For the Therrell family, football is more than a game. It’s not even a way of life – it seems to be the air that they breathe.
This is good news for Racer fans because the Murray State football team is infused with the passion of not just one or two, but three Therrells this season.
The patriarch of the family, Dennis Therrell, is in his second year as defensive coordinator. This is his second stint as defensive coordinator, the first being in 2004 when he inherited a defense that ranked at the bottom of most major statistics.
The 2013 season saw defensive improvements in every category from the previous season and the team looks to continue that momentum heading into the 2014 season.
Therrell is joined on this year’s team by his two sons, John and Cody, both of which he has coached in college.
“The coaching dynamic with my sons is the same as everybody else,” Therrell said. “You know they’re your sons but when practice starts and all that they’re just another player. You kind of realize they’re your sons again after it’s over with. Once it starts, they’re just like everybody else. I don’t know any other way to do it.”
Therrell’s oldest son, John, followed his dad to Murray State last year after spending four years at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and played one year with the Racers. In his lone season at Murray State, John recorded 45 tackles and intercepted a pair of passes. Therrell ended his home season last year by winning the game for the Racers as he picked off a Missouri State pass on the final play of the game to secure the victory.
When asked about the athletic relationship with his father, John repeated the same sentiment as Dennis.
“I don’t notice having my dad as a coach very much,” John said. “I played under him both at UNLV and at Murray State so I knew how that dynamic worked. I do my job, do what he tells me and whether or not he’s my dad I have to get it done so that’s what happens.”
John made the leap from the field to the office this offseason as he joined the Racer staff and is now working with linebackers while pursuing his master’s in public administration from the University.
The transition from player to coach has been a natural one according to John.
“I thought it was relatively easy,” John said, referring to the change in status. “I had played in the scheme and so I know what is demanded of the players on the field. Now it’s just being able to teach and coach the guys and show them what they know. It helps me since I ran it myself and I know what you have to do physically. Now I know what you have to do mentally also and that helps in the coaching part.”
The third member of the Therrell trinity is Cody, a redshirt sophomore cornerback for the Racers this season. Cody spent two years playing for head coach Steve Duncan at Murray High School where he earned All-Western Kentucky Conference honors after recording 10 interceptions.
For John and Cody, their passion for football and competition started at an early age. Separated by only three years, their house was always used as a gymnasium for their brotherly rivalry.
“We were always competitive,” John admitted. “It didn’t matter what we were doing, there was always some competitive aspect to it. We moved around a lot since dad’s a football coach and that’s how that business is and so we were each other’s best friends. We hung out with each other. We were like glue – we stuck together.”
The youngest Therrell, Abby, is not short on athletic ability either as she plays soccer for Murray High School.
According to Dennis, however, it wasn’t himself who fostered the competitive spirit in his children. Therrell gives the credit to his wife, Dawn.
“You know, football coaches, their wives raise the kids,” Therrell said. “They’re the glue that holds the whole family together. Their mom, she was a coach when we got married and she was also a college field hockey player, so athletics has been our life.”
For Therrell and his family, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“That’s the Therrell family,” Dennis said. “That’s just how it’s always been. We don’t know anything else.”
Story by Peter Northcutt, Staff writer