New Oxbow Football Coach Wants to Spread It Out

New Oxbow football coach Sean Murphy.
Courtesy photograph

New Oxbow football coach Sean Murphy. Courtesy photograph

Bradford, Vt. — The director of guidance at St. Johnsbury Academy will now be guiding the football team at Oxbow Union High.

Sean Murphy — who will remain the guidance director and a dormitory proctor at St. Johnsbury — on Tuesday was named the Olympians’ second head coach. He replaces Mark Palmieri, who started the program nine years ago. Palmieri departed last month to coach at Lyndon Institute.

A former St. Johnsbury coach, Murphy will be reunited with Oxbow Athletic Director Han Van Orman, who was his offensive coordinator with the Hilltoppers from 2005-12. Van Orman became Oxbow’s AD last December.

“We’re very excited to have Sean coming to lead the program,” Van Orman said. “He’s a very organized and passionate coach. He loves kids and he loves the game of football. He understands the lessons the sport can provide.”

A 1986 St. Johnsbury graduate and former two-way lineman for the Hilltoppers, Murphy played one season at North Carolina’s Appalachian State University before transferring to Springfield (Mass.) College. He was a four-year track and field letterman while throwing hammer and shot put for the Pride from 1987-90.

Murphy became a St. Johnsbury assistant coach while earning a master’s degree at Lyndon State College and became the Hilltoppers’ head coach in 2002. St. Johnsbury made four playoff appearances during his head coaching tenure, most recently in 2011.

A father of four, Murphy stepped down following the 2012 season, mainly to spend more time with his family.

“All of my kids were under the age of 11, and I had never been to one of their youth soccer games,” said Murphy, 46. “I wanted to be there for more of that kind of thing, help with the carpooling and things like that. It was a good time to step down.

“But I missed coaching. (Coming to Oxbow) was too good to pass up.”

Murphy will bring the spread offense to Oxbow, a change from the Olympians’ primarily ground-and-pound style employed under Palmieri. That ought to be welcome news for quarterback favorite Tristan Longmoore, a sophomore who participated in numerous national invitational camps this offseason and has expressed a desire to air it out. After spending most of last season with Oxbow’s jayvee team, Longmoore threw a pair of touchdown passes in the Olympians’ Division III playoff loss at Woodstock.

“We’re not going to be an ‘I’ (-formation) team, we’re going to spread the game out,” Murphy said. “We’re still going to want to run the football, but it’s going to be a little different from what these guys are used to.”

Defensively Murphy employs 4-3 and 4-2 formations and a read-and-react style.

“You won’t see us blitz a whole lot. In high school football, if you make (opponents) drive 15 plays to score, you’re going to stop them more often than not because most teams cannot do that consistently,” he said. “We’re going to keep guys in front of us, tackle well and force teams to execute.”

While Oxbow’s players adjust to Murphy’s systems, the coach’s biggest adjustment will be numbers. Division I St. Johnsbury routinely attracts 70-85 players and fields a freshman team to complement its varsity and junior varsity units. The Olympians began last year with 34 players and attrition over the course of the season lowered that number.

“That’s going to be a transition for me, to have guys playing both sides of the ball and multiple positions,” Murphy said. “We might have someone who’s the backup QB and a starting wide receiver. Our starting safeties will probably be backup outside linebackers. Between offense and defense, most guys are going to be learning three or four positions.

“There’s going to be a strong organizational element for us to learn everything we need to.”

Murphy recently met with some of Oxbow’s players for the first time and was impressed with their offseason habits.

“There’s about 18-22 of them who have been holding captain’s practices twice a week, working out together and things like that. That’s a good sign,” Murphy said. “The kids I saw were excited about the new season, excited to do something different and get started. I am too.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.