Freddie Murray, currently the women’s basketball coach at Grambling State, possesses a wealth of knowledge about Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and their significance in athletics. Growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, right by Jackson State, Murray witnessed a time in the 1970s when many exceptional Black athletes had no option but to play for HBCUs. Even during his college years at Jackson State, where the average attendance at football games reached 45,000, he was an avid spectator.
While football coach Deion Sanders has recently propelled his alma mater, Jackson State, to new heights, Murray wants the younger generation to recognize that this trend is not entirely new. “It didn’t just start with Deion Sanders; we need to make that clear,” Murray emphasized. “The present is simply a resurgence of the past. The best athletes were always at HBCUs because we had nowhere else to go. Deion is just bringing it back. I believe Deion is doing an excellent job of shining a spotlight on HBCUs.”
Sanders’s ability to recruit Travis Hunter, the top player in the class of 2022, away from Florida State and to Jackson State has prompted players across the country to reconsider the value of playing for HBCUs, especially under coaches with NFL connections. Murray acknowledges that people are often enamored by the flash and allure of larger schools, but he sees a change in mindset occurring, thanks to societal shifts. “Things are starting to change, and society is shedding more light on HBCUs,” said Murray. “I’m grateful that people are beginning to give us a chance because HBCUs offer much more than just athletics.”
A Chance Encounter Leads to a Coaching Career
How did Freddie Murray find himself at Grambling State? It all began with an unexpected flight that redirected him towards the coaching realm. Murray graduated from Jackson State in 2000 and started coaching middle school AAU basketball teams. He later returned to Jackson State as a graduate assistant under women’s coach Denise Taylor, gaining valuable experience in the process.
After completing his two-year tenure as a graduate assistant, Murray found employment with Delta in Atlanta and US Airways in Jackson. However, his passion for coaching never waned. In 2002, during a flight home from an interview at Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Murray connected with former North Carolina A&T coach Saudia Roundtree. Eager for an opportunity, Murray utilized his airline job perks to book a spontaneous flight to Greensboro, resulting in his hiring as an assistant coach for Roundtree’s staff.
“I told (Roundtree) I would fly there the next day,” recalled Murray, who served as an assistant at North Carolina A&T from 2002-05 and again from 2007-09. “That’s how eager I was to join their program. When I arrived there, I fell in love with the campus and the city. I knew Saudia Roundtree would be a great coach to work under and learn from.”
During his time at North Carolina A&T, Murray developed a mentorship and lifelong friendship with Larry McNeil, the coach at Alabama A&M. McNeil noticed Murray’s distinctiveness compared to other graduate assistants. Even when Murray made mistakes or performed poorly, he never grewdiscouraged or frustrated; instead, he displayed a hunger for improvement and a willingness to learn from his errors.
“We sat down, and I said, ‘Fred, this isn’t good,’ but instead of getting angry, he sat down and said, ‘Show me and let’s go over it,'” McNeil recalled. “That’s what set Fred apart. He had a genuine desire to learn. Our conversation brought us closer, and we have remained close ever since.”
From Jackson State to North Carolina A&T, Murray eventually found himself in Louisiana as an assistant coach from 2005 to 2007 under Carol Sensely at McNeese State. Sensely recognized Murray’s knowledge and work ethic, describing him as a dedicated individual who genuinely cared about the well-being of the players.
“In my conversations with him, I knew he was highly knowledgeable, and Coach Murray is a hard worker,” Sensely remarked. “He is a good person whom you want on your staff and keep close because he truly cares about the students.”
In January 2007, Sensely resigned for medical reasons, thrusting Murray into the role of interim head coach. Despite the challenging circumstances, Murray seamlessly assumed the position and successfully completed the season.
“He stepped right in and became the head women’s basketball coach, leading the team for the remainder of the season and performing admirably,” Sensely praised. “I had full confidence in him and believed he was the right person to take charge.”
Following Sensely’s departure, McNeese hired a new coach, leaving Murray in search of a job. It was then that Patricia Cage-Bibbs, who began her coaching career at Grambling State and later became a Hall of Fame inductee, recommended Murray to Nadine Domond, who was in her third year at Grambling.
Domond departed after the season to join the staff at Rutgers, leaving Murray as the interim head coach once again. Murray’s performance earned him a promotion, and in his first season as head coach, he led the Tigers to their first postseason appearance since 2000, securing a spot in the WNIT. Notably, Grambling State defeated Ole Miss in the opening round, marking the first time a Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) school had won a postseason game.
The following season, Murray guided GSU to victory in the SWAC Tournament, a feat the team hadn’t accomplished since 1999, and led them to the NCAA Tournament, where they faced Baylor and lost in the first round.
Murray’s most significant accomplishment as a coach lies in his ability to connect with his athletes and instill belief in them. Through this trust, they develop confidence in themselves and in him as their mentor.
“Coach Murray is a deeply spiritual person, an exceptional individual, and a hard worker whom I can always rely on,” shared Bibbs, a Hall of Fame inductee at Grambling in 2008. “He genuinely cares about his players and does everything he can to help them. It’s hard to imagine a player not working hard for Coach Murray.”