Among the team photos and memorabilia in Murrell’s Stott Center office is the cut-down net from the title game, draped on its accompanying trophy. When PSU kicks off its season on November 14 at the University of Washington, Murrell will have her mind on cutting down another one. “I want to be the best team in the Big Sky year after year,” says Murrell, whose contract runs until 2015. “But I also want to go further than that. We played with [Texas A&M] for a half. We tasted it.”
Murrell has certainly savored her share of victories as a player: she was part of the 1985 Oregon state championship team at St. Mary’s Academy, and began her college career at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette before transferring to Pepperdine, where she was an all–West Coast Conference point guard. Murrell’s success on the court would continue as a coach, but at a price. “I have lived [in the closet], and I don’t ever want to go back there,” she says.
After graduating in 1991, Murrell failed to land the first assistant coaching job that she applied for because (someone would later tell her) the head coach thought she might be gay. Two years later, at just 25, she became the head coach at the Quaker school George Fox in Newberg, which has a written policy against homosexual behavior. But she was also dating men at that time. And as a single woman in her late 20s and early 30s, with no significant other to camouflage, it was easy to keep “passing.”
On a personal level, Murrell wasn’t ready to tell her Pentecostal Christian parents. “It was a really tough struggle to tell them,” she says. “I did not want them to reject me.” And professionally, she was afraid. “It was fear of the unknown. Fear of negative recruiting. Fear of job loss. Fear of people treating you differently.”
Things changed in 2002. After four straight winning seasons as head coach at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, Murrell landed the big-time gig of every coach’s dreams, at Washington State University. Not long after arriving in the conservative cow-college town of Pullman, she fell for Shuman, a former Centennial High School cheerleader whom she’d met in Portland via mutual friends. They dated long-distance for a while, and then Shuman moved to Pullman. The relationship became serious enough that Murrell finally came out to her parents.
“They went through a time where they did not accept my, quote unquote, behavior,” she says. “But now they’re wonderful—they’re totally into my life, and they love the kids.” Still, Murrell didn’t go public. Shuman remembers attending Cougar functions with Murrell and hearing people try to set her partner up with men. “One of the boosters would say, ‘I’ve got a nephew that I think you would just make the best couple with!’ And it was just: closed mouth.”