NEWHALL — Sometimes coaches are not fully appreciated until after they retire and the impact of their contributions can be measured against the test of time.
But no one needs Coach Bud Murray of Hart High to quietly walk off into the sunset and become a trout fisherman to understand the lessons he has passed along in 39 years of coaching baseball.
"He's just someone I'm never going to forget," said Cal State Northridge infielder Eric Horvat, a former Hart player. "He's burned impressions into my mind about the game, little things that people are still trying to learn."
Freshman shortstop J.T. Stotts of Northridge remembers the fiery Murray making a strong impression on him as a sophomore at Hart.
"He'd get into me, but that's what made me play better," Stotts said. "He can be intimidating, but you have to listen to what he's saying instead of how he's saying it. He gets you ready not only for baseball, but life."
In 22 years at Hart, Murray's teams have won 15 league championships. His career coaching record is 509-182.
This week, Murray announced he intends to retire as a teacher and coach at Hart after the season, even though he insists, "I still love to coach."
With three grandsons and a love for fishing, the 63-year-old Murray decided it's time to let others deal with the responsibilities and pressures of being a head coach. He is not ruling out continuing to coach as an assistant at a junior college. His dream job would be to help his daughter, Kodee, coach a softball team. Kodee is a former softball coach at Valley College.
But those seventh- and eighth-graders in the Santa Clarita Valley who wanted to attend Hart and learn baseball from one of the best will miss the opportunity of a lifetime.
Orlin Leroy (Bud) Murray was born March 6, 1936, in Dunning, Neb. He was the youngest of eight children in a family that didn't have a lot of money during the post-Depression era. They lived in a house with a dirt floor. By age 10, Murray and his family had settled in Scottsbluff, Neb., a town of about 12,000.
Murray was an all-state basketball player who became the only family member to graduate from high school.
He dreamed of coaching basketball, but a friend from college, Fran Wrage, a former Hart basketball coach, told him the Indians' baseball coach was taking a sabbatical and the school needed a replacement. He interviewed with the district's recruiters in Fort Collins, Colo., and arrived in Newhall in 1967.
His career has spanned four decades. After a year at Hart, he coached at Canyon (1968-73), Hart (1973-80), Mission College (1981), Pierce College (1982-84) and Glendale High (1984-86) before returning to Hart in 1987. Players have come and gone, but they always knew what to expect when Murray was their coach.
"I've learned you have to draw your lines and make your rules and you have to live by them, and sometimes it hurts to enforce them," Murray said. "To me, baseball, basketball and football isn't worth anything if it doesn't teach something to these kids.
"I'm one of the dinosaurs--I know that. I'm from the old school, where you either get it done or there has to be a reason for it. I don't think coaches today do that. Coaches today, most of them, want to be liked first of all, then coach the kids later. I've always pushed, pushed, pushed."
Whether calling pitches from the dugout or offering instruction from the third-base coaching box, Murray is an active, hands-on coach. He doesn't let mistakes slip by. When longtime scoreboard operator Larry Fiscus was having trouble punching in balls and strikes earlier this season, Murray yelled, "Don't make us replace you!" And Murray said he "loves" Fiscus.
"Some coaches see something wrong and might shake their head but never let that player know," said Mike Halcovich, a Hart assistant. "Bud doesn't let anything slide. He genuinely cares about each and every kid who's played for him. I've seen him sit back in his office and just pull his hair out thinking how he's going to get a certain kid better."
Former players have come back and joked with Murray, realizing after they left that he wasn't so tough after all.
"He always tells me about the fish he catches, and I think he exaggerates how big the fish are," Stotts said.
Some players find it hard to believe Murray was once a star athlete, but he tells the story of a Hart basketball player from the 1970s, Danny Miller, who challenged him to a game of one-on-one and was taught a lesson by the old coach.
"He wants to play me outside on his court," Murray said. "I said, 'No, Danny, I don't want to play.' He says, 'Oh, come on coach, you're not afraid of me, are you?' I give him the first shot and the ball. We played to 10. He made the first basket and it ended up 10-1 [in my favor]."
Earlier this week, Hart played Burroughs in a Foothill League game. An umpire heard Murray was retiring and asked if he would sign a baseball for him as a memento.
"I felt that was a pretty good compliment coming from an umpire you battle with just like you battle with the opposing team," Murray said.
Of course, as soon as the first pitch was thrown, Murray was back in full coaching mode.
"He [the umpire] missed a 2-0 pitch and I let him know about it," Murray said.
Hart is 20-4 and figures to be seeded when the Southern Section Division II playoffs begin in two weeks. Winning a championship for Murray would be a fitting final tribute. But it won't change what he has tried to teach from the day he arrived.
"I never put much emphasis on winning and losing," he said. "It's how you play the game and understand it."
\o7 Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422.\f7