By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Murray Warmath wasn’t an easy man to label.
He was gruff, stern. He was compassionate, thoughtful. He was fair, progressive.
Warmath, who cut his coaching teeth at Mississippi State, died Wednesday night of natural causes in Bloomington, Minn. He was 98.
A native of Humboldt, Tenn., Warmath came from the school of Tennessee coaching legend Gen. Robert Neyland. That influence was reflected in his coaching style, from his grind-it-out split-T offense to his grinding work ethic, which he demanded his players and assistant coaches emulate.
After spending the 1952-53 seasons as MSU’s head coach – he went 10-6-3 – Warmath moved on to Minnesota, where in 18 seasons he led the Gophers to two Rose Bowls and won the 1960 national championship.
“Everybody loved him and feared him,” Mike Reid, who played and coached under Warmath at Minnesota, said in December, just prior to the coach’s 98th birthday.
After retiring as coach, Warmath stayed in the area, becoming an assistant athletics director and radio announcer. He also worked for the Minnesota Vikings for a few years.
Warmath’s second assistant coaching job was at MSU, or what was then called Mississippi State College. He worked under Allyn McKeen from 1939-42.
Upon returning as head coach a decade later, Warmath employed a young assistant named Darrell Royal, who would become a coaching legend at Texas. Bobby Collins played on Warmath’s teams and later became a coach at Southern Miss and SMU.
“I think it was coach Neyland’s philosophy, and he carried it with us, and I carried it throughout my coaching career,” Collins said. “I used an awful lot of what he had to say.”
Warmath also kept good tabs on his former players, always eager to visit with them and often recalling events about their lives as vividly as they could recall them.
He was a forward thinker, too, becoming the first Minnesota coach to start a black quarterback, Sandy Stephens, who led the Gophers to the Rose Bowl in 1961 and ’62.
“If Minnesota let Sandy Stephens play quarterback, then we knew we could trust Murray,” former tackle Ezell Jones told the Associated Press. “We knew that was a man who had a great deal of courage and character.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.