Sometimes to take a step forward in life, a step backward must be taken first.
Scott McMurray found himself without a coaching job following the retirement of longtime Mt. Vernon coach Doug Peacock in December of 2010.
McMurray, who was an assistant coach for all 17 years of the Peacock era, applied for a position with new coach Doug Armstrong’s regime, but didn’t receive an offer.
He took his newfound gridiron joblessness in stride — McMurray said he doesn’t hold a grudge against the current MV staff — and decided to pursue a longstanding goal: coach 5A football.
Fast forward nearly two years, and McMurray is a state champion.
In the 5A state championship game, Lawrence Central defeated Ft. Wayne Snider 39-14 to capture the school’s first state crown.
McMurray is the outside linebackers coach for the Bears, who finished 15-0 for the first time in school history.
Lawrence Central’s offense was ranked sixth in 5A in points per game (38.3), but its calling card was the team’s defense, which finished third in 5A in points allowed (10.5 ppg) and never allowed more than 23 points in a game.
Ft. Wayne Snider entered averaging 404.9 yards of total offense, including 262.2 on the ground. The Bears limited the Panthers to 96 rushing yards and 301 total yards.
“We had one key injury, but aside from that we stayed healthy,” said McMurray, whose team finished first in the state Sagarin ratings, regardless of class. “The only way we weren’t going to win was if we beat ourselves.”
After its sectional defeat to Carmel last fall, Lawrence Central broke for four weeks before beginning preparations for the 2012 season. Seeing the joy on the faces of players, parents and the administration made the year-long grind more than worth it for McMurray.
“Working 19 years for that ultimate goal, I was at a loss for words,” McMurray said of winning a state championship. “I was emotional about it.”
Peacock spoke with pride regarding his former pupil’s achievement.
“It’s always great to see guys you have worked with have great success, especially when you spend 17 years with them,” Peacock said. “He has worked very hard adding value to kids’ lives. It’s wonderful to see the hard work pay off.
“He is an excellent coach, but a better man.”
When Peacock took over at Mt. Vernon in 1994, the program had recorded one winning season in its previous seven campaigns.
Jason West took over at Lawrence Central in 2008 under similar circumstances, as the Bears had been 6-15 the two years prior to his arrival.
West’s impact was felt immediately as Lawrence Central reached the sectional finals in his first season. Two years later, the Bears reached the state finals.
“It takes a lot of things. It takes a group of kids, coaches ... so many things. And luck,” said West, 52-12 in six years at LC. “You’ve got to get lucky to get good people around you. You have to find a staff that believes in you, and make it better and better.
“Just like adding a 17-year position coach. You can’t have an ego. It’s a rare thing to find, but it sure paid dividends for us.”
West previouly met McMurray while he was still at Mt. Vernon. McMurray was conferencing with Lawrence Central defensive coordinator Rob Robertson to pick Robertson’s brain about the 3-4 defense, the scheme McMurray ran with the Marauders.
“I was impressed with him wanting to get better,” West said of McMurray. “It made sense that it would be a good match.”
That offseason West gave McMurray a coaching opportunity, but with a catch: McMurray would have to coach the freshman team for a season before moving up to the varsity staff.
The offer was not unlike the one the Terre Haute native received in 1994 before joining Peacock’s staff.
McMurray’s wife, a New Palestine graduate, told him about a job opening at Mt. Vernon.
He began his tenure in Fortville at the bottom of the totem pole, coaching the freshman team for two years. McMurray was then elevated to wide receivers/defensive back coach, a position he held for 10 seasons before coordinating Peacock’s defense from 2006-10.
Taking the Lawrence Central job would mean starting over once again. But West was giving him a chance, just like Peacock had in 1994.
“There was no better opportunity to clean my plate,” said McMurray, who still teaches business classes at MV. “But I had to swallow my pride.”
In Class 5A, players tend to be bigger and quicker. McMurray was aware of this observation, but that didn’t stop him from being blown away after his first varsity practice at Lawrence Central.
“Wow, everybody is fast,” McMurray recalled thinking. “At Mt. Vernon, I was used to a good-sized linebacker being six-foot, 200 pounds. At Lawrence Central, some of the guys are 6-4, weigh in the low 200’s and their speed is unbelievable.”
Since he ran the 3-4 defense at MV, any questions McMurray had about LC’s scheme were limited to terminology.
“He’s very organized, very methodical. He doesn’t leave any stone unturned,” West said of McMurray’s coaching style. “Any change is hard. But he handled the change to our verbage well.”
The amount of top-end talent on the field was a shock, too. Two of the linemen on the Bears defense, Derrick Dunlap and Deshai Powell, are Western Michigan recruits.
Murray has gone from encountering a Division I player every few weeks at Mt. Vernon to seeing five to 10 D1 prospects take the field each week at LC.
The talent isn’t limited to the players, however. West said there are multiple ex-head coaches on his staff. Defensive line coach Nautyn McKay-Loescher played collegiately at Alabama before a six-season run in the Canadian Football League.
“It’s a pretty amazing staff. But they have no egos, they don’t care. They just want to stop the opponent,” West explained. “It makes it easy for the offense. You know you don’t have to score 40 points a game.
“If it becomes a war, you know you can hang your hat on something. And defense is something you want to hang your hat on.”
After coaching the freshmen for a season, McMurray was elevated to varsity outside linebackers coach. He also headed the defense for the junior varsity unit, which plays on Saturdays.
And since the 2011 Lawrence Central freshman team and the current JV unit went unbeaten, McMurray has yet to lose his first game away from Mt. Vernon.
“A lot of people said it was a mistake,” McMurray said of his move to Lawrence Central. “I think it worked out for me.”
The Scott McMurray File
Born: Terre Haute
High School: Terre Haute North
College: University of Indianapolis. Three-year starter at wide receiver.
Coaching career: 1994-2010, Mt. Vernon: freshman coach (two years), varsity wide receiver/defensive backs coach (10 years), varsity defensive coordinator (five years).
2011-present Lawrence North: freshman coach (2011), varsity outside linebackers coach/JV defensive coordinator (present)
>>Notes on 2012 Lawrence Central defense:
-10.5 points alllowed per game (3rd in 5A)
-Never yielded more than 23 points, allowed 21 or more points three times
-In 5A championship, held Ft. Wayne Snider, which entered averaging 35.7 ppg, to 14 points