When DeMarco Murray was first hired as the Arizona Wildcats running backs coach in January, he no doubt spent some time studying up on the players he was going to be working with this season. That wasn’t necessary the other way around.
So it goes when your new coach happens to be a former NFL Offensive Player of the Year, one who was still in the pros this time two years ago.
Murray retired from playing football after the 2017 season, his seventh in the league following a prolific college career at Oklahoma. He spent last fall as a game analyst for FOX Sports before answering the call from Kevin Sumlin—who helped recruit him to Oklahoma—to start his coaching career in Tucson.
It’s unlikely anyone on Arizona’s roster didn’t know who Murray was before he joined the staff. In fact, many have told him he was one of their favorite players...in video games like NCAA Football and Madden.
“I’m only 31, now I feel like an old guy,” he said.
Murray said he always knew he wanted to coach at some point, just not necessarily this soon. After all, a good number of Arizona’s likely starters on Aug. 24 at Hawaii began their college careers before he ended his pro one. But despite the close proximity in age, Murray was uncertain if he could really connect with today’s youth.
“I was kind of hesitant and worried about what kind of kids they’d be,” he said. “Credit to Coach Sumlin for how well-behaved they are, how respectful they are. Just the kind of men they are. That was something I wasn’t expecting.”
Murray’s college and NFL experience gives him instant credibility with his players, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said.
“He just got done playing, so he can really relate,” Mazzone said. “Sometimes us old guys, we forget what it’s like to play and how hard it is sometimes. But he has that factor.”
Added outside receivers coach Taylor Mazzone: “When he speaks, they listen. I think what he’s gone through over his career, he’s done it. It’s easy to have a great saying as a coach, but when you actually have done it recently and shown on film and shown it on TV and your name’s on the bottom line of ESPN, it kind of sticks in these kids’ ears a little bit more.”
In addition to coaching running backs, Murray is responsible for recruiting Las Vegas (where he went to high school) and Dallas (where he spent his first four seasons, including 2014 when he led the NFL with 1,845 rushing yards) as well as Tucson. He says he’s an “open book” to the prospects he meets with, many of whom pepper him with questions.
“What’s the hardest defense you’ve played, have you ever been hit hard? I always say no,” he said.
Murray said his fellow coaches have been “very easy to work with” as he transitions into his new career, though Noel Mazzone said he already seems like a veteran coach, one that doesn’t need to be checked in on too much.
“I don’t have to worry about the backs, right?,” Mazzone said. “I never go over there. I never go over and say ‘shouldn’t they be doing it this way?’ It’s DeMarco Murray, right? I’m not gonna say that. ‘How are you gonna do it? Okay, good, thanks DeMarco’ is about all I say to him.”
Though only 31 and still yet to actually coach in a college game, Murray’s future seems bright. Inside receivers coach Theron Aych doesn’t expect him to be merely a position coach for long.
“He’ll be a head coach, probably in a year or two,” Aych said. “It wouldn’t surprise me. Hell, I’d hire him right now if I was an AD.”