THOSE WHO COACHED against Dan Murray talk about him like he was two different people on game night.
There was the friendly Murray before the game — an affable guy who was willing to share a laugh with the opposing coach. Then there was the Murray during the game …
“Fierce,” Lebanon boys basketball coach Kieth Matte said. “He was ferocious during the game. Super intense. After the game he was still pretty wound up. Then, the next day, just the sweetest, nicest, most pleasant person. He had sort of a Jekyll and Hyde in him.
“He was a great coach, but he was also great with kids, too. You could see that they played for him.”
Murray, who was in his 15th season as Milford High School’s boys basketball coach, died Sunday, reportedly from a heart attack. He was 66.
Murray served as the junior varsity coach for the Wilton-Lyndeborough boys basketball program from the 1980-81 season until he took over as that program’s varsity coach in 1998. He was hired as the varsity coach at Milford in 2006.
Murray guided the Spartans to Division II championships in 2010 and 2011. The 2010 team finished 21-1 and beat Pembroke Academy 52-46 in the championship game, and the 2011 team capped a 22-0 season with a 48-42 victory over Portsmouth in the title game.
Fans who were in UNH’s Lundholm Gym for that Milford-Portsmouth matchup may remember Murray and former Portsmouth coach Jim Mulvey barking at one another throughout the contest. Like Murray, Mulvey would often ratchet up the intensity once the game began.
“Very, very sad to hear about Dan,” Mulvey said. “Very good coach. Very nice man. Didn’t know him that well personally, but between the lines we had some good competition. When he had his great teams that won two titles in a row they beat us in the semis and then they beat us in the finals.
“They had superior talent, but he put it together too. He was a good coach, and coached really well with teams that weren’t that good. Probably got more out of them than he should. It’s a sad situation, but he was a heck of a coach and he was great for the Milford program.”
Matte said regardless of the talent Murray was working with, his teams were always physical. The double bonus was coming early when you played a Murray-coached Milford team.
“His teams were always rock-solid, half-court man,” Matte said. “He prided himself on being tough and his teams were tough. There were no soft Milford teams. Sometimes he had great teams, like the two years he won the state championship, but even when he had less talent they still were super tough. Whether they were talented or not that comes and goes, but the toughness was always there.”
Murray also played high school basketball at Milford, and was on the 1971-72 team that petitioned up to Class L and beat Manchester Central in the Class L final. Milford also won the Queen City Invitational Basketball Tournament that season.
Former Souhegan coach Mike Heaney said what first came to his mind when he heard the news regarding Murray was the basketball camp Murray ran each summer. Heaney called it a camp run for all the right reasons.
“One of the reasons I sent my son to Dan’s camp is it was by far the most affordable in the area,” Heaney said. ”He could have made it comparable to other high school and college camps, but he didn’t because he wanted working parents to be able to put their kids someplace that didn’t break the bank.
“And the first year my son is there it’s not just that the camp is affordable, Dan is handing out free ice cream and Gatorade. I hope he made a couple bucks for doing it, but knowing Dan that money probably went into his program not into his pocket.”
Heaney also described Murray as two different characters on game night: the friendly gentleman before the game, and the guy who was there to win once the competition began.
“When the ball went up, he wanted to beat your brains out,” Heaney said. “That’s why his teams were successful. They were tough. They were well-coached. Dan was there to beat you, not to be your best friend. Then when the game was over he wanted to know who you were playing next and who you needed film on.
“His kids were so disciplined, so tough. They were old-school. They played the way Dan grew up playing.”
Milford athletic director Marc Maurais hired Murray as Milford’s head coach. Maurais offered the following:
“What a lot of people don’t know is during the season on Saturdays he would go to an elementary school and offer clinics to boys and girls. Just the number of girls affected by this ... he was always pulling for them, supporting them, teaching them.
“I have these memories of him in the gym talking with the opposing coach, then when the game started he was a competitor. The officials knew he was there, but he was always able to flip the switch and be the greatest, caring guy.”
Calling hours for Murray will be held Tuesday from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Smith & Heald Funeral Home in Milford.