don’t mistake Ron’s passing on Valentine’s Day as a coincidence. He was a man full of love for his wife, his daughter, his sons, his granddaughter, his extended family, his friends and his players.
Coach Ron’s passing has reminded me of a few things this week. First, you don’t have to live a long life in order to live a full life. Ron lived a full life.
Next, as Ecclesiastes 7:3 says, it is: “Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us.” I’m grateful for the gift of sadness this week, because it reminds us that we all have a limited time here on this earth, and that we ought to make our one-and-only life count for something more than just ourselves; that we should make a difference in the lives of those who will live beyond us. Ron did that too.
Ron’s untimely passing doesn’t make sense, except for this one reason: Ron was a leader. And the leader knows the way, he goes the way, and then he shows the way. Ron is still leading me, even today, teaching me that part of living well means finishing well.
Ron finished well.
I have no doubt that when Ron closed his eyes for the final time here on earth, and opened his eyes for the first time in eternity, he heard the words from God his Father, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
Today I am grateful for Ron Murphy’s legacy, and for the example he was as a husband, a father, a friend, a colleague and a coach. He will continue to be greatly missed, though never forgotten.