Whether it’s barbecue or football, pigskin has played a huge role in Mike Murray’s life.
Q: You have served as the head football coach at Zebulon Middle for the past 10 years. However, unlike most coaches at schools, you are not on the staff as a teacher. How did that come about? Did you come to coach your children?
A: “Well, before I got there to coach, I had a nephew who was on the football team at the school. One day, the coach was talking to the team, asking them if they knew of anyone who could help out. My nephew spoke up and said he had an uncle who knew everything there was to know about football (laughing). I got a call from the coach and he asked me if I was interested in helping out with the team. It wasn’t long after that that I became the head coach. I have had the head job ever since. I am also now the head basketball coach for both the boys and girls teams. I have two kids: my son is now 25, and I have a daughter who is 23 and graduated from Meredith. I did coach my son but not at school. He attended East Wake Middle before going on to East Wake High. He received a college scholarship to play baseball but when he was coming up, I did coach him in basketball, baseball, and football – mostly for parks and rec teams, and for travel teams.”
Q: So coaching, it seemed, was in your blood?
A: “I had really always wanted to be a teacher and a coach. However, my dad was in the restaurant business – Don Murray. He had Don Murray Barbecue on Capital Boulevard in Raleigh, that he started in the 1970s, and he later opened the Barbecue Lodge in Mini City (intersection of Capital and Millbrook). We grew up in Wilson and after I graduated from Wilson Fike, where I played football, I went on to Campbell University, where I majored in business. My mom and dad never went to college and they did well for themselves. I wanted to get into teaching but my dad wanted me to take over the restaurant one day. My dad left Don Murray in 1979, but the new owners retained the name. He operated the Barbecue Lodge for 21 years before they sold it. I grew up working in the restaurant business.”
Q: That must be tough work – did you grow tired of it?
A: “I started working in the restaurants when I was about 12 or 13. I would get up on the weekends, take a Trailways Bus to Raleigh, and I would work in the restaurants all weekend.”
Q: That sounds like a lot of work for a teenager?
A: “I liked working with my dad, but my dad was pretty old school. He believed in working 100 hour weeks. The restaurant business is really hard work. After I got married and started having kids, it was like my wife was a single parent. I worked from 7 in the morning until 11 at night. I left the house, my kids were sleeping, and I would come home and they would be in bed. I felt like I never saw them. Working in the restaurants could be fun at times, and I met a lot of real nice people, but it is a tough life.”
Q: And your dad eventually got out of the business?
A: “He sold the Barbecue Lodge in 2001. He passed away in 2003.Right now, I am working part-time with a private security company.”
Q: And coaching both football and basketball at Zebulon Middle must take a tremendous amount of time. Is it tough not being there on the campus as a teacher – not being able to see the students in their academic surroundings?
A: “It all seems to work out. I have a great working relationship with the principal. She calls me about any discipline problems. The kids believe in the system I have in place and they know that I always have their best interest at heart.”
Q: You have had obvious success as the coach.
A: “In football, we have only lost 10 games in 10 seasons. We have won five conference championships.”
Q: What is your coaching secret? Any sayings you are known for?
A: “I tell them all the time that you have to play with a lot of heart, and you have to play tough to play football. I think the program I have in place is good for morale, and that carries over in the classroom. We talk about life lessons. I tell them everyone makes mistakes – I have made mistakes – but when you fall down, you get back up. They are my kids. Some of them come from tough economic backgrounds. I have brought some of them home on the weekends to have some meals. I have former players who come back to see me all the time.”
Q: It brings to mind legendary UNC basketball coach Dean Smith, who passed away recently. He was known for the care of his players, and how they remained in touch with them, long after they left his program.
A: “I grew up idolizing Dean Smith. I wanted to coach like him. He showed how you can do things the right way. I really care about my players, and I think they can see that.”
Correspondent Dena Coward