In the history of Tennessee track & field, there have been few athletes more dominant in their discipline as Ed Murphey was from 1954-57. An All-American, SEC Champion and Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame inductee, Murphey passed away on October 29, 2014 at the age of 78.
Originally from Brownsville, Tennessee, Murphey came to the Volunteers for head coach John Sines from the small town in Haywood County and lettered in cross country and track at UT from 1954-57. He was team captain his senior season.
In cross country, he was the runner-up at the 1955 SEC Championships. A year later, he won the SEC individual championship with an SEC-record time of 21:21 on the 4.4-mile course in Atlanta, leading Tennessee to the team title. But Murphey’s true gift was in the mile/1500 meters. The SEC meet, as many did at the time, ran a mile distance, while the NCAA meets ran the international-standard 1500 meters. He was a three-time SEC outdoor champion in the mile, taking first place from 1955 to 1957, setting an SEC record in 1957 in 4:14.8 along with an even more impressive 4:11 indoors.
He was an outdoor track & field All-American in 1956, finishing sixth in the 1500 meters at the national championship meet with a school record time of 3:52.5. That performance qualified Murphey for the Olympic Trials. At the Olympic Trials, Murphey came within one-tenth of a second of duplicating his time, finishing seventh in 3:52.6. The finish left him short of the three spots for the U.S. Olympic Team, but it marked the closest any Tennessee athlete had ever come to making the Olympic team in 1956.
In the days that Shields-Watkins Field served as the site of home meets, Murphey also ran the mile in 4:16, a mark that was never broken in the venue now known as Neyland Stadium, the historic University of Tennessee football stadium.
Because of his appearance in the national meet as a freshman, Murphey was ineligible to compete in it in 1957. His Tennessee career ended with his SEC record in the mile at the 1957 SEC championship, but his contribution to the track & field program was far from done.
Beginning in 1965, he returned to Knoxville annually to present the Ed Murphey Award for the most outstanding men’s track & field performance. Notable winners through the years have included Richmond Flowers, Willie Gault, Todd Williams, Lawrence Johnson, Anthony Famigletti, Justin Gatlin, Aries Merritt and Justin Hunter.
Murphey was a member of the 2005 class inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. He went in with five other Volunteers, including fellow track athletes Darwin Bonds and Flowers. Bill Justus, W.J. Siler and Haywood Harris also represented UT in the 2005 class.