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Prep sports writer

To get to 500 wins, you first have to win one game.

Daryl Murphy’s first win came more than 20 years ago at Century High School, where he cut his head coaching teeth for two seasons, earning his first 44 victories.

“That was a lot of moons ago,” he said with a laugh on Tuesday before practice. “We won our first eight games and it was a good scenario there. I was blessed with a lot of talent, and it sure helped cover for mistakes.”

Since then, Murphy has covered for his share and then some. The Murphysboro bench boss reached the 500-win mark Saturday night in Harrisburg, where his Red Devils grinded out a 53-42 decision over the Bulldogs.

Murphy’s reaction afterwards wasn’t to celebrate.

“I was really glad to get it over with,” he said. “I was kind of relieved. I didn’t want it to go on. I just want to go on to the next game, really.”

Not that Murphy wasn’t appreciative of what the moment entailed. As he said, he’s had a lot of help to get there. Good players, good assistant coaches and supportive athletic directors have made things easier.

But the one constant over the last 22 years at Murphysboro has been the coach who shares most of the town’s name. His teams may not always have a lot of height, and in some cases, may not have been blessed with a lot of firepower.

However, Murphy has found ways to win games. Last season’s team, which had two consistent scorers and a bunch of role players around them, collected 23 wins. This year’s team has no true post player, and until freshman Calvon Clemons was called up to the varsity after a sloppy loss at Carbondale just before Christmas, no real point guard.

Yet the Red Devils are 19-9 with two tournament victories — the Ernie Bozarth and the Sparta Mid-Winter — in their hip pocket. A victory Friday night at home against Benton or another one on Tuesday night at Centralia gives them another 20-win season, which would be the 13th in Murphy’s 22 years.

Murphy may not always show it during the games, when he paces the sidelines and runs the emotional gamut. But he cares about people. If that weren’t true, why else would his two top assistants, Matt Decker and Ben Doggan, have been with him the entire time he’s been at Murphysboro?

“We have a lot of fun together,” he said. “We’re kind of like an old married couple — one of us will start a sentence and one of us will finish it. We run the same system from top to bottom, and having those guys coach JV and freshmen, we can make a player’s transition seamless. Our coaching styles are similar.”

The term to describe Murphy would be grinder. You pretty much have to be to coach high school sports. During the season, he spends roughly 22 to 25 hours a week on basketball, which includes an average of two games, plus practices and viewing video.

Add to that his regular classroom load — he teaches driver’s education for six hours a day — and an 11 to 12-hour day is pretty common. Like most coaches at this level, he sure isn’t doing it to fatten the paycheck.

“Being in Murphysboro for 23 years, I’ve seen a lot of success stories,” he said. “I’ve gotten to the point where I’m coaching kids of kids I once coached. One thing it tells me is I’m getting old.”

Murphy figures he has another seven or eight years left in him before he might have to put the whistle away. Not that he really wants to. He says that even if he retires from teaching, he’d still like to coach somewhere.

“Oh, I’ve got a ways to go on the sidelines,” he said.

The next win awaits.

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