Dan Hurley has often lived in the shadows of his father and older brother, but he has UConn one win away from one of the most commanding March runs ever.
One of the finest high school basketball coaches in history is the father of Dan Hurley. He is the younger brother of a legendary point guard in college basketball and is 40 minutes away from establishing his own claim to greatness, which could endanger his act.
The Connecticut coach Dan Hurley has always exuded an oddball persona, wrapping it in Jersey wiseacre humor. This is one of the most accomplished families in the history of the sport, the Harbaughs of basketball. Bob Hurley Jr.’s younger brother and son, Bob Hurley Sr., has done a lot, but he hangs out with a rough crew.
Thus Dan is far more likely to discuss his shortcomings, failures, phobias and exaggerated misery than embrace the fact that he’s damn good at what he does.
You can see why his son, Andrew, a reserve on the UConn team, referred to his father here in Houston as “bizarre.”
Among the topics at Dan Hurley Sunday press conference here, on the eve of playing for the national championship: how bad he is as a painter (one of his purported stress relievers) and why he “sucked” at first as a high school coach.
Hat spun around backward on the podium, Dan projects pride in his players while making fun of himself. Listen to him long enough and you’re amazed he can find his way out of bed and into the gym every day.
“The glass half empty? It’s a scam,” says Bob Sr., in the UConn locker room Sunday, a Saint Anthony High School hat on his head and UConn sweats on his body. “I know it’s a scam. He loves to take you all on the magical carpet ride.”
The magical carpet ride is all UConn’s, rocketing back to prominence, storming through this men’s NCAA tournament like few teams ever have. Every Huskies victory has come by 13 or more points, with an average victory margin of 20.6.
The last team to capture every NCAA tourney game by at least 13 points on the way to winning a title was Indiana in 1981—and those Hoosiers had to play only five games, not six.
UConn still has to finish the deal Monday, of course, against a San Diego State team that has ridden its own magical carpet to its first title game.
The Aztecs beat Creighton in the Elite Eight on a free throw with 1.6 seconds left (after a controversial foul call) and then took out Florida Atlantic on an unprecedented, win-or-lose Final Four buzzer beater Saturday.
UConn is solidly favored to win its fifth NCAA title and first under Dan Hurley . At age 50, he’s about ready to finalize his own place of honor in the family business—and at a certified power program,
Dan Hurley is positioned for a potentially long run at the forefront of the sport. Perhaps he can do that and still use every press conference as a comedic trip to the therapist’s couch, but it gets a little tougher.
“He’ll downplay how excited he is, No. 1, and No. 2 he’ll shed tears again,” Bob Hurley Sr. says, when asked how Dan would handle winning it all Monday. “A lot of tears being shed right now. He’s emotionally completely invested in this group of kids, and they in he. … It’s a nice formula.”
Dan Hurley gotten to the peak of his profession faster than many, but he grew up overshadowed in the basketball world by his dad and big brother.
Bob Sr. was a legend at Jersey City Saint Anthony, compiling a record of 1,185–125, winning 28 state titles and being enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame—much of that while working a day job as a probation officer.
He helped countless players from the area find their way to college. He could have been a massive success at that level of coaching but didn’t want to disrupt his family and their longtime roots in the area.
“It was all my wife and I knew—we grew up in Jersey City, got married, I went to Saint Peter’s College,” Bob Sr. says. “I started coaching in the early 70s, and I don’t know that there was anybody I grew up with who aspired to be a college coach.
I just had this opportunity at Saint Anthony’s, and to me that was fine. If I could figure out how to pay bills—it isn’t like I sat around and said, ‘Damn, I should have been a college coach.’ Never.”
Bob Jr. and Dan Hurley both played for their dad in high school, and both were very good. But Bobby became great. He earned a scholarship to Duke when that program was ascending to national power status,
then helped finish the Blue Devils’ journey to the summit as the starting point guard on back-to-back national championship teams. Bobby was named Most Outstanding Player of the 1992 Final Four—but not until after he and Duke beat Danny and Seton Hall in an awkward Sweet 16 game in Philadelphia.
If you think Dan Hurley are angst-ridden on a normal day, imagine what it was like when the two brothers—hardened sibling combatants growing up—faced off in the NCAA tournament. “That game was torture,” Bob Sr. says.
Bobby was a star but pronounced the experience miserable (his play backed that up, scoring four points and committing six turnovers). Danny was a bouncy energy guy off the bench at that point, with less pressure on his shoulders but not enjoying an elimination game against his big brother.
“I just remember just the nerves, anxiety, just because of the media buildup,” Dan recalls. “Hurley brothers, City of Brotherly Love. I wasn’t exactly on top of my game at that point in my career, and I was going against my brother and Christian Laettner and Grant Hill.
“So, yeah, I knew I was in trouble. I was a nervous wreck. And I was relieved, to be honest with you—I played as hard as I could, but I was relieved in a big way when it was over.”
Not relieved enough to watch the regional final in person two days later—still arguably the most famous game in college history. When Laettner made the March Madness walk-off shot for the ages to beat Kentucky, Danny was drinking beers back on campus in a Seton Hall dorm.
Bobby’s NBA career lasted five years and was nearly terminated immediately when he had a near-fatal auto accident his rookie year. He took a more circuitous route into coaching, following Danny’s path.
Bobby was an assistant to Danny at both Wagner and Rhode Island before getting his own head coaching gig at Buffalo. After taking the Bulls to the NCAA tournament in his second year,
Dan Hurley landed the job at Arizona State in 2015 and has been there ever since. He took the Sun Devils to the NCAA tournament for the third time this season, which helped get him off the hot seat.
It seems karmically fitting that Danny, the overshadowed Hurley boy, has been the more successful college coach.
He took Rhode Island to consecutive NCAA tournament second-round appearances before moving to UConn to revive a giant. Now he’s ready for his own date with greatness, with his dad and big brother in the stands cheering him on.
Dan Hurley is just be getting started. The family trophy case, already plentiful, could be getting a lot more crowded in the years to come.