Since then, Murrell has appeared at showings of Training Rules in San Francisco and at the women’s Final Four (where the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association declined to sponsor a screening). She recorded a bonus-feature interview for the DVD and has fielded many interview requests. “I know what I’m doing can open doors for a lot of people,” she says.
Some of the doors Murrell is opening may well be the ones to the Stott Center itself. In the cutthroat world of college sports recruiting, rival coaches might say anything to help them land a player other schools want. Being a lesbian could be an Achilles heel. But Murrell says that in private conversation, other coaches have suggested being open is a plus: it demonstrates confidence and honesty, qualities elite players desire in a coach. And if a player cares that Murrell’s gay? Well, that probably isn’t somebody she’d want at PSU anyway.
“Sports are about coming together as a team,” she says. “Any type of separators—religious separators, ethnic separators, gender separators—doesn’t bring cohesiveness."
As for the players themselves, members of a generation that grew up with multiculturalism and Heather Has Two Mommies, they, frankly, just don’t care. When Murrell and Shuman hosted some of the Vikings players for a barbecue at their home in August, the dynamic was the same as any coach and coach’s spouse: Murrell flipping burgers and affectionately teasing her charges (one for dating PSU’s starting quarterback, another for appearing on a hunting reality TV show), Shuman trying to corral their two blond, Popsicle-stained toddlers into the bath and bed.
“I guess I didn’t really know that she was the only [out coach],” says senior center Courtney Cremer.
“We don’t really talk about it. Rena was around from day one, so I feel like from day one we all knew. It feels normal.”
And that’s just how Murrell wants it as her Vikings try to get back to the Big Dance this season. By default, Murrell is trying to become the first out coach to win an NCAA tournament game—but really, she just wants to win that game.
“In athletics you have one-hit wonders all the time, but to sustain success is really hard,” Murrell says. “To be able to [win that game] and to be an out coach, that would mean a lot for our sport.”
And what would mean even more is seeing the second openly gay coach win one.