Deerfield-Windsor baseball coach Rod Murray is entering his seventh and final season as head coach of the Knights after announcing that he will become the Southland Academy football coach next season. (Herald file photo)
ALBANY — Deerfield baseball coach Rod Murray is heading back to where it all started, where he first got a taste of coaching high school sports and where he started chasing his dream.
The longtime Knights coach announced this week that he is trading in his DWS baseball cap after this season for the head football coaching job at Southland Academy, bringing an 18-year-coaching career full circle for Murray.
Murray will replace Southland coach Tim Goodin, who resigned last week after spending five seasons with the Raiders.
Murray, who graduated from Georgia Southwestern in 1996 and immediately became an assistant with both the Southland football and baseball teams, will coach DWS baseball for the seventh and final season this spring before taking the next step in his coaching journey.
And it’s a step that he’s been dreaming about for years.
“It’s been a great run for us at Deerfield. Deerfield is a special place, and we will miss everyone,” Murray said. “But at the same time, they understand I am chasing a dream. … Southland is a school with a lot of tradition of competing, and I am looking forward to getting back to that.”
Murray has been the Knights’ defensive coordinator for the past 10 years along with his head baseball coaching duties and was instrumental in helping the Deerfield football team win three state championships during that span. In his six years leading the baseball team, the Knights advanced to the state finals three times and played in the state semifinals in all but one season.
Murray will continue to look for the elusive state baseball championship this season, which starts March 10 and will be a farewell tour of sorts for a coach that the DWS athletics community hates to say goodbye to.
“It’s one of those things where he has had the urge to coach football, and it’s an itch we couldn’t scratch for him because we have such a great football coach (in Allen Lowe),” Deerfield athletic director Gordy Gruhl said. “He has been great for both the baseball and football programs and has been a great role model for the kids. It’s a big loss for us but a big addition for Southland.”
Gruhl said the school is already in the process of finding a new baseball coach and that several resumes have already started to arrive on his desk, but he stressed that the 2014 season is still Murray’s to finish.
“This is Rod Murray’s team, and we certainly know we will get his best effort up until the final inning he coaches,” Gruhl said.
Lowe has no doubt that Murray will bring that same passion to the Southland football program.
“He is going to bring fire and passion to football over there,” said Lowe, who added that longtime assistant Craig Rhodes will take over as defensive coordinator. “Rod loves the game and is a coach that pays attention to details, and he has given us a lot year after year.”
With Southland and Deerfield both being members of GISA Region 3-AAA, Lowe and Murray will meet up for at least one game each season.
“We are very good friends,” Lowe said. “On that night when we play each other, we will want to walk off the field happy, and I know he is going to want to walk off the field happy, too. We just wish him the best, and we know he is going to have a lot of success.”
Before arriving at Deerfield, Murray was the head football coach at Gatewood School in Eatonton for two seasons and finished with a combined 3-20 record. But since his short stay at Gatewood, he believes he’s gained invaluable experience coaching alongside Lowe.
“(Lowe) allows his assistant coaches to coach,” Murray said. “The coaching staff that we have had here at Deerfield was very close and worked together for a long time. The biggest thing is knowing how to handle the kids and knowing which battles you need to push. (Lowe) is a great guy, and his biggest thing was letting his assistant coaches coach and letting you do your job.”
Murray and the Knights started baseball practice three weeks ago, and he broke the news to his players on Wednesday about his departure after the season.
“We were out on the field, and I gathered them together and told them,” Murray said. “I got a lot of ‘Good luck coach,’ and ‘We are proud of you.’ Everyone knows we are going for the right reasons.”
But before he goes, he has one more shot to end Deerfield’s 11-year state title drought in baseball — a sendoff he admits he hasn’t really thought about yet.
“I’m just excited to get out there and practice every day,” he said. “It’s been business as normal. We understand that we are going to take care of this season first, and then I will take care of (coaching football at Southland) on the other end of it.”