Hitting the Mark and Finding Success in DI Athletics
For many people becoming a husband and a father while pursuing an undergraduate degree would provide ample reason to drop out and focus more on full-time employment, but for Michael Murtagh ’12/’16 it became his purpose to follow through. He was inspired to provide for his family and be someone his children could look up to.
After extended time in undergraduate school, Murtagh landed an internship within the athletic department at Clemson University to satisfy his final requirement to earn his bachelor’s degree. However while he was on the South Carolina campus he realized that he wanted to do more. Murtagh began dreaming of graduate school, but he would need to return to Brockport and improve his grade point average.
After returning to Western New York, Murtagh worked towards improving his academic standing and did enough to earn probationary acceptance into grad school. At the same time he was increasing his marks, he was gaining insight into the best way he succeeded academically.
“I’ve always liked learning, but I just didn’t care to learn things that I wasn’t interested in,” said Murtagh. “It’s funny I was such a bad student for much of my life but I feel like I’m finally starting to peak as a student because I’m constantly to this day asking more questions, reaching out to people across the country, ‘how did you do this?’”
Murtagh set his sights on working in college athletics, homing in on marketing. He began connecting with athletic administrators, marketing directors and other athletic personnel all over the country to expand his knowledge and network.
“I knew that I was 35 years old and if I had to do things I was not passionate about for the next 30 years of my life until I retired, first of all I would not be the person that I am,” shared Murtagh. “I am a very passionate person and I get passion from life and feeling like I’m contributing and doing good things. If I’m just punching the clock I’d be a crappy husband, I’d be a crappy dad, I’d be a crappy worker. I know I would.”
With newfound clarity, Murtagh entered grad school pursuing a Master’s Degree in Athletic Administration from SUNY Brockport. When an opportunity arose to attend a conference dedicated to college athletics in Florida, he jumped at the chance despite financial hurdles.
Murtagh drove more than 1,200 miles to Orlando without anything promised other than putting faces to names of administrators he was networking with on the phone. On the drive, he described a continuous loop of the lyrics “success is my only option, failures not” playing in his head from the popular Eminem song “Lose Yourself.”
“I was in a suit from 8am to midnight at the bar not drinking, just networking and just talking to whoever I could because it was imperative that I not waste a second of that opportunity. I knew 34 people that were going to be at NACDA and I set up time to talk with all 34,” reminisced Murtagh. “It was funny when I got down to NACDA it was the first time I was meeting these people in person, but they were slapping me up like we went to college together. I got set up with these folks and they’re like, ‘hey I know so and so is hiring, why don’t you go talk to them.’”
While meeting with one of these individuals an administrator from Western Kentucky overheard the conversation and told Murtagh they were looking to hire a full-time intern. Although the pay was less than ideal to support a family, once again Murtagh seized the opportunity with his long-term vision of it panning out.
Murtagh and his family of five moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky where he took on an additional job at Wal-Mart to supplement his income. From that internship, he landed an assistant director marketing position at Arkansas State.
After a year in Arkansas, Murtagh and family moved on from the Sun Belt Conference affiliated school to Iowa of the Big Ten. As the assistant director of marketing at Iowa, he was there for the now iconic beginning of the wave tradition during football games. The University of Iowa’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital overlooks Kinnick Stadium, and the public address announcer asks fans during games to turn to the hospital and wave to all the families watching the game. The iconic moment has become a highly recognized tradition within the football program.
After four years with the Hawkeyes, Murtagh landed the Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing and Community Relations at University of Montana in 2021. As he continues to ascend the college athletic ranks he remains open to helping anyone looking to network or ask for advice, in which he consistently preaches the necessity of grinding, hustling and learning.