As a former defensive lineman at Lehigh University, Brian Murphy didn't envision himself as a special teams coordinator in the NFL. But, after working his way up through the college and NFL coaching ranks, he gets his opportunity to correct the issues that plagued the Vikings last year.
Murphy was announced earlier this week as the team's new special teams coordinator, taking over for Paul Ferraro, who left the Vikings to become a defensive coach for the St. Louis Rams. Although Murphy was the assistant coach on special teams last year, he said he never viewed himself as the shoo-in to become the coordinator.
"I went through an interview process. I didn't have any preconceived notions of how it would go. I started my conversation with (head coach Brad Childress) from a very basic level, like he didn't know me and I didn't know him. I had to present myself and my thoughts," he said.
Murphy and Childress are both from the Chicago area and had common friends decades ago. Their coaching paths crossed at Wisconsin in the 1990s, when Murphy was an assistant recruiting coordinator in his first stint at Wisconsin.
"We've always maintained a friendship," Murphy said. "The coaching business is strange. Sometimes the best-laid plans don't go according to plan. It turned out right, but there is a lot of pressure on a coach to find the right people. Regardless of how it turned out, I'd always respect Brad and consider Brad to be a great friend. It turned out right that he was able to hire me."
In a statement, Childress said he expects Murphy will get the most out of the special teams players.
"Brian is an enthusiastic coach with a style that will demand players match his passion for special teams play," Childress said. "You see every week in the NFL how important special teams are to the outcome of games. We expect our special teams units to prepare and execute with the same determination as our offensive and defensive units. Brian's Xs and Os knowledge of special teams and his personality are going to help elevate our unit's performance. He will help players get the most out of their ability and embrace their roles on special teams."
Of course, Murphy has some work to do. The Vikings' special teams became infamous among the fan base for giving up an NFL-record seven touchdowns, including four on punt returns.
"Special teams is unique in that it's a lot of different players that play positions that (are) unnatural in the kicking game. There are a lot of defensive principles involved, just fundamental football things that are involved," Murphy said. "As I went through and looked through last year, everyone nowadays wants to know, ‘Who can we place blame on? Who is the one person that failed us?' I can't say that it was one person or there was one breakdown. There were some details that I believe need to be corrected and we can certainly do that when the players come back to Winter Park, and we'll get on it right away. Taking this role, the first thing was to take a critical look at what we did and flesh out all the issues. Take a critical look at it, then come up with a plan how we're going to get those things right. That's where we're at right now. We have a plan in place to correct some of the issues we had and now we've got to put it in place once the players get back."
Murphy said he has reviewed the process of special teams and is taking a critical approach to getting the errors of 2008 corrected.
"The thing about special teams is, it's played in a wide-open space so all it takes is one mistake. It's a game of Russian Roulette," he said. "With all those guys, all it takes is one and then you have an issue, so you go back and you see what it is that they've been told, how was the execution and is that person capable of executing that? You take a critical look and an honest evaluation of what you had to work with and then you make a plan to get it right."
It appears that the team's philosophy of incorporating starters from offense and defense into the special teams appears will stay the same. Last year, most of the starters were expected to contribute to at least one phase of special teams.
"That's a year-to-year thing. It's my philosophy and it's coach's philosophy that everybody in the program has a role in the special teams. It's the ultimate team phase, where the offensive room and the defensive room come together and we've got to generate success in the kicking game," Murphy said.
While the Vikings' 4-2 record in games in which they gave up a special teams touchdowns helped gloss over the problems on the coverage units, Murphy has a big task ahead of him. He might not have envisioned being a special teams coordinator when he first got into coaching 18 years ago, but he's embraced the dynamics of the job and will get his best opportunity yet in 2009.
"I didn't think it would be special teams when I first started off, but when I took over the special teams coordinator job at Wisconsin (2002-2005), it was one of those deals that I was really excited about it and jumped in with both feet, really gained a passion and a respect for it, not only the kicking game but the guys that play a role in the kicking game," he said. "As I got into that role, I really gained a tremendous respect for it and I was really fortunate to be introduced to several guys who at that point were at the top of their field and still are at the top of their field. It's one of those things that I wanted to do. When it was going to happen or whether it was going to happen, that was kind of a leap of faith. You never know what's going to be around the corner. I always wanted to make sure I was prepared when that time came."
Murphy embracing his special challenge
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