Audio: Bobby Hurley's remarks
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The players he will inherit are too young to remember him as the point guard at Duke, as the steadying influence on a team that appeared in three Final Fours and won consecutive national championships in the early 1990s. Bobby Hurley's greatest days on the court in most cases predate their birth and in all cases predate their awareness of the game of basketball.
But there's cachet in the Hurley name. It resonates with instant credibility. And the hope at UB is that it also translates into the next step in the program's ascent – a Mid-American Conference Tournament title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
UB made it official Tuesday afternoon at Alumni Arena, with athletic director Danny White introducing Hurley as the Bulls' new head coach to a crowd that included players, alumni and supporters. It's an intriguing hire in that Hurley is part of one of the most renowned basketball families in the country. At the same time, he never has been a head coach, only returned to the college basketball scene three years ago and declined a lower level Division I head job at the end of last season.
One of the most distinguished players in the illustrious history of Duke basketball, Hurley, 41, spent the last three seasons as an assistant/associate head coach to his brother Danny. They were together for two seasons at Wagner College, and then Bobby turned down the head coaching job with the Seahawks when Danny accepted the head job at Rhode Island – replacing current Canisius coach Jim Baron.
Bobby followed his brother to the Atlantic 10 and spent this last season as an associate head coach with the Rams (8-21, 3-13). Before 2010, his involvement in the game over the previous 10 years had been on the periphery.
“I still stayed involved, running camps in the summer,” Hurley said. “The unique opportunity to do it with my brother, someone that I trusted, and I knew how talented he was as a coach, was a great entry point for me into the college game.”
Hurley's hiring draws some parallels to when former AD Warde Manuel scoured the outskirts to bring in former Heisman Trophy finalist Turner Gill as UB's head football coach in December 2005. But White pointed out that one of the differences is that Hurley has recent college coaching experience.
“There's two different ways to go,” White said. “You could look at those who have reached the chair, maybe had experiences that got them out of the chair, and give them another opportunity. Or you can catch them on their way up. We looked at both options.
“Again, it was about fit. We kind of like the idea of catching somebody on their way. We feel like he's the next big star in college coaching.”
Hurley replaces Reggie Witherspoon, who was dismissed March 15 after 14 years on the UB sidelines. The bonds between Witherspoon and his players run deep. Hurley took steps to bridge the gap earlier in the day.
“I addressed the team a little earlier and I feel like hopefully I have their support,” Hurley said. “I think that what they're going to get from me is a guy that has a ton of energy, that on the court really understands the game of basketball at a pretty high level. I will tirelessly work to really get a great feel, a great handle for who they are as players and people.
“My message to the players a little while ago was the answers are in this room,” Hurley said. “It's got to start with the players who are in the locker room. … It's a veteran team. This is their chance. It's a sprint.”
The next few weeks likely will determine if UB retains the players scheduled to return on a team that has MAC title aspirations next season. Bulls great Turner Battle, an assistant under Witherspoon, said he and the other coaches continue to urge the players to remain united at UB.
White made quick work of a national coaching search, tapping resources that included his former coach (Mike Brey at Notre Dame) and the Duke basketball family, including head coach Mike Krzyzewski. White's father, Kevin, is the athletic director at Duke. The road led to Hurley.
“Basketball's in him; it's in his soul,” White said. “As you talk to him, and we spent hours together, he's got a great feel for the game … and his experiences as a player working for arguably the most respected basketball coach in the world at any level.”
Hurley said he favors an uptempo style of play but not at the expense of sound decision-making. He's also a stickler for dedicated defense, calling it the foundation of all successful teams. And it all begins away from the bright lights.
Hurley, the son of legendary St. Anthony's head coach and Basketball Hall of Famer Bob Hurley, has ties to Western New York in the form of Nichols graduate Christian Laettner. The two were teammates on the Duke team that went to three Final Fours and won back-to-back national titles beginning in 1991. Hurley said he had not spoken with Laettner before taking the job.