Dan Hurley has faced a rebuilding project at every stop of his NCAA head coaching career. Wagner won just five games the season before his 2010 arrival in Staten Island; two years later, the Seahawks went 25-6. Moving on to Rhode Island, Hurley increased the Rams’ win total from eight to 14 to 23 in his first three seasons. In his last two, Rhode Island was an AP poll and NCAA tournament mainstay.
On Thursday, Hurley accepted his biggest challenge yet: He agreed to become the next head coach at Connecticut, a once-dominant program that has stumbled upon prolonged mediocrity for the first time since the early 1980s, before Jim Calhoun led the Huskies to three national titles in 13 seasons.
Connecticut fired Kevin Ollie, Calhoun’s replacement, on March 10 after the team missed the NCAA tournament for the third time in the four seasons that followed the Huskies’ surprise NCAA title in 2014, Ollie’s second season. With its men’s basketball program the subject of an NCAA investigation, the school fired him for “just cause,” a designation that would allow it to avoid paying the $10 million buyout on Ollie’s contract. He has said he will challenge the rationale behind his “just cause” firing.
Hurley, 45, spent six seasons at Rhode Island and turned the Rams into an Atlantic 10 power with NCAA tournament berths the past two seasons. Rhode Island was a No. 7 seed in this year’s tournament, its highest-ever seeding, before falling to Duke on Saturday in the second round. ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reports that Rhode Island gave Hurley “an increased, long-term offer” to stay and that Pittsburgh, another former power that has fallen on hard times, also asked him to fill its vacancy at a salary of more than $3 million per year, which Goodman says is more than he will receive in his six-year deal with the Huskies.
Perhaps no men’s basketball program has been hurt more by the football-driven conference realignment than U-Conn., which was left without a natural basketball fit after the former Big East disintegrated following the 2012-13 season. Mainly because its lackluster football program was undesired by the Power 5 conferences, the school was forced to band together with other castoffs to form the American Athletic Conference, an unwieldy grouping that stretches from New England down to South Florida, over to Texas and up to Oklahoma and Kansas. Separated from its former Big East rivals and playing many of its games outside its recruiting base in the Northeast, the Huskies’ struggled to attract the talent that once flocked to Storrs: According to 247 Sports, the program’s incoming recruiting class ranks 68th nationally. Last year’s class ranked 84th.
Hurley, the son of legendary New Jersey high school coach Bob Hurley Sr. and brother of Arizona State Coach Bobby Hurley, seems well suited to reverse the program’s slide.
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