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Dan Hurley is the coach you want and the coach you need

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Allow E.C. Matthews to lay down the truth of the impression a college basketball coach should leave on his players. “This is my guy,” the emotional senior guard said of his coach Dan Hurley. “I know we’re not the same color, but he’s definitely my father.”

Matthews informed the media of what his coach’s value is to him and the rest of the Rhode Island Rams, who lost 87-62 to Duke in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament in Pittsburgh Saturday afternoon.

“A lot of people just don’t know the influence that coach has on all of us,” said guard Fatts Russell, after Rhode Island beat Oklahoma 83-78 in overtime to advance to the Second Round Thursday.  “He’s like a father to us.  He’s the guy that you want to play for.”

The Hurley name is to basketball what the Kennedy name is to politics, and the clout Dan carries is something on a presidential level nowadays, molding a cellar-dwelling Rhode Island team that went from an 8-21 season in 2012-13 (his first season), to back-to-back 20 win seasons and NCAA Tournament appearances, including a 26-7 mark this year, finishing first in the Atlantic-10 with a 15-3 mark.

“He’s his father’s son,” said Hurley’s associate head coach David Cox, who has been with the Rhode Island coaching staff since 2013.

On a coaching staff littered with basketball repute, Cox highlights the group with an assistant career that includes a 2006-07 with Pitt, where he served as director of basketball operations under Jamie Dixon, going 29-8 with a Sweet 16 appearance.  The product of Landover, MD moved on to join John Thompson III at Georgetown after that season, before working his way to Rutgers and eventually finding Hurley at Rhode Island in 2013. 

“When we got here, we were at the bottom,” said Cox.  “It took us (Hurley) just the first two years just to get the talent in and to buy into the coach and then from there it has taken off.  The last four years, just look at the record.  I mean, 91 wins in four years.  Hell, his record speaks for itself.”

Hurley restored success to a Rhode Island team program that hadn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since Jim Harrick’s 1998-99 team.  The son of Bob Hurley, a 28-time state championship winning head coach at then St. Anthony’s in New Jersey, earned the URI job after two successful seasons at Wagner, where Dan corralled 38 wins in two seasons at the NEC school.

“He’s got a great name; he’s got a great reputation,” said Cox.  “I mean, who wouldn’t want to play for a legendary family?”

Dan’s brother, Bobby, is the head coach at Arizona St, where he joined his brother Dan in the NCAA Tournament with the Sun Devils, who lost in the First Four to Syracuse.

A point guard at Seton Hall from 1991-96, Dan Hurley has always had connections to the northeast basketball community, which is where Rhode Island has found its success in terms of hardwood talent.

“We recruited a little bit above our level, so we have some talented players here, you know, those gritty players with a chip on their shoulders,” said Cox about Hurley’s recruiting process at Rhode Island.  “These are kids that should be playing at high-major schools and we have them.”

“We get them where they are tough at,” continued Cox.  “(Washington) D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Jersey, there is just a lot of talent and toughness in those cities.  Those are the guys you want.  Those are the guys have that edge.”

The journeyman coach talked about the parallels of Hurley’s recruiting style to that of Jamie Dixon’s when at Pitt.

“I remember being here with Jamie, and those guys we had, you know, Levance Fields, Sam Young, Keith Benjamin, (Ronald) Ramon, those guys were so gritty and they all had an edge because they were blue collar guys,” described coach. “Those guys were somewhat underappreciated and underrecruited and that is what made it work at [Pitt}.  That is where you find success at a place like Pitt.”

If a father-like symbol and recruiting guru doesn’t sell you as a dream hire for your basketball program in need, let the idea of Hurley’s consistency, stubbornness and loyalty to the game of roundball set in.

“This guy’s a machine,” Cox explained just as Hurley politely removed me from his seat on media row that I had stolen during the Duke vs. Iona game Thursday evening.

“He hasn’t missed a workout since he’s been a college coach,” he continued.  “You name a college coach that does that?  He doesn’t golf, he doesn’t gamble and he doesn’t go on speaking tours.   He is just in the gym and in it for the game all of the time.”

“Coach is there for you, like all of the time,” said guard Jared Terrell.  “He cares about this team, about all of us and it’s real.”

Like Terrell, E.C. Matthews, Jarvis Garrett, Stanford Robinson and Andre Berry—all who were apart of Hurley’s first recruiting class—are seniors and played their last game in Pittsburgh in Saturday’s loss.

Every school in need of a coach knows, “you want a coach that is loyal to his players.”

And Cox continued on that “loyalty” narrative, when the coach said that, “he could have left a couple of years ago and just taken the money at a couple of places, but he stayed with those guys and worked on the dream and wanted to finish it off with them.  Now that the senior class is graduating, perhaps it’s time, you never know.”

It seems that it is inevitable that Hurley will be on the move from Rhode Island, and it has become evident that both UCONN and Pitt are the frontrunners to land the top-tier coach.

Whoever gets Dan Hurley will find next-to-immediate success, as the coach brings an unequivocal coaching edge that makes the players believe in the product on the court. 

“We work as a unit, because that is how we are coached,” said Russell.  “I haven’t been here like the rest of the seniors, but I still feel experienced because this team works as one.  We’re on the same page.”

Cox closed our talk together, laying upon me the truth of who Dan Hurley, the coach really is.

“He’s the real deal, man,” coach so smoothly explained.  “Danny’s got an eye for the talent, he knows how to coach this game and you want to play for a guy like him.  He’s a hot commodity for all of the right reasons.”

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