John Murray Armstrong, who served the University of Memphis athletic department in numerous capacities during his 46-year career, has lost his long battle against cancer. The 71-year old Armstrong, who served under eight head coaches during his tenure, passed away on November 29 at his home in Somerville, Tennessee.
A graduate of the University of Tennessee with a Bachelor of Science degree, Armstrong began his coaching career at Memphis in 1962 under former head coach Billy J. Murphy, who also passed away earlier this year. During his tenure at the University of Memphis, Armstrong worked under eight presidents, four athletic directors, nine head coaches and worked along side 126 of the 146 total football assistant coaches in the University's history.
He began his career assigned as an assistant coach with the freshman team in 1962 and for the next 46 years his career and the Tiger football program became inextricably linked.
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Wherever assistance was needed, Armstrong was quick to serve. He progressed from working as an assistant freshman coach to being the head freshman coach where he compiled several undefeated seasons. He took over the duties of varsity defensive end coach and later became the kicking and special teams coach. In addition to his on field responsibilities, Armstrong served as the team's academic advisor and the administrative aid and special assistant to the head coach.
While serving the Tiger football team as a coach and administrator, Armstrong and his wife, Joan, managed the athletic dormitory for 33 years becoming a second family for hundreds of student-athletes. After his many years of service as a football coach, dorm director and counselor, Armstrong took on the responsibility of managing the Billy J. Murphy Athletic Complex, a position he held until his death.
An end for the Volunteers from 1955 through 1959, Armstrong was a three-year letterman for Coach Bowden Wyatt working on both the offense and defense. He was a first team All-Southeastern Conference Academic selection in 1958 after receiving SEC Player of the Week honors on October 4, 1958, for his play against Mississippi State University at Crump Stadium in Memphis. Armstrong scored on defense returning an interception for 53 yards and later in the game on offense when he grabbed a 15-yard touchdown pass to seal the Tennessee victory, 13-8. He remains the last Tennessee player to score on both sides of the ball in the same game.
A native of Somerville, Armstrong graduated from Fayette County High School in 1955. He played both offensive and defensive end for the Panthers but was also known around the Mid-South for his abilities as an amateur tennis star.
During his storied career, Armstrong has received numerous awards and honors including being recognized by the Memphis Chapter of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame in 1998 for his outstanding contribution to the University of Memphis. He was inducted into the University of Memphis M Club Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in Nashville in 2000. The football practice fields at the Murphy Athletic Complex were named in his honor and dedicated on August 14, 1998 by the Highland Hundred football support group and the U of M. A bronze plaque is located at the Murphy Complex commemorating the dedication. In September of 2008, Armstrong became the first recipient of an award named in his honor, The Murray Armstrong Award, which will be presented annually to a coach or administrator who has dedicated his/or her career to the service of the University.
Armstrong is survived by his wife Joan, sons Sterritt, age 40, and Brence, age 34. Sterritt was a 1990 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point where he lettered for four years in football. Brence graduated from the University of Memphis where he played for his father and lettered in football as the team's deep snapper.