NEWS
02/19/2012 10:56 EST | Updated 04/20/2012 05:12 EDT

Nine-time Grey Cup champion Cal Murphy passes away at the age of 79

He could be crusty and had a reputation of sometimes being tight with a buck. But there's no denying that when it came to football, Cal Murphy had the Midas touch.

He was part of nine Grey Cup-winning teams as an assistant coach, head coach and CFL general manager. He's a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and since 2000 had been evaluating talent for the Indianapolis Colts, one of the NFL's top franchises.

On Saturday night, Cal Murphy died. He was 79.

Murphy died in hospital in Regina, where he lived with his wife Joyce. He had been admitted into hospital earlier in the month after suffering broken ribs in a fall.

"His record as a coach is unparalleled, probably the most complete coach that ever coached in the Canadian Football League," said former Winnipeg general manager Paul Robson, who hired Murphy in 1983 when he thought the Blue Bombers were getting a little soft.

"Kindly Cal," as he was known, whipped the team into good enough shape to win three Grey Cups in the next seven years.

"(He) knew offence, defence, special teams, knew the nuances of the Canadian kicking game, 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 have ever been around," added Robson.

Murphy, born March 12, 1932 in Winnipeg, had a history of heart problems. He suffered his first heart attack in 1979 while he was an assistant with the Edmonton Eskimos and underwent quadruple bypass surgery. A second attack followed in 1985.

In 1992, Murphy underwent emergency heart bypass surgery before having successful heart transplant surgery. In January 1993, Murphy received the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal.

But through it all, Robson said Murphy was a man who did it all in a way that made those around him feel good.

"I can never think of Cal Murphy without a smile," Robson said. "We (say) 'Remember the time Cal did', and we all laugh. . . Underlying all of it, Cal had a sense of humour that really carried the day . . . He was hard-nosed, bull-headed, all of those kinds of things, but he was one of the greatest friends that you could ever have."

In 25 CFL seasons, Murphy is best known for his 14 years with Winnipeg and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2004.

"Cal was one of the most influential figures in our organization’s history, and that dates back over 80 years," said Bombers GM Joe Mack, who worked with Murphy in Winnipeg from 1984-1987. "His dedication and desire to win was second to none — he just didn't accept losing and his passion for this game was simply unmatched. He will be truly missed."

Predictably, tributes poured in Sunday from the many people that Murphy touched.

"Everyone in both the immediate, and extended, Blue Bomber family is deeply saddened by this news," current Bombers president Garth Buchko said. "Cal was a great ambassador for our game and for Canadian football in Winnipeg and Manitoba.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time."

CFL offensive lineman Rob Murphy echoed those sentiments.

"Every time Cal would see me in the last 12 years. He would say these two things. 'How are you still playing? And 'You're too fat,'" Murphy said on his Twitter account. "I will miss that man.

"RIP Cal."

Murphy's father died of heart disease and in February 2010, he was admitted into a Regina hospital with a heart ailment and for a time was on life support.

"Cal Murphy lived and breathed and loved football — and our league was so much better for it," CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said in a statement. "He was a fierce competitor, with a keen eye for talent, and an ability to mould great teams.

"His teams could amass points, but they were often defined by their toughness — reflective of a man who refused to let a severe heart condition stop him. . . he earned a place in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame — and in the hearts and minds of many he led and mentored and befriended."

But Murphy was also seen as hopelessly old-fashioned when he banned reporters from the Bombers dressing room after CBC radio assigned a woman to the football beat.

For all his reputation as being frugal and his opposition to signing free agents, Murphy did sign veteran quarterback Matt Dunigan from the Toronto Argonauts in 1992 for a reported $500,000 a year.

But he took all the criticism in stride.

"You can't be everything to everybody," he said once.

Murphy was a driving force behind the successful bid to bring the Grey Cup game to Winnipeg for the first time in 1991, a move that may have saved the community-owned franchise.

The Bombers reaped $1 million in revenue from the Grey Cup, which barely covered team losses that year.

Murphy began his CFL coaching career in 1974 with the B.C. Lions as an assistant under head coach Eagle Keys. Murphy became head coach in '75 but was fired midway through the 1976 season.

"Cal was an outstanding coaching mind and a wonderful person," Wally Buono, Lions GM and VP of football operations, said in a statement. "He was a man that meant so much to the development of our league and its players. He will be greatly missed by all, but his contributions will remain with us for many years to come."

Murphy joined the Montreal Alouettes as an assistant under Marv Levy in 1977 as the club won the Grey Cup that year. The following season, Murphy became the offensive line coach with Edmonton under head coach Hugh Campbell.

Murphy's timing was impeccable as Edmonton won an unprecedented five straight CFL titles with such stars as quarterbacks Tom Wilkinson and Warren Moon, a member of both the Canadian and Pro Football Halls of Fame.

Murphy joined the Bombers in 1983, taking over from Ray Jauch as head coach.

He compiled a regular-season coaching record of 44-21-1 and was named the CFL's coach of the year in 1983 and '84, the year he led the Bombers to their first Grey Cup victory since 1962.

There were two more CFL championships in 1988 an '90 after he replaced Robson as GM.

It was with Winnipeg that Murphy also showed an eye for talent, finding such stars as linebackers Tyrone Jones and James (Wild) West.

He also showed he wasn't afraid to make a big deal, dealing all-star quarterback Dieter Brock to Hamilton for veteran Tom Clements. The move didn't pay immediate dividends as Clements suffered a season-ending collarbone injury and Winnipeg lost to B.C. in the '83 West Division final.

But the following season, Clements led the Bombers to a 47-17 Grey Cup win over Brock and the Ticats, Winnipeg's first CFL crown in 22 years.

Murphy finished his illustrious CFL coaching career with the Saskatchewan Roughriders from 1997 to 1999.

"Cal Murphy is a legend in CFL coaching, but more importantly he was a wonderful person," Riders president and CEO Jim Hopson said in a statement. "Since his retirement from coaching, Cal was a fixture in our offices watching film and talking football. He will be missed by our entire organization."

In 2000, Murphy spent time with NFL Europe's Frankfurt Galaxy as well as the Chicago Enforcers in the XFL.

Murphy, one of seven children, was a football standout while attending Vancouver College, an independent Catholic boys school. A left-hander, Murphy went on to play quarterback and defensive back at the University of British Columbia.

He had a brief stint as a defensive back with the B.C. Lions in 1956 before returning to Vancouver College and becoming the school's head football coach in 1960.

After spending time as an assistant coach under Dave Holmes at Eastern Washington University, Murphy followed Holmes to the University of Hawaii in 1968. In 1973, Murphy left Hawaii for San Jose State to work under head coach Darryl Rogers, who Murphy hired to be the Bombers head coach in 1991.