SportsPulse: Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins faced the media at the NFL combine and weren’t shy about how they’d view themselves on different teams.
Like every hotshot quarterback these days, Kyler Murray has his own personal QB guru.
Here’s the unique twist that wins big: Kyler’s guru is his dad.
Kevin Murray, 54, was a big-time quarterback in his own right back in the day – starring at North Dallas High School, then as a two-time All-American legend at Texas A&M – who used his wisdom, experience and persona to become the pre-eminent quarterback tutor in the Dallas Metroplex.
Now his best pupil yet, with a Heisman Trophy reflecting a phenomenal junior season at Oklahoma, is poised to set the NFL ablaze.
“I see the same gritty mentality,” Tom Westerberg told USA TODAY. “Kevin’s more open. Kyler’s more private, more reserved. But they both have the same attitude. They lift everybody around them. And neither one of them is going to take BS.”
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Take it from Westerberg, the Barbers Hill (Texas) coach. He won three consecutive state titles with Kyler as his quarterback at Allen High. Long before that, he was a student manager at Texas A&M when Kevin was in his heyday during the 1980s and led the Aggies to back-to-back Cotton Bowl appearances.
“When it comes to quarterback mechanics, Kyler listens to one guy,” Westerberg added.
“He taught me how to throw the ball when I was 7 years old,” Kyler said during the NFL Scouting Combine. “I definitely wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him teaching me the game of football.”
This dynamic between Kevin and Kyler – who will showcase his skills before scouts and decision-makers during Oklahoma’s pro day on Wednesday – is one of the most intriguing subplots of the NFL draft. Kyler, who shunned a baseball career after being selected in the first round last year by the Oakland Athletics, might be chosen No. 1 overall by Arizona.
A generation ago, Kevin had his own baseball vs. football dilemma. He played in a rookie league as a Milwaukee Brewers draftee but gave up baseball and went to Texas A&M – where Kyler started his college career before transferring to Oklahoma. Kevin’s pro football prospects fizzled as the effects of a broken ankle lingered; yet he has helped position his son – all 5 feet, 10 1/8 inches of him – to take it so much further than his pops.
“Somebody had to teach him how to throw,” Jackie Sherrill, a head coach at four schools, including A&M, told USA TODAY as he raved about Kyler.
Sherrill knows better than most. That somebody was Kyler’s dad, who happened to play quarterback for him at A&M. Through the years, Sherrill and the elder Murray have remained close, which is why he remembers exactly when he got his first glimpse of Kyler as a football player – from the home video clip that Kevin’s wife, Missy, passed along when Kyler began playing on the peewee level.
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“He was playing safety,” Sherrill recalled. “It was a sweep that was stopped for about a 3-yard loss. Only it wasn’t a tackle. It was a collision! He’s been doing that since fourth or fifth grade.”
Kyler’s speed and mobility, like toughness, are undoubtedly essential to his calling card, which screams with potential to further revolutionize the quarterback game in the NFL. But Kyler is hardly a runner prone to take on defenders. It’s more hit-him-if-you-wish-you-can-catch-him. He rarely exposes himself to hits. No, Murray put up 4,361 passing yards last season (42 TDs, 7 interceptions) with 90 percent of his throws from the pocket.
That proficiency gets back to the bloodlines – and particularly the foundation from Daddy Guru.
“Never had a quarterback come in with better fundamentals,” proclaimed Jeff Fleener, the Mesquite (Texas) coach who was Kyler’s offensive coordinator during the state championship run at Allen.
What a resource for Kyler, able to draw on the perspective of someone so close who has been there. Sure, coaches might be wary of outside tutors, but it didn’t hurt Tom Brady – who for years swore by the impact of his guru, the now-deceased Tom Martinez.
In Murray’s case, Sooners coach Lincoln Riley can’t argue about the results. And as Kyler blossomed into a high school megastar, Westerberg and Fleener knew with whom they were dealing. Before Kyler came, a previous Allen quarterback, Alec Morris (who wound up getting a scholarship to Alabama before transferring to North Texas), made tremendous strides working with Murray, the coaches said.
“The good thing about Kevin is that he’ll call and ask, ‘Anything specific you’re seeing or working on?’ ” Fleener said. “It might be ‘fades to the end zone’ or ‘bubble routes to the right,’ or ‘getting the shoulders turned.’ Then you’ll go out and witness the workouts and he’s (working on repetitions for) exactly what’s needed.”
Kevin, who declined to be interviewed, began his Air 14 Quarterback Academy in 2006. After earning a degree in psychology, he worked for 16 years in the corporate world as a human resources specialist. Yet despite rising to become a vice president for Bank of America, he longed to coach and has trained more than 100 high school quarterbacks, helping many land college scholarships.
“You can’t survive doing what he’s doing if you’re not good,” Sherrill said. “One negative parent, one negative kid, and word gets around.”
Sherrill said that his former quarterback’s gift includes adapting to each individual quarterback, with a knack for breaking down complexities to be easily absorbed.
“You can’t teach every kid the same,” Sherrill said.
Even so, Murray is hardly the one to go easy. If that means telling a pupil that he’s wasting his parents’ money by repeating sloppy mechanics, so be it.
“His workouts are not for the faint of heart,” Westerberg said.
Apparently that’s especially true for the son with the Heisman.
“I think he’s even tougher on Kyler,” Westerberg added.
Just don’t call Kevin Murray anybody’s “Helicopter Dad.” During Kyler’s two years at A&M, with the built-in pressure of following in his father’s footsteps, such allegations struck a nerve.
“The connotation of Helicopter Parent is the furthest thing from the truth,” Sherrill said.
Kevin, seemingly sensitive to the notion, wouldn’t even attend A&M games when Kyler was on the team. Sherrill said he once broached the subject. “I told him, ‘When your kid is coming off the field, it would be nice for him to see his dad,’ ” Sherrill said. “He told me, ‘My son knows what our relationship is.’ ”
Murray attended his son’s games at OU but typically avoided the spotlight by design.
“All he’s ever done is try to make it about his kid and not about him,” Fleener said.
That didn’t stop the comments from outside the family.
“As far as all the stuff that everyone’s saying that he has a part in everything that I’ve done as far as at A&M and Oklahoma, I don’t know where anybody got that,” Kyler said at the combine. “He’s just a fan of his son. He’s proud of me. He’s just like any other dad.”
To a degree.
And as the NFL beckons, fresh suspicions and inferences will follow. Fleener was incensed by the report after the NFL combine by former GM Charley Casserly that alleged teams were unimpressed by Kyler’s football IQ and questioned his leadership.
Like Riley, Fleener rebuffed such assertions as bogus. After all, Kyler was the kid at Allen High who studied three times the amount of film than any of his teammates. Fleener knows this because the Huddle video system the school used allowed coaches the access to monitor individual usage. And as he reflects on their strategy sessions, Fleener said Kyler was advanced beyond his years.
“The stuff Casserly put out, I was heated,” Fleener said.
As the report surfaced, Fleener texted Kyler with a message that essentially said: “I don’t know how you handle it. It drives me nuts.”
“He texted back, ‘Man, don’t even sweat it,’ ” Fleener said.
Besides, Kyler has the perfect sounding board to help deal with the noise.
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