LOS ANGELES, Los Angeles Times
Uncle Andy Murray. Earlier this year, he was discovered sleeping on a duffel bag on the floor of the Las Vegas airport, stranded on his way home to see his family, too modest to spring for a hotel. He rested in peace until a bleary-eyed traveler noticed that the green lump in the corner by the slot machines looked a lot like the coach of the Kings. “Some guy from a traveling hockey team,” Murray said with a sigh. General Andy Murray. Late last week, he guaranteed that if his Los Angeles Kings defeated the Colorado Avalanche in Game 5 of their second-round playoff series, they would win the series. Unofficially, it was the first recorded guarantee in any sport from a coach whose team was, at the time, trailing three games to one. “It was about giving our team a belief system,” he said. Good ol’ Andy Murray. He has been seen walking around the Kings’ locker room with neighbors from his small Minnesota farming town, taking their photos as they stand next to lockers belonging to Luc Robitaille and Ziggy Palffy. ” understand how much in awe these people can be,” he said. “Sometimes I’m the same way.” Tough ol’ Andy Murray. Without mentioning names, he has publicly ripped those same stars and others, demanding that they play to the level of their paychecks. “I will never question a guy’s courage or pride,” Murray said. “But I will question his work ethic and commitment.” He’s the high school coach who everyone ripped before he ever stood behind a Kings bench. He’s the modern motivator who everyone now embraces. He’s small-town hockey, and big-city savvy. He is community-friendly and playoff-fiery. As with his collection of rebirths and last chances — a group that has pushed hockey’s best team to a seventh and deciding game Wednesday in Colorado — there is no singular way to define Andy Murray. There are only two things for certain. He has become the unlikely star of this town’s hottest new show. And he couldn’t care less. “I don’t think I’ve said enough about my assistant coaches,” he said Monday to a group of reporters at the Kings’ practice facility. He had just finished a lengthy group interview in his office. But he couldn’t help walking out the door and adding this one thing: “(Dave) Tippett, and Mark (Hardy), and Ray (Bennett), they would all be great head coaching candidates in this league,” he said. The recommendations were out of context, completely corny, and totally Murray. One minute, you think he is running this team just like his last team, Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school in Faribault, Minn. On the road, he personally slides the game reports under each player’s hotel door at 7 a.m. During one tumultuous moment just before Rob Blake was traded, he took the team curling. Curling? “It’s tough to believe that those games at Shattuck meant as much as anything else, but they do,” Murray said. “There is nothing special about being a coach in the NHL. It’s all doing what you like doing.” The next minute, he is Scotty Bowman with a snarl. “We want to wipe the smiles off their faces,” he said after the Kings lost Game 3 to the Avalanche, falling behind two games to one. This mixture of feel-good and hit-hard has worked with a team about which even Murray admits, “If you put this lineup on paper at the start of the year and said … we would be one of seven teams left with a chance at the Stanley Cup, people would say, ‘What have you been smoking?’
Two years after arriving here as an unknown, signing a contract without an agent, and only after checking with the high school authorities, it is Murray’s career that is smoking. When the Kings haven’t been good, they’ve been resilient. When cold, they’ve created their own heat. When trailing, they’ve behaved as if winning. Following Murray’s lead, the Kings have become like that dismembered knight in the Monty Python movie. With the loss of every limb, they have challenged their attackers for more. Imagine that. A Kings team that expects to win. After years of wondering why, Murray has the franchise saying, why not? “We’re not doing anything superhuman,” Murray said. “We’re doing what is expected.” When Murray arrived, many thought the veterans would roll their eyes at Murray’s Knute Rockne-style speeches. And they did. But now they understand. Said Bryan Smolinski: “He is getting the most out of us, that’s for sure.” Said Murray: “I call it being demanding, but not demeaning.” The coach understands how life can be demanding. When he took this job two years ago, his three children — ages 16,13 and 11 — were weary of moving. So they didn’t. Murray has lived in Los Angeles while his family lives about 45 minutes south of Minneapolis in Faribault. This season, he has spent the entire eight months in an airport-area hotel. “It’s very tough, and it’s getting harder,” said wife Ruth in a phone interview. “Andy wants everyone to move out. But he wants the kids to be happy.” Murray flies home on days off. He phones home six or seven times a day. He once called so close to game time, he excused himself to walk to the ice for the opening face off. After their clinching victory against Detroit, Ruth estimated that he waited all of six minutes to phone. The family has a telling photo of oldest son Brady celebrating his national title this season with Shattuck-St. Mary’s. The photo is of Brady skating around the rink with a cell phone to his ear. Sunday night, nervous Brady was watching Game 6 in one room, while his mother was watching in another room.