He spent much of the last week cautioning his players not to let emotion get in the way of beating arch-rival Nevada Las Vegas, but with the game on the line Saturday at Santa Ana Stadium, it was Cal State Fullerton Coach Gene Murphy who lost his head.
It certainly wasn't the only mistake the Titans made in disappointing a homecoming crowd of 8,110 and dropping their first Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. game of the season.
But it was, in Murphy's opinion anyway, one that was inexcusable.
With 40 seconds remaining and Fullerton trailing, 10-6, the Titans had a fourth-and-four play from their 41-yard line. Quarterback Kevin Jan looked to the sideline for backup quarterbacks Carlos Siragusa and Tony Dill--who signal in the plays during the two-minute drill--but the animated Murphy jumped in front of them and signaled the play.
Jan misread it and handed off to fullback Mark Hood, who lost a yard.
End of ballgame.
"We had a pass called, of course, but you can't blame Kevin," Murphy said. "I over-accentuated the signal. Any chance we had of winning the game came to a screeching halt right there. There's no excuse."
The Titans still had a considerable distance to cover in less than a minute, but the reminder of the Titans' game-winning, 54-yard drive in the final 1:34 last week at Utah State made Murphy's lapse all the more painful.
"Seven days ago, we ran the two-minute drill perfectly and Siragusa and Dill signaled in all the plays then," he said.
Fullerton has not beaten Las Vegas since 1972, and the Titans's only loss last season was against the Rebels. It cost them a postseason appearance in the Cal Bowl. The teams' mutual dislike erupted into a bench-clearing riot in 1983, but Saturday it was reduced to a few shoving matches and an inordinate number of personal fouls.
Las Vegas, which went to the Cal Bowl last year before having to forfeit all of its wins because of the use of seven ineligible players, is 3-2 in conference and has defeated two teams that previously had unbeaten PCAA records. University of the Pacific also was 2-0 before losing to the Rebels last week.
"I'm expecting a letter from (Fresno State Coach) Jim Sweeney any day now, thanking me for putting him in the Cal Bowl," UNLV Coach Harvey Hyde said. (Fresno State is 3-0 in conference).
"Actually, we've showed a lot of character because we've been playing teams who are playing for something."
Hyde figures the Rebels are already out of the running with two losses, but there's always plenty of motivation for this rivalry.
Even the veteran, always-calm Murphy lost his composure.
The Titan offense could have kept its coach out of that situation, though. The Titans had more total yards than the Rebels (297-265), more first downs (16-12) and moved inside the Rebel 20 yard-line four times but had just two field goals to show for it.
"To say I'm proud of our defense would be the understatement of the year," Murphy said. "They played hard and created some turnovers. We had scoring opportunities but made too many mistakes to win.
"The unfortunate thing is that we had to wait until two minutes to play to get into a position to win the game."
Len Strandley, who missed field goals of 49 and 21 yards, connected on a 41-yarder early in the first quarter as Fullerton went ahead, 3-0. Las Vegas' Joey DiGiovanna tied the game with a 37-yarder early in the second quarter.
Then three of the game's biggest plays happened in a span of less than a minute.
First, Titan safety Mike Romero intercepted a Steve Stallworth pass on the Fullerton 29. However, running back Burness Scott, who had 99 yards rushing, fumbled on the first play from scrimmage and UNLV's Adrian Harris recovered. Then, on Las Vegas' first play, Stallworth and Chris Bridges hooked up on a 41-yard pass play that gave Las Vegas a 10-3 lead.
The game was an uneventful midfield punting contest much of the third quarter and until Fullerton drove to the Rebel 16 late in the game. But, two sacks later, the Titans were faced with a fourth-and-20 from the 26-yard line and Murphy decided to go for the field goal.
"We thought there was enough time and our defense could hold them . . . which they did," Murphy said.
Fullerton regained possession with 1:30 left to play, but with Murphy's intervention the, that was about all the Titans could do.