Just 12 months ago, DeMarco Murray was a college football analyst for Fox Sports.
Today he’s an Oklahoma Sooner, again, this time as a member of Lincoln Riley’s coaching staff.
In between, he spent one year on Kevin Sumlin’s staff at Arizona.
Basically, less than two years after ending his playing career, Murray has his dream job — for now — as OU’s new running backs coach.
That rapid ascension speaks to Murray’s uncommon football IQ and his overall intellect.
In less than 24 months, Murray went from being a savvy football player with incredible athletic ability to a concise and insightful national college football analyst to a major college football coach to a coach at one of the nation’s premier programs.
This is not a normal track. It’s not even a normal fast-track.
Murray is special. He has a gift, an innate knowledge of the game that many others just don’t have, and Lincoln Riley was smart to hire him so quickly.
“This is a really exciting day, being able to welcome one of our program’s all-time best players back to Norman,” Riley said Monday in an OU press release. “DeMarco had a tremendous playing career both at OU and in the NFL and has a passion for coaching and helping young men grow as players and people. He’s got an incredibly bright coaching future and will be an outstanding mentor to our players. I don’t think there’s anyone better to lead our running backs. Everyone in our program is excited to have DeMarco, his wife Heidi and their children as part of our family.”
“This is very surreal,” said the 31-year-old Murray. “Obviously I never thought I’d be back coaching at the place where it all started for me. Having the opportunity to come back and be among great coaches and be with some of the people I grew up with is exciting. I’m thankful for the opportunity coach Riley is giving me and I’m looking forward to being back home.”
His main job, of course, will be to find, recruit and sign America’s top high school running backs. Murray had plenty of talent himself, and he knows the game. But can he be the kind of dynamic recruiter, like Cale Gundy and Brent Venables did with him, that brings elite talent to Norman?
Sooner fans will never forget his hurdle of teammate Joe Jon Finley on his way to a 65-yard touchdown against Texas in 2007, or his sideline tiptoe-flip TD against the Longhorns in 2010. He also popped a 92-yarder in his third college game against Utah State, had a 91-yarder against Baylor and scored five touchdowns against North Texas and spun away from one defender and somersaulted over another against Tulsa.
Murray’s 2008 season, when he was a key element of the most prolific offense in college football history, ranks second in school history with 2,171 all-purpose yards. Two years later, in 2010, he put up a total of 2,057 all-purpose yards, which ranks fifth.
But Murray was more than just wildly acrobatic touchdowns and cross-country sprints.
Few runners could hit a cut at full speed like Murray, and even fewer finished every run with a punishing shoulder and forward lean. But it was Murray’s understanding of defenses, his comprehension of coverages and his anticipation of running lanes and angles that set him apart. Also, he may have been the Sooners’ best running back ever in pass protection.
That’s why he’s climbed the coaching ladder so far so fast.
“Football has always been a passion of mine,” Murray said. “I’ve been fortunate to have had a lot of coaches and friends work with me throughout my career and give me great tools, and I feel like it’s only right to give back to young student-athletes. And I love competing at a high level, so the opportunity to come back to coach was important to me.”
After redshirting the 2006 season at OU, Murray spent the next four years setting the school record for all-purpose yards at 6,718. That’s 3,685 rushing, 1,571 receiving, 1,462 on returns. He also set the OU standard for total touchdowns scored, 65. He holds the school record for kickoff return average (27.6 yards) and ranks second in OU history in rushing attempts (759) and kick return yards (1,462), third in rushing touchdowns (50), seventh in rushing yards (3,685) and eighth in 100-yard-rushing games (13).
His game translated to the NFL, too, where he continued to be a workhorse—first for the Dallas Cowboys, then the Philadelphia Eagles and finally the Tennessee Titans.
In seven NFL seasons, Murray rushed for 7,174 yards and 49 touchdowns.
He was a second-round draft pick of the Cowboys and rushed for 897 yards as a rookie in 2011. His breakout year came in 2013 when he ran for 1,121 yards and nine TDs in 14 games. In 2014, Murray won the NFL rushing crown with 1,845 yards (115.3 per game) and scored 13 TDs to go with 416 receiving yards. His 2,261 yards from scrimmage that season ranked as the 12th best in NFL history.
Murray’s style didn’t mesh in Chip Kelly’s system in Philadelphia (702 yards) in 2015, but with the Titans he ran for 1,287 yards and nine TDs in 2016.
Murray was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year and All-Pro in 2014, and made the Pro Bowl in 2013, 2014 and 2016.
“I think I bring the experience of playing at a high level and being in these kids’ shoes not 20 or 30 years ago, but just 10 years ago,” he said. “I think I bring the ability to know offense, know ball and know what it takes from a mental, physical and emotional standpoint to get to the next level. At Oklahoma, so many kids are going to have that opportunity and that’s what I’m going to help them strive to achieve.”
As a junior at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, Murray was projected by many as a cornerback. Pete Carroll, then USC’s head coach, offered him a scholarship to play corner. But Murray wanted to play running back, and during a visit from Bob Stoops in 2005, he famously bounced a basketball off the floor, off the backboard and elevated and threw down a powerful dunk. Stoops immediately offered him a spot to play running back.
Stoops always applauded Murray for his smarts on the field and in the film room — qualities that Sumlin clearly saw in his two seasons (2006-07) as OU’s co-offensive coordinator under Kevin Wilson.
“He’s a great hire. He’s the real deal,” Sumlin told SoonerScoop.com on Sunday evening. “The only problem is I think he could be in Tennessee or L.A. in a year or two (coaching in the NFL). He’s that bright of a young coaching mind. And I don’t mean as just a running backs coach.”
“Coach Sumlin gave me that first chance to coach and I appreciate everything he’s done for me,” Murray said. “I’ve known him dating back to when I was 18 or 19 years old at OU. He’s always been a great friend of mine and we stayed in constant communication after he left OU and throughout our careers. He’s a great guy who always creates a fun environment for his staff and players. I appreciate him taking a chance on me and I learned a lot from him last year.”
Now imagine what Murray can learn under Riley.
Formerly co-host of “Further Review” and “The Franchise Drive,” columnist John E. Hoover is a college football insider on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover co-hosts The Franchise “Inside OU” Podcast with Brady Trantham. He also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his YouTube channel at YouTube.com/c/JohnHoover, and his personal page at johnehoover.com.