Dan Hurley walked through the doors of the Werth Champions Center, staring down at the ground yet unable to stop himself from smiling. He was with his family—wife Andrea, sons Danny and Andrew, brother Bobby, mother Christie, famous father Bob. UConn President Susan Herbst was the first to introduce him, then Athletic Director David Benedict. And when it was finally time for Hurley to speak, all he could say was one word.
And he said it four more times.
“Wow, wow, wow. I knew it was going to be big today, but… wow.”
The former head coach for the University of Rhode Island, Hurley took all of Monday and Tuesday last week to think over his decision to come to UConn. The six-year deal, worth $2.75 million in the first year, was announced late Wednesday night and was confirmed by the school early Thursday morning.
Hurley declined offers from both URI and Pittsburgh. URI offered him a chance to stay at home and continue building the program there. Pitt, while in the midst of essentially rebuilding their program from scratch, offered about $3 million, the most lucrative offer of the three.
The ACC over the AAC. The money. Not wanting to move away from home. All of these things were the rumors as to why Hurley took so long to make his decision. Multiple fake Twitter accounts were created saying Hurley had chosen Pitt or opted to stay at URI, creating more anxiety among three already anxious fanbases.
But all those rumors turned out to be false.
“The number one reason, for me, was that this was a dream job for me,” Hurley said. “I’ve talked for years, people close to me knew that this was a small list of schools that I always dreamed of coaching, [UConn] was at the top of that list.”
“It was hard. I got so many calls and messages from people saying, ‘What’s taking you so long?’ You know, ‘Are you crazy? That’s UConn,’” he added. “But the true affection that I have for the place that I’ve just been for six years was difficult for me to walk away from. I knew I wanted to be here, it was just hard to make the call to the [URI] athletic director and it was hard to meet with the players and tell them. I think that was probably the delay; procrastinating on what that was going to feel like.”
Hurley brought URI’s program from the bottom of the standings to two-straight A10 Championships and two-straight 20+ win seasons. He was at Wagner before, also turning them into a 20+ win team in just his second year. His status as a rebuilder made him a hot coaching commodity the moment the Rams lost to Duke in the Round of 32.
“I wanted to get to a place where the expectations are not just to make the NCAA Tournament, maybe win a game and feel great about that,” Hurley said. “I love being in an environment where there’s high expectations.”
Hurley’s used to that. His father, Bobby Sr., is one of only three high school coaches to ever be honored in the Basketball Hall of Fame—he led St. Anthony High School in Jersey City to 28 state championships and over 1,000 wins in 39 years. His older brother, Bobby, is the current Arizona State head coach and was an All-American at Duke, winning two consecutive national championships there.
And Dan? He’s tasked with bringing UConn back to the national stage.
“I knew deep down inside I wanted just one more job in coaching,” Hurley said. “A place where Final Fours and national championships are a distinct possibility. I had to make one more move to put myself in that position, and this was that move.”
It won’t be an easy ride. UConn is coming off its second straight losing season, the first time the program has had back-to-back losing seasons since the Dee Rowe era in the 1970s. The decline has been slow—since the championship season in 2014, the Huskies have only won one NCAA Tournament game.
Since firing Kevin Ollie on March 10, UConn is still dealing with Ollie’s buyout and an ongoing NCAA investigation. Hurley will have to work hard to re-recruit every player that’s still on the roster, as well as trying to fill the empty scholarship spot left by Terry Larrier.
With all that going on, AD David Benedict certainly got his dream coach to help bring UConn back to the heights—Hurley was at the top of his list.
“I think he is a very thoughtful, analytic, intelligent individual. He was very serious about making this decision,” Benedict said. “It wasn’t just ‘Hey, I’m going to UConn.’ He took his time, really searching within himself to determine, ‘Is this the destination job I want?’… We put what I think was a strong offer together, and it came together.”
Turning his attention to the row of players sitting off to the side, Hurley spoke right to the players, his expectations of a “championship culture” clear as day.
“The sky’s the limit for that group,” Hurley said, eyes never darting away from the players. “The commitment that needs to be made, I think these guys understand. The program that they’re in, the prestige, the tradition. The responsibility of putting on a UConn uniform is a pretty great responsibility, as great of any responsibility of any program in the country, and that look slike a highly motivated group to get this program back to the level it deserves to be at.”
Hurley understands exactly what he’s getting into. In her opening remarks, President Herbst made a quip about getting back to the White House soon—whether that was about Hurley or Geno Auriemma is up for interpretation. Hurley said there will be no team more connected and more hardworking than his come November.
Hurley recruited Jalen Adams, Christian Vital, Sidney Wilson and Mamadou Diarra while he was at URI. He said he prides himself on his ability to create strong and emotional relationships with his players. He knows where UConn is at right now and he knows how to change it.
“I promised Christian and Sidney that I’m not going to hold it against them that they stopped taking my calls while I was at URI,” Hurley joked. “It’s exciting. Obviously being from the region, I know all about the players and all about the roster. And I feel like it’s a talented roster that just needs to develop a hardworking culture. Play harder, defend at a high level, and be about winning. And I think if that group does that, they can turn things around for themselves quickly.”