Murray Excited to Join College Coaching Fraternity
Ex-NHL Head Coach: 'I've Prepared for This'
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Last year, Jeff Blashill was hired, and in his first season, turned Western Michigan around, from a program facing a cloudy future to an NCAA Tournament team. He received a hefty raise and contract extension.
Less than three months later, Blashill was gone to the NHL, and Western Michigan's future was again thrown into question thanks to the creation of the Big Ten and NCHC, and the consequent murky future of the CCHA.
But Tuesday, Western Michigan made another huge signal that it is serious about continuing to be a major player in college hockey, landing former NHL coach Andy Murray as its new top man.
According to the parties involved, this all came down in the last four days, spurred on by a phone call between Western Michigan and former Bronco Jamal Mayers, who played for Murray in the NHL in St. Louis. Next thing you know, the Broncos had an 11-year NHL head coach in the fold.
"I'm so excited to be here. This is the team that put Bronco hockey back on the map," Murray said, addressing his new players. "When you talk to people in the college hockey field, and professional hockey people — and I talked to a lot of people — guys, you put it back on the map. But now there's a standard to live up to and go beyond."
Said Mayers, "I think he is going to be a great fit. He is a player’s coach who is going to be demanding and is very detail oriented. There won’t be a single night the team won’t be prepared. Coach Murray is going to give guys an opportunity to prove themselves and, as a player, you can’t ask for anything more. I’m very excited for the program and I’m glad to see him take the job. I think it is a great day for Bronco hockey.“
Murray said he had to make quick work to land the position.
"I got a call from (athletic director) Kathy (Beauregard) Thursday afternoon," Murray said. "I didn't know if I was going to get a call. ... She said, 'Is there a possibility we can meet about this?' I said, 'When, an hour? Two? When can I get there?"
They met in Grand Rapids on Friday, and things evolved quickly from there. He beat out other interviewees, such as Nebraska-Omaha assistant Mike Hastings, and U.S. National Development Team coach Ron Rolston, who recently landed the head coaching job with Rochester of the AHL.
The 60-year old Murray was quick to endear himself to those on the Kalamazoo campus, talking about how he immediately embraced the rest of the coaches, the school, the town, and referencing school rival Central Michigan, saying he wished it had a hockey program.
But most of all, Murray was quick to address the concept that he was only there as a stop-gap in his career, to bide time until another NHL job came along.
"I'm not here as an old NHL coach looking for a place to hang out for a few years and watch football," said Murray, who was considered for the Rensselaer opening in 2006 before the school expressed reservations he could quickly leave for the NHL. Soon thereafter, he took the job with the Blues. "I'm excited for this. I've prepared for this.
"I've always admired the college coaches. I can't tell you how excited I am to compete against and coach against some of the greatest colleges. I've been a college hockey fan. Guys have asked me about getting into the pro game — they're at the college level — and I said, 'Guys, I think you're at the best level.' The opportunity to teach young men. I challenge anyone half my age to outwork me on what we plan to bring. I have a lot of energy, and I'm excited about it. ... Working with these young men will help keep me young."
Murray, who spent last year consulting with the Swiss national team after being fired as head coach of the St. Louis Blues in January 2010, said he spent a lot of time preparing for a college coaching job. He spent his free time watching his son Jordy play for Wisconsin last season, even making numerous road trips.
"College coaching is as good as it gets. The NHL and other experiences have been great. But you only have one life, and you have to try to do it all," said Murray, whose other son Brady also played at North Dakota. Both sons now play in Switzerland. "This is the only job that I ever sent a resume for. I wasn't sure that I was on Kathy's (athletic director Beauregard's) list, because I'd been a pro coach.
"But I spent a whole year preparing for this. I told (the Swiss team) I could only be there eight days per month. Otherwise, I was a Wisconsin Badgers fan. I went to practices, games. I went to Anchorage in January. At one practice, I was the only one there. The other guys went to my son, 'Is your dad nuts?' I'm not taking this because there were no other opportunities."
Murray started his career in local Canadian leagues, working his way up to Canadian university, then to European teams before returning to North America in 1988 to take a position in the American Hockey League. That led to assistant coaching positions with the Winnipeg Jets, Minnesota North Stars and Philadelphia Flyers.
Murray went on to coach the Canadian national team, and spent a year at famed Minnesota prep school Shattuck-St. Mary's before getting his first NHL head coaching job with the Los Angeles Kings in 1999.
Murray is one of only 39 coaches in NHL history to reach 300 wins with a career record of 333-278-58-71. He has 10 years of NHL head coaching experience, spending six seasons at the helm of the Los Angeles Kings and four with the St. Louis Blues. Murray is the Kings’ All-Time franchise leader in wins with 215 and led Los Angeles to three 90-point seasons in his tenure. During the 2008-09 season with St. Louis he was a finalist for the Jack Adams Coach of the Year Award after guiding the Blues to a third place finish in the Central Division.
Murray coached Team Canada to gold medals at the 2007, 2003 and 1997 World Hockey Championships. He is the only Canadian coach in history to win three World Championships. Murray was also a head coach in Europe, coaching three Swiss professional teams (EV Zug, Zurcher Schlittschuh, and EHC Kloten) and a German team, EHC Berlin, in the early 80’s and early 90’s.
The school has certainly showed its commitment to hockey, even though its future remains a bit unclear at this time. To help the transition, Murray has decided to retain both assistant coaches, Pat Ferschweiler and Rob Facca.
"The competition in the CCHA and Division I hockey, it's a battle every day. But you have to come to the practice rink every day with the tought of being better. I'm going to push you and be demanding, but I'll never be demeaning, because I think there's a difference.
"There's a difference between playing hockey and being a hockey player. There's a difference between going to school and being a student. It's all about commitment, effort, and the passion you show."