'You just know': Why DeMarco Murray was a 'no-brainer' hire for Lincoln Riley on OU's coaching staff
NORMAN — Lincoln Riley isn’t used to being on the other side of eyeball emojis.
Riley’s signature Tweet when OU adds a commitment was turned around on him in late January. Riley and inside receivers coach Cale Gundy were in Dallas on a recruiting trip when Gundy’s phone buzzed. He looked at it, and then showed the incoming eyeballs to Riley.
The text was from former Sooners and NFL star running back DeMarco Murray. He was reacting to the news that Jay Boulware left for Texas, which opened a spot on Riley’s staff.
Not long after that, Murray was named OU’s running backs coach just two seasons after his NFL playing career ended.
It didn't take Murray long to win over Riley.
Riley said he didn’t know Murray well before the process, running into him a few times in the football offices when Murray would return and hearing plenty about him from Gundy, the coach who recruited Murray to Norman.
Though Murray was on Riley’s radar from the beginning, and though Riley generally narrows his focus dramatically when it comes to assistant coaching hires, Riley rid himself of preconceived expectations when Murray came for the interview.
“I went into it saying, ‘Look, I’m interviewing like this is some guy I’ve never seen play ball, (like) I have no idea where he went to college,’” Riley said. “I just want to see what the coach is about.”
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Like watching a five-star quarterback go through drills at a camp, Riley said sitting down with Murray, there was no doubt he was a good fit for the Sooners. Riley called the hire a “no-brainer.”
“You just know,” said Riley, who also introduced Jamar Cain on Wednesday as a defensive assistant.
“Like there’s no doubt. You can tell that with (Murray) as a coach. From second one you could tell he was well beyond his years. I think a lot of players think they know what coaching is about.
"They maybe weren’t as perceptive when they were players and maybe didn’t pick up on as much as they thought they did, and they get on the other side of it and it’s totally different. I think DeMarco is one of those guys that took a lot from every single experience.”
Murray’s youth, both in actual age (32) and years coaching (he’s spent one season at Arizona), belie Murray’s experience a bit.
He started preparing to coach football quite a few years ago, though he planned to wait until he was in his mid-30s to start out on the path.
“I’ve always paid attention to everyone,” Murray said. “Not just offensively — the offensive line coach. I’ll pay attention to the DBs coach, the special teams coach, (etc.) just to learn and get advice from them and learn. I believe you can learn from anyone — good, bad and ugly.”
That mindset might help Murray overcome the issue that plenty of former stars face when they become coaches — the inability to relate to others that aren’t on the level they were as players.
“I have no problem learning from others,” Murray said. “I don’t know everything. I don’t believe I’m the smartest guy in the room.”