Hurley forging own identity at Wagner
First-year coach still leans on famous father, brother Bobby
The Associated Press
Dan Hurley had the luxe life at St. Benedict's. He led a national prep powerhouse that traveled the country and churned out Division I prospects. He could have been a high school lifer and, maybe way down the road, a Hall of Famer like his dad. Best of all for a basketball coach, losing was a rare disturbance, not a regular occurrence.
Not at Wagner.
In his first season as a college head coach, Hurley has a 4 a.m. wake-up call for a flight to Houston, a bus trip to College Station, Texas, then lunch at an IHOP before practice for the next night's game at No. 25 Texas A&M. The rugged travel schedule was actually the highlight after the Aggies romped 86-51 to send the Seahawks to their fourth consecutive defeat -- six fewer than Hurley lost during his last seven seasons at St. Benedict's.
Hurley doesn't measure success at Wagner by national rankings and championship aspirations, but by hard work, earning respect and setting a foundation for a program he believes can eventually find a home in the NCAA tournament. "The biggest adjustment has been the inevitable losing that you're going to experience when you're building your program,'' Hurley said.
Hurley, a proud son in one of the great basketball families, has gone where his coaching dad, Bob, never went: a college bench. For Dan Hurley, there was more to accomplish -- and he wouldn't have to leave home to find it. In attempting the rare leap from high school coach to college, Hurley brought a familiar face along: his brother and former Duke All-American guard Bobby Hurley.
"To see them coaching at the college level together is absolutely terrific,'' said Bob Hurley, who built a Hall of Fame career at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, N.J.
Yeah, terrific except for all the losing through tight ones and blowouts. While Wagner's 4-6 record must seem like 100 losses already for Hurley, the win total is only one off last year's 5-26 mark that ended Mike Deane's tenure. His path from the Christian preparatory school to the Northeast Conference would be a shocker if it happened to just about any other coach. Dan Hurley has never blended in with his peers as just another player or coach.
Bob Hurley has more than 900 victories, won nearly two dozen state championships at St. Anthony and was inducted as part of a class this year with Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Bobby Hurley was one of Duke's all-time greats and selected seventh overall in the 1993 draft before a car accident derailed his career.
At times, it wasn't easy for Dan to find his niche in a famous family. He felt pressure to make his own name for himself and not be tagged simply as "Bob's son'' or "Bobby's brother.''
"Maybe when I was younger, really young and immature, I fed into that too much,'' he said. "I've had my own way of doing things, my own personality my entire life.''
Hurley never thought he would follow his father into coaching. Growing up and playing ball all day and night with his brother ("turned loose in Jersey City,'' he said with a chuckle), Hurley imagined an NBA career and all the frills that come along with life in the pros.
When Hurley's playing career instead fizzled after a star-crossed career at Seton Hall, the former point guard decided it was time to draw up the plays instead of run them. "It seems like basketball's just been there, always,'' Hurley said. "I don't want to say it wasn't a choice, but with the amount of exposure we had to basketball, it was just natural to stay in it for the long haul.''
He worked under his father at St. Anthony before becoming an assistant coach at Rutgers from 1997-2001. "He probably learned more things about what not to do than what to do'' at Rutgers, Bob Hurley said. "When the coaches got fired, I think he found out, if you're going to go down in flames, you want to go down in flames working as hard as you can.''
Dan Hurley returned to the high school ranks and went 223-21, coached four McDonald's All-Americans and had four teams ranked in the top five in the nation. He also twice spurned college offers -- as an assistant under Jamie Dixon at Pittsburgh and head coach at Marist -- because he wanted to raise his family near his home in Freehold Township, N.J.
His father understood the feeling, once turning down an offer in the mid-1980s to work as an assistant at Xavier because his sons didn't want to move. Bob Hurley says he has no regrets about sticking with high school. "I really belong at the high school level,'' he said. "I rule the place like it's a benevolent dictatorship.''
Dan Hurley wouldn't say no to the college ranks a third time. His coaching success and pedigree made him attractive to a program with one NCAA tournament berth in its history. And he didn't have to uproot the family to take the new job.
He's now in the same recruiting trenches as the metropolitan area's Big East schools and expects to send players to the pros the way his high school stars -- like Corey Stokes -- were fed to major colleges. "I really feel that Wagner is fortunate to have him, and that entire staff, as well,'' said Stokes, a star guard for No. 8 Villanova. "It's going to take some time, but he'll put it all together.''
He turned to big brother Bobby to help make the pieces fit.
The older Hurley didn't seem destined to carry the clipboard when he led the Blue Devils to back-to-back national championships in 1991 and '92. He wasn't the same player after his accident, then dabbled as a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers, and threw all he had into thoroughbred racing. He ran into financial woes in the industry after a fast start in Florida.
Hurley said he would have pursued other challenges had his brother, and close friend, not called him to come aboard. Now he's hooked. He enjoys spending time with his brother, the players and devoting his full energy to basketball again. A close bond forged in childhood and strengthened after the accident means there's no weird dynamic just because Bobby is older.
"We're able to separate things,'' Bobby Hurley said. "I have a job to do and responsibilities I need to be accountable for to help him be successful. On the flip side, we also get to hang out and spend a lot more time together and fool around and make jokes.''
Bob Hurley was glad the reunion gives them common ground at family gatherings. "Danny might be talking about his team, I'd be talking about my team and Bobby would just be sitting there,'' he said. "He'd be talking about his own children's teams, but that's not quite the same situation. Now he can sit with the big boys and talk about his team.''
Big brother has been a big boost for Dan Hurley. "Even though we've lost more than I've ever lost as a player or a coach, it's been the most fun I've had in coaching or in basketball because I can share the experiences with him,'' Dan Hurley said. "We grew up best friends.''
Dad is around, too. Bob Hurley attended two games, watched practice and has tossed around some ideas to get the Seahawks going toward a winning record.
All the Hurleys like where Wagner is headed. Dan Hurley raved about guard Latif Rivers (14.5 points) and noted everyone in the rotation would return next season along with three ``impact'' players. Hurley's already won some recruiting battles for coveted talent.
Hey, it helps to be a Hurley. "You use what you can use within the confines of the rules, but our reputation helps,'' Dan Hurley said.
Reputation doesn't matter much on the scoreboard. Wins and losses are how Hurley will be judged, not on what he achieved in high school or how successful his relatives are in the sport. "People in Staten Island are back watching the team again,'' Bob Hurley said. "They're building something that's going to be big.''