It was either 1997 or 1998, Dennis Hart remembers.

He was a student at Temple then and still deciding what he wanted to do with his life. He knew he had an interest in teaching and coaching, so he asked Jim Murray - the longtime St. Joseph's Prep athletic director, math teacher, and soccer coach - if he could come in one day and "pick his brain for a bit."

Murray, of course, said yes.

When Hart went in, the two talked about how Murray got into the professions, why he stayed, all of the ups and downs of both careers, and a host of other things. Hart and Murray chatted for about an hour that day.

Almost 20 years later, from the same office Murray occupied for decades, Hart sat on the other side of the desk and reflected on how much that meeting influenced his life.

"He was an early mentor. I don't know if I realized at the time, but that conversation impacted the direction I headed in," Hart said. "He played that role for me ever since. His door was always open. It says volumes about who he is. I hope someday I have that relationship with the young men that come through here."

Mentor. Teacher. Coach.

No matter what role Murray, 74, decided to take on - and there were many - that sentiment, one of positively impacting students, remained. And now after five decades, the second-winningest high school soccer coach in Pennsylvania history with 620 career victories has retired from the sidelines.

This season, Murray's Hawks finished 6-10-1 and lost to La Salle in the playoff quarterfinals.

"Fifty years is pretty tough to do," said Murray, who also served on the school's Board of Trustees, as chairman of the math department, alumni association president, dean of students, and in every office in the Catholic League. "Of course I'm proud of it. At the same time, even as I say it, it's a blip. It doesn't seem like 50 [years] in many respects."

Murray was just 23 when he took a teaching job at Friends' Central and spent four years there before he moved on to the Prep, his alma mater. Two years later, the outgoing athletic director - whom Murray had previously, but unsuccessfully, tried to persuade to start a soccer team - recommended Murray to take over his job.

That made the decision pretty easy. The Prep would start fielding a soccer team immediately and Murray would coach.

The year was 1971, and Murray was still a relative newcomer to the game, having played football as a student at St. Joe's Prep. He picked up soccer at St. Joseph's University, where he met coach Jack Dunn - the man who taught Murray the "importance of honing skills and playing smart position soccer" as well as conditioning.

"Coach, I don't even know what the ball looks like. But if you teach me how to play the game I'll play for you," Murray said to Dunn as a college freshman.

Murray took to the game quickly. The Hawks teams he coached reached the Catholic League playoffs every year since 1975, won 25 Southern Division titles, appeared in 16 league title games, and finally captured the championship in 2010.

"I don't remember who, but it was a notable person who said, 'It isn't how many championships you win, it's how many you play in,' " the father of five, grandfather of 14, and great-grandfather of three said. "I remember hearing that, and it stuck with me. It makes a lot of sense. It takes a heck of a lot of effort and work to get there."

Three Saturdays ago, the Prep held its alumni game, with more than 40 former players showing up. Afterward, they went to Mac's Tavern on Market Street in Philadelphia, which is owned by an alum.

The assembled group asked the longtime coach to say something.

"When you begin something you don't see the end. All of the sudden, there it is staring you right in the face," Murray said. "It brings back a lot of memories. That's what a lot of that means to me. The only thing that lasts are memories."

And the impact you have on other people. Just ask Hart.

kharman@philly.com

@ka_harman