Colleagues remember hoops coach Dan Murray

Tommy Ameen, former Manchester West High School boys basketball coach and well-known hoop aficionado, historian and official scorer, knows quality when he sees it.

So, when he bumped into Milford High School boys basketball coach Dan Murray at a couple games, he struck up a conversation, and the two basketball and sports lifers exchanged contact info.

“He just struck me as a heckuva nice person,” Ameen said.

He was. And to refer to Murray in the past tense is gut-wrenching.

Murray, as most know by now, passed away unexpectedly a week ago due to a massive heart attack. He had been hospitalized for other issues, but was set to be heading home the day he had the attack. Those issues were preventing him from fully coaching his team, so his good friend and trusted assistant, Don Gutterson, was handling the bulk of the duties in guiding what has been a young, learning Spartans squad.

But make no mistake, Murray was Mr. Basketball in Milford.

“He’ll definitely be remembered well,” Gutterson said. “With all the clinics, camps and the coaching. Even in the other sports seasons, you’d always see him out cheering the kids. … He definitely took an interest in the kids.”

It’s been a tough couple of years for Milford basketball, beginning in the summer of 2019 when legendary coach Mo Facques passed away.

Then this past fall the town lost Bill Brown, who had coached with Facques and also guided Spartans teams of his own.

Murray was the guy yours truly would contact to get all the history and the stories. If he didn’t have them, he’d point you in the right direction to someone who did.

And now Murray is the story. Very, very sad for everyone in the town, including those who learned the game of basketball from Dan Murray.

“Above all, he wanted good kids with good character,” Gutterson said. “The game was secondary. That was kind of a means to kind of teach those lifelong skills and values.”

Gutterson talked about how Murray was always trying to better himself at his craft, going to clinics, talking to coaches, etc.

Mike Facques, the former Souhegan coach, knew Murray when he’d be down at Keyes Field, playing against younger players like Facques. And the story of how Facques’ dad recruited Murray to meet him in mornings at outdoor courts around town to work on shooting – they used a rock just for form – is legendary. Murray played on the 1972 Milford state title team coached by Facques.

That team got together nine years ago to celebrate its 40th anniversary; its 50th will be next year, sadly without its coach Facques and one of its best players, Murray, who was a junior.

Then, of course, nearly 40 years later, Murray had back-to-back titles of his own with the Spartans as their coach. He had come full circle, but he certainly wasn’t resting on his laurels.

The guy was just so well-liked, so well respected. And so were his teams.

“He never had a lot of height,” Facques said. “But they could all shoot the 3. And then you’d think the next year they couldn’t be as good but they’d just reload.”

This year’s Milford team is young, so Murray tempered his expectations.

“We’ve got potential, but we’re going to get better,” he said after a lopsided loss to Hollis Brookline in the opener a month ago.

And Gutterson is determined to make Murray’s words ring true, while trying to coach the team to finish out the winter.

“It’s going to be tough,” Gutterson said. “This was Dan’s team, I want to finish out the season keeping it his team, and keep his memory and legacy continuing on. That will be my big challenge.”

It won’t be a challenge at all. Murray’s legacy will live on no matter what, and his players will definitely be playing to honor him.

A big piece of Milford basketball will always belong to Dan Murray, you can be sure of that.

Tom King may be reached at tking@nashuatelegraph.com, or on twitter at @Telegraph _TomK.