All Rob Murray was setting out to do was to combine his passion for running and coaching with the goal of coaching up young runners to be the best they could be.
And all he knew was he was going to give his best commitment and dedication toward that end, and he would also expect that same commitment and dedication reciprocated from his own Danbury High School distance runners.
That is exactly what transpired when Murray began his career in 2000 as the boys cross country head coach, as it was indeed a two-way street in terms of Murray and his athletes putting forth that reciprocal commitment.
Consequently, a dynasty evolved and the accomplishments of so many of those Danbury teams led to Murray’s selection this past summer by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association as its 2021 National Boys Cross Country Coach of the Year recipient.
Murray, sure enough, is naturally quite proud of that. But because Murray is a mellow, unassuming gentleman, Murray takes most pride in acknowledging it is an award he shares with the hundreds of runners.
“As much as my name is on the plaque, this is a true testament, first and foremost, to the athletes,” Murray said. “The biggest thing is all the athletes were all willing to go all in. There’s been a lot of sacrifice on their part and on my part to do what we’ve done – the amount of time we’ve put in, the commitment, going through the ups and downs to ultimately find that high level of success.
“I’m just trying to give those athletes the advice and the coaching they need to achieve everything they’re capable of achieving,” Murray continued. “The credit goes to the athletes – what they gave to their sport, to their team and to me, personally, as a coach.”
Though the award is called “Coach of the Year” per se, it is not an award for having been the best coach for a given year. It is more so an award for a great, sustained career in which many championships have been compiled along with a great record in dual meets, and with a few other aspects involving contributions to the sport.
Suffice it to say, Murray certainly checked those boxes. He has built dynastic programs in both cross country and track, though this award was specifically for cross country.
Murray graduated from Danbury High in 1988, he attended Southern Connecticut State University and had a successful running career there for the cross country and the track and field programs. He was a varsity runner in the starting lineup as a junior and senior in cross country and a team captain as a senior, when he was usually about the second or third fastest Owl in meets.
Murray was a volunteer coach at his high school alma mater from 1993-99 before he became head coach of the boys cross country team in 2000. His Danbury teams won 14 FCIAC cross country championships in the 16 years from 2000-2015, including eight straight from 2005-2012.
There are a dozen total state championships with the six State Open crowns and six state class LL titles. There are also the four New England team championships which the Hatters won in 2000, ’06, ’07 and ’08.
And that is just the main part of a lengthy list of notable achievements, which also includes high rankings in season-ending national polls and Northeast regional polls conducted by either Harrier Magazine or the Nike Team National Poll.
Danbury’s Hatters were ranked fifth in the final national poll in 2007 for their highest ranking among the four times they were ranked in the final Harrier-Super 25 national poll.
The collection of FCIAC and state championships from Murray’s indoor and outdoor track and field teams during that tenure is also abundant.
Though Murray defers so much of the credit to so many athletes, he was quick to add that a few more major reasons he received this national Coach of the Year award was because of plenty of support from the parents of runners, Danbury High School’s administration and its athletic director, Chip Salvestrini, and Murray’s own wife (Colleen) and children (Kayla, Jack, and William).
“With all these athletes, I have never had a problem with a parent,” Murray said. “I never had any parent saying: ‘Rob, this is too much, this is too excessive,’ or anything like that. This reflects on all our athletes who were all in, their parents, our assistant coaches, and our athletic department. Mr. Salvestrini has been a great supporter of our sport. He’s very fair to every sport. He will do everything he can to support every sport.
“We’ve traveled across the country to California (for a track national championship meet), to Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, and we’ve never had any roadblocks that the Danbury school system has ever put in front of us, which you can’t say for some other school districts,” Murray continued. “I mean, we have to do the work, but they never made it more difficult for us. They’ve always supported us, which made it more feasible to do what we’ve dreamed about doing.”
Murray, 51, has been a physical education teacher at Danbury High School since 2008. He is still a very good runner who is a member of a New England-based masters cross country team (the Harriers) which won the national masters championship in 2019.