Written by Corbett Smith
Kevin Murray has gone from one-time A&M star to Dallas-Fort Worth's elite quarterback coach
ALLEN – Sitting on the tailgate of his SUV on a Wednesday afternoon, gray and neon green Nikes propped up and a fresh pinch of snuff in his mouth, Kevin Murray was the picture of contentment.
With a trunkful off footballs, cones and other practice gear, Murray – a star quarterback at Texas A&M during the mid-1980’s – whiled away a few hours before heading to Plano for practice.
After 16 years in the corporate world, Murray left to establish himself as one of the premier quarterback coaches in the state, then the nation. He’s become one of the preeminent instructors in Texas, just four years after making coaching a full-time job.
“It’s not a job,” Murray corrected. “I play; I don’t work.”
This year’s crop of seniors includes two of the top quarterback prospects in the state, while Murray’s youngest child, Allen junior Kyler Murray, is a four-star recruit, with offers from Ohio State, Clemson, Texas and, of course, Texas A&M.
“I want to put as many of these kids through college as possible,” Murray said. “That drives me. Take a kid that no one knew about and put him on the map, that’s when you make a difference.”
‘FILLS THE ROOM’
Murray, 49, has the coaching chops and college connections to make that happen.
A two-time, second-team all-American quarterback at Texas A&M who played in two Cotton Bowls, Murray has played the position at a level that few can boast. With his name and an outgoing personality, he has built inroads with offensive coaches and recruiting coordinators at some of college football’s biggest programs.
“Kevin has so many contacts in colleges,” Allen offensive coordinator Jeff Fleener said. “He’s a guy that recruiters can contact that they know he’ll shoot them straight.”
His personality during practices can be both abrasive and alluring. Foster Sawyer, a Fort Worth All Saints senior verbally committed to TCU, said that Murray “fills the room.” Sawyer won his second SPC Division small-school title at All Saints this season, after stops at Arlington Grace Prep and Aledo.
A self-described “softie at heart”, Murray comes across as an army sergeant at times – guiding his clients through his full-throttle, one-on-one, one-hour sessions filled with footwork and passing drills.
He has 40 or so clients right now, half of them high schoolers, and isn’t desperate to add many more. His time doesn’t come cheap; depending on the frequency of sessions, he can charge from $150 to $225 per hour.
Cody Townes stood near the wall of the indoor practice field, watching his son –Allen eighth-grader Parker Townes – work with Murray.
“Parker’s not on today,” Townes said, quietly. “He’s about to hear it.”
But the criticism – however sharp – is always constructive, Townes said.
“We aren’t paying him to pat us on the head,” Townes said. “It’s funny, because the first month or so, Kevin was telling me ‘I think I’m being too hard on him.’ But the funny thing is Parker really likes it.”
Murray said he’s tough on his players for a reason.
“What’s going to happen is that these college coaches are going to say things to you that Fleener can’t say to you?” he said. “How are they going to handle that? Are they going to have a meltdown?”
Murray doesn’t advertise his business, AIR14 Football, getting all of his players from referrals. Fleener and Townes said they’ve told potential clients that Murray isn’t for the faint of heart.
“It’s really crazy what goes on during this process to these kids and their parents,” Murray said. “That’s why I can’t be honest enough.”
For all the bark, it’s unquestioned that Murray is a maestro with mechanics.
“Coach Kevin is the man,” Kansas quarterback T.J. Millweard said. “He definitely knows his stuff.”
Working with Sunnyvale senior Ryan Cottingame during a session at Plano West, Murray didn’t say a word as flaws, brought on by fatigue, crept into Cottingame’s throwing motion.
Instead, Murray just glowered, holding up his finger and snapping his thumb in with a little waggle.
A few wordless adjustments later, Cottingame proceeded to sail several graceful parabolas to receivers running a deep post.
“I don’t really know how he does it, because he makes it so simple,” Cottingame said. “But the results are extraordinary. My throws – in just seven weeks – it’s night and day with my release point. The ball’s coming out with a tight spiral. … My footwork has gotten a whole lot better.
“It’s a blessing to work with him every week.”
College-age clients such as Millweard and Morris come back and work with Murray whenever possible. Millweard recently transferred to Kansas after originally signing with UCLA. When he was living in Los Angeles – coming back home for, at most, 48 hours at a time – he’d schedule two or three sessions with Murray during that span.
“He’d move his schedule around anyway he could to accommodate my needs,” Millweard said.
CHANGE OF PACE
Reinvention is has been a theme throughout Murray’s life – whether by stripping down and rebuilding a player’s throwing motion or changing his own path: from baseball to football, dual-threat to pocket quarterback, corporate vice president to coach.
A multi-sport star at North Dallas, Murray originally signed a $35,000 deal in 1982 with the Milwaukee Brewers to play professional baseball. Murray played in 41 games for the Brewers’ rookie-league team in Pikeville, Ky., batting .171, before heading home for Dallas 10 weeks in.
“It has a culture shock,” he said. “I wasn’t mature enough to deal with it at that point in my life.”
Murray enrolled at Texas A&M in January 1983 with plans of playing football, leaving Pikeville and baseball behind. But trouble followed.
The Brewers filed an injunction in federal court, claiming that Murray had violated the terms of his contract. During testimony, Brewers executive Dan Duquette claimed that an A&M alumnus had given Murray a car, credit card and $200 per week during his senior year at North Dallas. Murray called the testimony false, and was eventually cleared to play football. But, from that point, he couldn’t shake allegations of impropriety during his collegiate career. Media reports linked Murray to two other violations during his time in College Station. In 1998, after Murray had left, Texas A&M was charged with 31 rules violations, without Murray’s name attached.
Murray drew comparisons between the '80s-era Southwest Conference and the steroid era in baseball.
“It just depended on what rock you wanted to turn over," Murray said. And when they flipped over the Aggie rock, [then-Texas A&M coach Jackie Sherrill] did what cats do when you back them in the corner.”
With Sherrill taking an aggressively defensive stance against the press, Murray became the media's target, he said.
His reticence with the media is a by-product of those experiences.
On the field, Murray’s Texas A&M career existed in two phases. Coming in as a freshman midway through the 1983 season, he led the team to a 4-2-1 finish, winning the Southwest Conference’s Newcomer of the Year award after leading the conference in total offense.
But his days as a dual-threat quarterback ended as a sophomore, after he suffered a career-threatening ankle fracture. He returned for the 1985 season, but much more as a pocket passer.
Post-injury, Murray led the Aggies to back-to-back conference titles (1985, 86) and Cotton Bowl appearances. His performance in the 1986 Cotton Bowl against a Bo Jackson-led Auburn has become legendary; Murray broke Joe Montana’s then-Cotton Bowl record with 292 passing yards in a 36-16 win.
He left Texas A&M at the end of his junior season -- “I wanted to leave with the kids that I came in with,” he said – with expectations for a pro career.
But lingering effects from his ankle injury scared away nearly all suitors; Murray wasn’t drafted, signed as a free-agent with San Francisco, and had a short stint in Canada’s CFL, before ending his football dreams.
“It was draining emotionally, because it was out of my control from a health standpoint,” Murray said. “But, life goes on. You pick up the pieces, and move on.”
Murray headed back to College Station, but steered clear of football.
“I didn’t want to have anything to do with football at that time,” Murray said.
BACK TO BALL
Instead, he got a psychology degree and started climbing the corporate ladder. He began a 16-year career in human resources, serving as a talent recruiter for EDS and later Bank of America before taking a buyout in 2009.
But football, his passion, wasn’t gone for long.
Around the same time he began coaching Kyler in youth football, Murray started working with other players. He began personal coaching with a single client in 2006, and even served as Parish Episcopal’s quarterbacks coach for a few seasons, working under Scott Nady – a high school friend of his younger brother, former W.T. White star and MLB outfielder Calvin Murray.
Over time, Murray’s client base has morphed. It started, in earnest, with early clients such as Arlington Lamar’s Ben Sherrard, Highland Park’s Winston Gamso and Plano West’s Michael Pruneau –all walk-on or non-scholarship players. This season’s group has three players who are likely to sign FBS offers – Sawyer, Carrollton Creekview’s David Blough (verbally committed to Purdue) and Sachse’s Kent Myers – as well as Cottingame, who Murray predicts will sign with a junior college.
Still, Murray’s son, Kyler, might be the crystallization of his teaching abilities.
“When he was nine, he was already reading spread offenses, processing and throwing,” Murray said. “When he was 10, it was pretty obvious at that point that he was something special.”
Kyler has shown that potential since moving to Allen at the beginning of his sophomore year from Lewisville; “I wanted my son in an environment where he was challenged academically and athletically,” Murray said of the move.
In 2012, Kyler came into the starting role mid-season for Allen, helping it to a 15-1 record and the Class 5A Division I title as a sophomore. This season, Allen is once again a favorite for the state title.
Fleener said that Texas’ Major Applewhite, Texas A&M’s Jake Spavital , Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury and Clemson’s Chad Morris have all raved that Kyler Murray has some of the best footwork of any high school player they have ever seen.
Sitting with his brother Calvin at the top of the visitor stands of Plano’s Clark Field, Murray seemed amazed by his son’s own abilities, commenting on how effortlessly he flicked 50-yard passes during warm-ups prior to Allen’s game against Plano West.
Ever the proud father, he dismissed any direct comparisons between his son and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel.
Manziel relies on his elusiveness at all times, Murray said. His son uses his speed "as an afterthought" – relying on his passing instincts first.
“Process, read and deliver,” Murray said.
Given his experiences with the media, Murray has kept Kyler at arm’s length of recruiting writers and other interested parties – trying to keep his high school experience as fun and normal as possible, he said. Fleener praised Kyler as one of the most level-headed kids that he’s coached, a testament to Murray and his wife, Missy, with collegiate stardom potentially looming on the horizon.
Perhaps that’s not a surprise at all, given Murray’s boisterous personality.
“Why should he have a big head? Shoot, I’m still the most famous person in my house,” he said, laughing.
KEVIN MURRAY'S CLIENT'S
Fort Worth All Saints
Kansas (transferred from UCLA)
Stephen F. Austin
Follow Corbett Smith on Twitter at @corbettsmithDMN.