One of the greatest kickers in National Football League (NFL) history is now sharing his expertise with the Walled Lake Northern High School football program. Eddie Murray, 56, is entering his second year as a volunteer coach with the Knights’ varsity team at the same school his daughter, Nicole, attends. Murray, a Waterford Township resident with his wife, Cynthia, also works full time in business development with Great Lakes Wire and Cable in Warren, which supplies wire to companies such as AT&T. But beginning in 1980, Murray’s workplace was the Pontiac Silverdome after the Detroit Lions drafted him out of Tulane University. He played with the Lions for 12 seasons, with his last season on the 1991 NFC Central Division championship team. When he left Detroit, he was the Lions’ all-time leading scorer with 1,113 points, a mark that would later be broken by the Lions’ current placekicker, Jason Hanson. Murray would then play for seven different teams over nine seasons, including winning a Super Bowl title with the 1993 Dallas Cowboys, before retiring in 2000 with 1,594 points scored, placing him 11th on the NFL’s all-time scoring list. He is also a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1980s. Murray spoke with the Spinal Column Newsweekly about his duties at Northern, and his view on the current Lions and the state of professional football.
After a 19-year career in the NFL, including 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions, you are now an assistant coach at Walled Lake Northern. Tell us how you became involved with the Northern football program and what your coaching duties entail. With your professional football background, how do you feel that the players respond to you as a coach?
EM: I became involved when my daughter, Nicole, wanted to go to the Walled Lake (Consolidated Schools) system, so we did school of choice. She’s a dancer at Pixie Dance in Wixom and a lot of the kids that attend that dance studio go to the Walled Lake school system. We were in the West Bloomfield school system and we chose to switch her high school years into Walled Lake and we went to Northern because it was closer to where we live in Waterford.
I just approached the coaching staff and said I’ll volunteer any services I can to help with the football program. My primary coaching duties are really to help the kicking game, working with the kickers and the punters and to add some insight to their kicking game for their return and protection for their kickoff and punt return units that they have.
It’s fun that I can just be engaged on a volunteer basis, to help them out. I’m at the games, both home and away, on the sidelines to help them and it was very enjoyable doing it last year and I’m looking forward to the upcoming season.
My daughter is going to be a sophomore this year. She’s on the varsity poms and it’s been enjoyable for us to see her on the sidelines doing her pom dance and me there helping coaching.
I think the players are extremely respectful, first of all, as well as the coaching staff that’s there. (Head Coach) Brett Moore and his staff have been very receptive to any advice and things that I see that maybe will be able to help the kids. I purely keep it on the special teams aspect of things; I don’t give any advice on the offense or the defense.
Their coaching staff there is very good at helping the kids there and I just try to, if anything, just be a cheerleader, especially during the games to help the kids coming on and off the field.
In addition to helping coach high school players, you also held a two-day Kicking and Punting Academy at Ford Field in June, in addition to clinics with Lomas Brown in Flint last year. How important is it to you to be a mentor to young people? What other endeavors have you been involved with in your life after football?
EM: I think it’s extremely important. I know it was a huge initiative for me while I was playing to be very involved in the community, whether you were putting on camps or whether you were just doing some volunteer work for all types of community initiatives that they have that players like to get involved with.
I know I got a lot of satisfaction and gratification out of doing a lot of things like that and I just like to carry it over, especially dealing with the kids with helping them kick. I do a lot of private lessons on the high school and college (levels) and I’ve even helped some of the kids mature from college to go into the pros. I just really have enjoyed that one-on-one type of work.
Locally, I’ve worked with Dave Rayner. He attended Oxford High School, went onto Michigan State, where I worked with him a lot, and then he has gone into the pros. In fact, he played here a couple years ago when Jason Hanson had his knee issues and they brought in Dave to finish off the year. Dave has had a very good career for himself. I believe right now he is unemployed. He was with Buffalo last year but they did not re-sign him and I know he is still working out and trying to get hooked up with another team.
(I’ve been) purely just into the workforce. I know that when I played football, I worked every offseason that I played not knowing that I was going to play 19 years. I was always thinking this was possibly my last year playing. I was very fortunate to have the length of career that I had, but I was always thinking about what I was going to be doing afterwards, so I always took positions in the offseason with companies doing a lot of new business sales or repping up companies. When I retired, I just went right back into doing the same thing, but more on a full-time basis.
Football is now bigger than ever, but at the same time it is also under more scrutiny because of the focus on concussions and lawsuits by former players against the NFL regarding treatment of concussions. Kurt Warner and Terry Bradshaw have recently said that they would discourage their sons from playing football. If you had a young son and he expressed an interest to you in playing football, what would you say to him?
EM: Well, I would have reservations about it. I think really the focus has gotten more intense over these years purely because of the size of the guys and the speed has greatly become more of an impact when these guys are playing.
I know when I was a rookie in 1980, Bubba Baker was the biggest guy that we had on our team at that time. Bubba was 6-foot-6, maybe 280 to 290 (pounds).
Nowadays in football, you have 12, maybe 15 guys that are over 300 pounds and you might have five guys that are over 350 (pounds) and they run faster than we did back in 1980. So the athlete has gotten so much bigger and stronger and consequently, the collisions have gotten a lot more violent, too.
We know the risks. We’ve taken it on. I just think that the attention to the concussion issues was not there in the early years and it’s really been thrown to the forefront now.
Last season the NFL moved the kickoffs up to the 35-yard line from the 30 in order to reduce the rate of kickoff returns. While it’s a small step, do you think more can be done to make the sport safer, or are there just some things that you can’t control? What, if anything, do you believe the NFL can or should do to assist retired players, especially those that are struggling with lingering injuries and symptoms?
EM: I think (the NFL is) really on their teetering point right now. They’re kind of at the point if they become extremely safety-conscious, I think maybe the caliber of play will go down and might hurt the interest in the game because, as we know, the NFL is almost like a drug. People have to have it.
Look at the NFL Network. No one ever thought people would want to watch a TV station that was just 24 hours of NFL football, but it has really become such a huge game and the fantasy football world — they televise combine now. To me, I would never have thought someone would want to see someone run a 40 (yard dash), but there are people out there that like to watch all of that now.
I know I would have reservations having my child do it now, but it was a great game for me. There are lot of upsides to football with the team aspect and the physical part of the game to mono-a-mono with someone and see if you can beat them or run past someone. I just think there are a lot more upsides to the game right now, but I would still have some reservations about when my child would start to play. I think you might want to be in that high school age, as far as starting and maybe not the smaller leagues.
I know ever since I came into the league in 1980 and when I retired in 2000, I went through the 1982 strike when (the NFL) locked us out. I went through the 1987 strike when they replaced us and all of the different initiatives that we were trying to collective bargain with the NFL ownership (for). My thought was we needed to have better benefits for the players after they were done playing because of the points we have been talking about.
With the violence of the game, these gentlemen get left with some pretty severe injuries and as soon as you’re done with football, your medical benefits stop. It’s not like you’re an employee with Ford and you work for 25 years and you retire and then you get your medical benefits still paid until you die. With football, your medical benefits stop.
I know since the last collective bargaining contract that was just signed, those circumstances have changed, but it’s taken until now for those things to be addressed. But meanwhile, you have a litany of players that are just littered with a lot of medical issues, not only on the physical part of things, but also on the mental part of stuff with dementia and Alzheimer’s issues that players are dealing with.
Being a kicker on a football team can seem like a thankless position because the outcome of a game can be decided by one kick from your foot. How would you describe life as a kicker in the NFL and how you related to your teammates? Out of all your former teammates from the Lions, who do you stay in touch with the most?
EM: Everybody is a little different. I know being a kicker in the NFL is like being a goalie on a hockey team. They either love you or hate you.
So these are the circumstances that kind of separate you from the guys who are playing each Sunday or the guys who aren’t playing each Sunday, the people who could kind of handle those things and you got to be a duck and kind of let the water run off your back sometimes.
I was always my hardest critic. No reporter or player could ever be more critical about my play than I was, so because of that, you just have to learn to take the good with the bad. It’s a situation where you’re trying to achieve perfection, but you have to realize that no one’s perfect and you just have to try to do the best that you can when you do fail to come back and make the next kick.
And that was always my emphasis was when I did miss, whether it was a game-winning kick or a kick in the first quarter, was to come back and make the next kick.
My brother from another mother is (former Lions punter) Jim Arnold. He and I have had a very special relationship with each other. I played against him when I was in college when I attended Tulane University, and Jim was at Vanderbilt. And Tulane and Vandy used to play an awful lot against each other, so we kind of started our long-distance relationship at that time. We had mutual respect playing against each other and then when Jim came from Kansas City to here, we just seemed to just gel together. We became very close and we still are at this time.
You were a member of the 1991 Lions that advanced all the way to the NFC championship game. High expectations are now being placed on the current version of the Lions heading into this season. What is your current relationship with the Lions organization and what are your impressions of this year’s team as the regular season is upon us?
EM: My current relationship (with the Lions), which has been kind of enjoyable the past five years, is I have been connected through Pepsi, which has hired me to be the face of a contest that they have called “Kick For Cash.” They run the contest before the game starts and they do the actual contest when the players finish their warm-ups and they go into the locker room before they get introduced.
The contest is a kickoff. It’s not kicking a field goal, and wherever the ball stops rolling, the contestant wins $100 per yard up to 50 yards. So it’s a quite a sum of money that someone can make. It’s fun for them. They get to experience observing the warm-ups on the sideline and that’s where I get the contestant to give them a little kicking instruction prior to them going out.
Part of my deal is I get tickets to go to the game also, so it’s been fun to watch what’s been going on the past five years and I’ve just signed my contract to do another year with them. The sponsor of the Kick For Cash is Meijer and you can go through Meijer to get entry into the contest and hopefully get your name pulled. That’s been extremely enjoyable for me to see how they’ve been doing.
And yes, I think the expectations are extremely high. Maybe last year was a little bit of an aberration for them to do as well as they did last year, making the playoffs like they did. But I think it warrants the expectations this year. I think they’re going to be a very competitive football team again this year.
I still think the key for them is they need to stay healthy in the key positions. They still lack some backup, so if they lose some key players and (have) some key issues along the way, they could have some drop off that way, but if they stay healthy I think they should be a wild-card team again.
I think the (NFC North) Division is going to be tough to win with Green Bay and Chicago playing as strongly as they have, but I think they are more than capable of making the playoffs again this year, to be a strong wild-card team.
Jason Hanson is now entering his 21st season as the Lions’ kicker at the age of 42. To what do you attribute the most to his longevity and how much longer do you think he can remain a viable asset to the team?
EM: I just think his work ethic has been really second-to-none. He is someone who works extremely hard at his craft, not only on the field but off the field. He works out extremely hard on the physical aspect of things that you have to do in the gym to make sure that you keep your strength for the year and his results on the field have been really second-to-none.
There always comes that point in time where age becomes a decision factor in the NFL. I know this is the last year of a four-year contract for Jason. I don’t know if he’ll see another four-year contract, but I still think he is a viable kicker in the NFL. It might be something where he’ll end up signing one-year contracts from now on just in case he might have another knee issue, which he has been having over the past few years.
But I still think he’s an extremely strong, viable kicker in the NFL and I hope he can continue to keep playing here for a number of years with the Lions.
Do you see yourself moving up in the coaching ranks, be it as a high school head coach or working in college or the pros?
EM: No, I am extremely happy in just being a volunteer coach and enjoying my time on the sidelines with the kids and being on the sideline with my daughter when she’s doing her pom dances. I have no aspirations of elevating my coaching status at all.
Do you play fantasy football?
EM: I do not. I have not really looked at it. I just think it’s complicated. I know it seems pretty simple, but to make the moves that you have to make and stuff like that, you really have to be so in tune to what is going on in the game and I have a full-time job that seems to take a lot of my attention and a family at home and I’ve never been strayed to look at the fantasy football world.