Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was the first person Vikings running back Latavius Murray called when news broke Sunday that Vikings offensive line coach Tony Sparano had suffered a fatal heart attack at age 56.
“We were under Tony as [an interim] head coach in Oakland,” Murray said. “We loved him. Absolutely loved him. Always called me ‘Honeybear’ or ‘Sugarbear’ after I dyed my hair blond in Oakland.
“We’re 0-10 playing a Thursday night game against Kansas City. And all week Tony kept saying, ‘Guys, this is the best jobs we’ll ever have.’ I just saw the video again of Tony in the locker room after we won that game. It was such a great moment with Tony.”
Murray spoke by phone Tuesday while driving from Syracuse to Eagan for the start of training camp. Veterans report Friday, the same day the team will skip practice to attend a memorial service for Sparano.
“I think you have to mourn,” Murray said. “But knowing Tony, we all can have some peace in knowing that it’s OK to move on. Tony would have wanted us to go back out there, get better, have fun and finish what we all started last year.”
It’s been a busy offseason for Murray. He’s one year closer to completing his MBA from Syracuse. He went overseas as part of an NFL outreach program. He became engaged. And, oh yeah, he’s due to have a son Aug. 31.
“I just got back from Ireland and Italy doing a residency working toward my MBA program,” Murray said. “It was fun. I learned a lot. That’s why I went back to school. To learn things.”
He hopes to finish the MBA next offseason. Of course, he will have to work that around a March 9 wedding date with Shauntay Skanes.
“I’ve known her since I was 12,” Murray said. “She’s my best friend. We can talk about anything. When you have that level of comfort with a person, it makes life easier. You can go through anything.”
Skanes joined the Navy out of high school 10 years ago. She is an administrator stationed in Miami, Murray’s offseason home.
Murray might have to miss some practices in late August for the birth of their son. When he gets back, he will be expecting big things from a Vikings team that fell one step short of the Super Bowl a year ago.
He said he’s also expecting a healthy Dalvin Cook and a tag-team effort that will improve a running game that ranked seventh in the NFL a year ago.
“I talked to Dalvin a couple days ago,” Murray said. “We both understand that it’s going to take the both of us. If we’re able to play at a high level, we can lead this team and carry it because I truly believe an offense goes the way the run game goes.”
Sparano no doubt would have agreed.