Murdock has best of both worlds

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

DAWSON -- This week, Bill Murdock spent an estimated 18 hours preparing for tonight's GISA Class A championship football game between his Terrell Academy Eagles and Thomas Jefferson.

That's only one plan he is responsible for.

There is also an administrative plan he executes as the school's headmaster.

"That's a solid eight hours in itself each day for sure," Murdock said. "On Fridays, I'm sometimes looking at as much as a 16-hour work day."

In March 2005, Murdock left his head coaching job of 16 years at Southwest Georgia Academy knowing what challenges lay ahead. Not only did he have his credibility of winning three state titles (1989, '93 and '98) at stake, he also had to uphold Terrell Academy's academic reputation.

"I accepted it as a challenge and saw it as just another phase in my life," Murdock said. "I knew I didn't want to get out of coaching. I get the chance to keep working with the kids."

As head coach of the defending state champion Eagles, who beat Thomas Jefferson in last year's title game, 61-26, Murdock has the best of both worlds.

"I really enjoy this," he smiled. "It's a challenge, but there are a lot of really good people at Terrell Academy, and we all work together."

Although he is the headmaster, Murdock said he is mostly referred to as "Coach Murdock."

"Every once in a while I get called something uglier, but that doesn't happen too often," he laughed.

It seems only fitting, however, that people still acknowledge his role in athletics. If it were not for athletics, Murdock might not have become a headmaster in the first place.


Growing up in Albany, Murdock's Sundays involved two things -- church and the NFL on television. His mother, Edith, had three televisions together making sure they did not miss anything among the three major networks.

"We would hurry home from church in a big way so we would not miss the games," Murdock said. "My father (James) just watched it because me and my mother watched it. He just went along because we wanted him to. He would follow me in football, but he did not really care about football overall."

Murdock's mother was also not afraid to mince words. One time, during her son's 1998 state championship season at Southwest Georgia, Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox was there at the game and Edith met him.

"She said, 'I like the Braves, I like you, Bobby Cox, but I'm a Yankees fan,' " Murdock recalled. "That's the type of person she was. And Bobby Cox said, 'That's OK, just as long as you cheer for us the rest of the games.' "


Murdock played high school football at Riverview Academy (now known as Sherwood Christian Academy) and was a team captain. Among the assistant coaches were Gene Melvin, who eventually became a principal at Westover High School and now has the same role at Calhoun County.

"Coach Melvin and several other assistants had a very strong influence on me," Murdock said.

Murdock played running back and safety at Riverview, but another position he learned leadership from was staff writer on the school's yearbook staff. His teacher, Maxine Jordan, demanded perfection, leading to an appreciation for focusing on small details.

"I did the sports section, and you had to do it right for (Jordan)," Murdock said. "She cared about us and showed a compassion, and you did not want to disappoint her. You definitely wanted to do it right."


After graduating Riverview, Murdock attended Troy, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in accounting. He had yet to find a job, and then-head football coach and athletic director Wayne Proffitt had an idea for him -- become a coach.

"He said, 'We'll go back and get you an emergency teaching certificate,' " Murdock said. "I had been offered a couple of jobs, but I didn't take them. I went straight into coaching. I knew I wanted to do it, but I didn't realize at the time I would stay in it this long. But I've truly enjoyed it."

As an assistant under another head coach at SGA, Jimmy Sealy, Murdock also learned how to balance between being hard-nosed and compassionate.

"(Sealy) worked them hard, and did it the right way," Murdock recalled. "The kids, in return, had a fierce loyalty to him and played hard."


Murdock's time as a coach at Southwest Georgia Academy has had a direct bearing on his efficiency as a headmaster.

"I think you've got to have that compassion to be successful in any leadership role," Murdock said. "Teachers, coaches, players, they all have tough times sometimes in life. It's not easy growing up in today's world, and sometimes people expect them to not have difficult times. That's where as a leader you have to give support and give guidance. You prepare students and athletes alike for everyday life. That's what I tell the kids about football, 'You can lose, get sick or fail at something, but you've got to come back and go at it again.' That's what sports teaches you."

Eagles quarterback Cole Phillips said Murdock has no problem balancing his two duties.

"If our grades are not right, he makes us work and tells us what we need to do to step it up," Phillips said.

Murdock's leadership was also put to the test in the first round of this year's playoffs. During a 42-21 victory against Bethesda Day, the Eagles' opponent stunted its linebackers inside to slow Terrell Academy's running game. Murdock's team, in response, opted to pitch the ball outside to running back Cole Byrd and the Eagles scored a touchdown soon afterward.

Obviously, Byrd is used to calling Murdock "Coach."

"It's not too weird having him both as coach and headmaster," Byrd said. "I kind of like it. We all feel close to him."


There are others in Southwest Georgia who are both headmaster and head football coach, such as Westwood's Ross Worsham. Thomas Jefferson head coach Chuck Wimberly also is the headmaster at his school.

Murdock can win his fifth state championship tonight as a head coach, but that is only part of what makes his job fulfilling.

"Keeping the morale high everywhere on campus is huge," Murdock said. "How everybody feels about themselves is important, and it's important that everybody is in a positive environment. That's something you work hard at every day. It never ends."