June 15, 2024

They say don’t mess with happy. Shockingly, Dan Hurley didn’t


About an hour after winning a second national championship in April, Dan Hurley stood in a hallway outside the Connecticut locker room, holding open his suit jacket, looking like a man down on his luck, just trying to make a buck.

“The first real suit I got,” Hurley said.

Navy blue with a paisley lining, the custom super 150 wool suit was an extravagance when Hurley brought it. That was back when he left Wagner College for the head coaching job at Rhode Island. He needed it for his introductory news conference — a news conference held in March 2012. Twelve years ago.

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“I mean, look at this thing,” Hurley said, pointing at the tattered lining, at threadbare wool.

“And how about these shoes,” he added, “how f—ing jacked up are these shoes?”

This was Dan Hurley at his defining moment. Back-to-back national championships to his name. A 68-11 record over the previous two seasons. A program built in his image — tough, loud, loads of attitude. College basketball’s new kingpin.

Except, Hurley is the rare breed who both needs to prove he’s the best around, and still be doubted, all at once. That’s the wiring — and is why, when becoming the first men’s college coach to go back-to-back since Billy Donovan at Florida, Hurley needed it known that he was still the guy who coached at Wagner, still the guy everyone questioned, still the guy primed by superstitions and insecurities, still the guy in the shabby suit.

In this light, his dalliance with the Los Angeles Lakers might make a little more sense. To Hurley, this was a kid from Jersey City, N.J., interviewing for the freaking Lakers job. This was the guy everyone doubted being offered tens of millions of dollars. And this was a reminder to everyone out there that the kingpin has all the power.

If anything, Monday’s announcement that Hurley is remaining in Storrs, Conn., might be a little surprising. By jumping to the NBA, he could’ve started his climb all over again, settled back into the role he knows so well. He could’ve been ridiculed as a college fool who couldn’t coach pros; as a hot-head wailer lacking the disposition for an NBA sideline; as an East Coast windbag who couldn’t cut it in L.A.

He would’ve probably loved it.

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This is, after all, how Hurley operates. This is a former player who grew up playing in his brother Bobby’s impossibly long shadow. This is a coach who began coaching despite knowing his dad, Bob Sr., already set an impossible standard, one that took him from St. Anthony High in Jersey City, N.J., to the Naismith Hall of Fame.

In his present state, those insecurities are impossible to conjure. Last season stripped away the last veneer of denial of Hurley’s place among the best coaches in college basketball. Perhaps for the first time in his life, the 51-year-old has total and complete respect, total and complete stability, total and complete success.

If you understand the deeper corner’s of Dan Hurley’s mind, you understand this might be pretty uncomfortable for the man.

The fact is, if anyone was ever going to disregard the old coaching truism, Don’t mess with happy, after back-to-back titles, Hurley felt like a sure bet.

Instead, he’s opting to return to Connecticut, trying to keep the train rolling. His roster is losing Donovan Clingan and Tristen Newton, but is a preseason top-five team.

The Huskies will be good again. They’ll win a lot of games. Probably. But it’s worth wondering how much Hurley will continue thinking about this waltz with L.A.

By remaining in college basketball, Hurley has what, exactly, left to accomplish? Chase something as fickle as a three-peat? Remain enmeshed in the invisible war that is college basketball’s current state, just for the hell of it?

Hurley is not anti-NIL. Nor is he anti-player freedom. But he is openly appalled by how dysfunctional college basketball has become. He said in March he wanted to see changes. Real changes.

Maybe some common sense changes to the calendar or some guardrails raised. Maybe the creation of an omnipotent commissioner to bring some order to things. In truth, he knew all along he was shouting into a void. None of that will happen and college basketball will instead remain at the mercy of college football, growing only more and more unrecognizable.

He turned down an incredible amount of money, nevertheless. He’s also surrendered the right to complain about transfer portal temptations ruining the game. That’s the price for building a roster, then openly considering leaving the program in June.

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Back at UConn, the six-year contract worth $32.1 million that Hurley signed in 2023 is being torn up and remade. It’s notable that the new deal didn’t come immediately after the second consecutive national title was put on the shelf. It was probably notable to Hurley.

Any new contract, though, feels irrelevant in the big picture. Hurley’s decision to stick with UConn probably says more about how he saw his fit with the Lakers than it does his feelings about coaching in the NBA.

See, Hurley actually makes a lot of sense in the league. He understands the contours required in certain relationships and has spent his life enwrapped in player-coach power dynamics. As a younger coach at St. Benedict’s Prep, Hurley gained a rep for being able to appease multiple stars, feed a lot of mouths. At UConn, his first national title came when he entrusted three NBA prospects — Andre Jackson, Jordan Hawkins and Adama Sanogo — to take ownership of the team.

Hurley is smart, as a coach and as a pliable leader. So he will eventually try his hand at the NBA. But that’s down the line.

For now, he’s keeping things simple. He’ll give contentment a try.

(Photo: Mitchell Layton / Getty Images)



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