Why Dan Hurley Made the Right Choice Staying at UConn

Why Dan Hurley Made the Right Choice Staying at UConn article feature image
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Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images. Pictured: Dan Hurley (UConn)

Dan Hurley made the right choice.

Sure, the Lakers offered to nearly triple his salary. Sure, he’d get to live in L.A. – though, as a lifelong New Englander, that’s an overrated prospect. Sure, he’d get to coach the second-most important and legendary basketball brand in the sport’s history – a team only slightly less important than the Celtics.

Still, Coach Hurley would be much worse off taking the job.

The Huskies were already among college basketball’s most important programs. They won three titles under Jim Calhoun and another under Kevin Ollie.

But when Hurley took the job in 2018, UConn was mired in AAC mediocrity. The Huskies posted a 37-35 American record in Ollie’s final four seasons following Shabazz Napier’s legendary 2014 title run, missing the Big Dance thrice and the second weekend in their only bid. They finished ahead of only SMU, Tulane, East Carolina and South Florida in the conference standings in Ollie’s final year.

Hurley’s Wagner and Rhode Island years are arguably underrated. The Seahawks finished 2012 as KenPom’s 102nd-ranked team and haven’t cracked the top 150 since. Hurley coached the Rams to back-to-back second-round finishes, and they haven’t made the tournament since.

He earned a shot at coaching UConn, and it took him six short seasons to transform the Huskies into the first back-to-back national champions since Florida 15 years ago.

Hurley didn’t do it by assuming a plethora of talent. He built a decent roster and made it great by installing the most unstoppable offensive scheme I’ve seen in decades – a variable, versatile pattern motion offense that I broke down in great detail earlier this season, and one that King James himself has complimented.

It’s impossible to prep for in a short-turnaround tournament setting, explaining Connecticut’s 12 consecutive double-digit NCAA Tournament wins.

Hurley lost Adama Sanogo, Jordan Hawkins, Andre Jackson, Joey Calcaterra and Nahiem Alleyne in the offseason following their 2023 championship. He made them better in 2024.

His system is plug-and-play, with Donovan Clingan, Tristen Newton, Stephon Castle and Cam Spencer ascending to previously unimaginable heights via Hurley’s systematic coaching. (Clingan might be the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft.)

He could do it again. Alex Karaban and Hassan Diarra are back, and the portal grab of guard Aidan Mahaney (Saint Mary’s) is among the biggest coups of the 2024 offseason (his shooting, passing and ball-screen playmaking remind me of Spencer).

Hurley’s Huskies could pull off the first three-peat since John Wooden’s Bruins won nine straight between 1965 and 1973.

Regardless of whether Hurley pulls off such an absurd historical feat, he’s been the driving force in UConn’s ascension to incontrovertible blue-blood status. Only UCLA (11) and Kentucky (eight) have won more men’s NCAA Tournament titles.

The Huskies have as many championships as North Carolina (six) and more than Duke (five), Indiana (five) or Kansas (four). They’ve been ranked top-five in the AP Poll in 27 of the past 37 weeks.

At the minimum, Hurley’s made UConn the most important and nationally relevant program at the collegiate level. He’s earned the eyes of a watchful nation, including many young portal divers and recruits who now recognize the Hukies as a historically dominant college basketball team – for example, Mahaney and incoming five-star freshman Liam McNeeley.

And you expect me to believe that Hurley would give up everything he’s built and everything he could still achieve to coach … the 2024-25 Lakers?

These are not your daddy’s Lakers. They finished eighth in the West last year (47-35), barely squeaking into the playoffs. They owe 39-year-old LeBron James and 31-year-old Anthony Davis over $90 million for the upcoming season. The Pelicans have the right to their 2024 first-round pick but could forego that pick swap and take their 2025 first-round pick instead.

The West has a plethora of young, cohesive, superstar-laden rosters. Conversely, the Lakers are cap-strapped, asset-strapped and hamstrung by a soon-to-be-washed-up NBA legend in his 22nd season.

And we all know LeBron isn’t the easiest guy to coach. Since taking his talents to Venice Beach in 2019, he’s more-or-less ousted Luke Walton, Frank Vogel and Darvin Ham. His ridiculous basketball IQ combined with legendary status makes him the de-facto GM and coach of any franchise.

Hurley has the respect, admiration and ears of every kid that comes through Storrs. The same can’t be said for his hypothetical relationship with James and Co.

How do you think he’d respond to this?

Especially since, as reported by our own Matt Moore, “two league sources suggested this week that Klutch Sports, which represents both James and Davis, was ‘not thrilled’ with being left in the dark when Hurley suddenly emerged as ‘the Lakers’ top choice from the beginning of the search.’”

Furthermore, most college coaches who make the NBA jump don’t blossom, even under the most ideal circumstances.

Rick Pitino’s tenure in Boston was historically embarrassing. Billy Donovan was the last NCAA coach to earn back-to-back titles before Hurley, and he’s earned only modest results in Oklahoma City and Chicago. John Calipari posted a 3-17 record with the 1998 Nets before getting canned. For every Brad Stevens success story, there’s a Tim Floyd or John Beilein flop.

CoachNCAA RecordNBA Record
Rick Pitino854-306 (.736)192-220 (.466)
John Calipari855-263 (.765)72-112 (.391)
Billy Donovan502-206 (.709)399-319 (.556)
Tim Floyd465-280 (.624)90-231 (.280)
John Beilein571-325 (.637)14-40 (.259)
Brad Stevens166-49 (.772)354-282 (.557)
Larry Brown262-100 (.724)1327-1011 (.568)

As an aside, this is the outcome everyone should root for:

I’m not saying Hurley couldn’t coach at the next level – he’s arguably a better coach than anyone on the NCAA-to-NBA list. But history’s not on his side, and the situation he’d be assuming is ghastly.

Conversely, look at the list of guys who turned down NBA offers to remain in the college ranks: Mike Krzyzewski, Jay Wright, Tom Izzo, Jim Boeheim and Bob Knight. Coach K turned down the Lakers job 20 years ago — including the shot to coach Kobe Bryant — and went on to win two more national titles, getting Duke's court named after him in the process.

If that list is any indication, Hurley’s future at UConn is pretty bright.

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Hurley could’ve turned the Lakers around, but he likely would’ve failed, failing to produce short-term results because he probably would've envisioned a slightly longer-term rebuild. Option B was to stay at UConn with the shot to become the greatest college head coach to ever do it.

Ultimately, I think Hurley knew this, and I think he and his camp set up a smokescreen to leverage ongoing extension negotiations with his current employer.

Either way, the Hurley news is good for college basketball as a whole. Diehard college hoopheads – myself included – don’t love UConn’s dominance. But passive sports fans appreciate dynasties, and Hurley’s quest for a threepeat will bring previously uninterested eyes toward a sport with waning viewership.

(Even my mother-in-law tuned in to watch the Huskies dismantle Illinois, Alabama and Purdue to cap off the back-to-back.)

If Hurley took the Lakers job, we could reasonably expect every star on UConn’s roster to bolt for the door. That’s bad for the sport, period.

At the minimum, Hurley’s return is good for the Big East. A rising tide lifts all ships, and Hurley’s Huskies should bring much-needed elevation to a conference that was absurdly undervalued by the selection committee this past March.

Greg McDermott’s Bluejays, Shaka Smart’s Golden Eagles, Shaheen Holloway’s Pirates, Kyle Neptune’s Wildcats, Chris Holtmann’s Blue Demons and Pitino’s Johnnies should be thrilled to get the Husky bump in the next conference season.

Even as they'll compete directly against him, the competition should earn more at-large brownie points.

Hurley is the sport's best coach, and UConn is the sport's best team. Most are better off with the status quo remaining unchanged.

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Nick Sterling
Jun 20, 2024 UTC