In the end, it’s almost always about money, isn’t it? A bigger paycheck, extra cash for the kids college fund, the retirement account, the vacation to Disney World.
So it is with Dan Hurley, as of Thursday the former head coach of men’s basketball at the University of Rhode Island and the new head coach at the University of Connecticut. Hurley is moving from Kingston to Storrs for about $3 million per year for six years, according to reports in The Providence Journal and the Hartford Courant. That’s triple his salary at URI. Can you blame him? Say you worked in Providence and a company in Boston offered you three times as much for the same kind of work. Wouldn’t you move 55 miles for that salary bump?
Hurley will have more resources in Storrs than he did in Kingston. The UConn brand may not be what it was in the Big East glory days of coach Jim Calhoun, and the firing of coach Kevin Ollie this month with $10 million in salary possibly in play hasn’t helped any. But the program can boast four national championships, a strong fan base and name recognition that URI can still only dream of. Case in point: I am writing this from a resort near Charleston, S.C. When bellmen and waiters politely asked where I am from, I replied Providence, Rhode Island. Without missing a beat they started talking about the Friars. They never mentioned the Rams, proof that URI has a ways to go on the recognition scale.
I had hoped Hurley would stay. He had restored power to URI basketball, generated electricity in the Ryan Center, and in the last two years often matched and even surpassed the fine exploits of Providence College and their charismatic coach, Ed Cooley.
I’m sure Hurley enjoyed his six years at URI. Why else would he have turned down the Rutgers job in his home state? Twice! He took a program that was 7-24 the season before he arrived and built an NCAA tournament team that posted at least 25 victories the last two years, went to the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons and won first-round games both years. His Rams won the Atlantic 10 Tournament in 2017 and the A-10 regular season title in 2018. His six-year-record: 113-82.
Fans loved him, his passion for the game and his affection for the players he recruited and coached, the graduated Hassan Martin and the fifth-year senior E.C. Matthews being the poster guys of the Hurley Era.
Now, UConn fans will fall in love him while URI fans remember him like a long-ago prom date. Oh, what a night, indeed. I hope Hurley’s successor can sustain the momentum. And who will he be? Speculation is rampant. Current associate head coach David Cox, a proven recruiter? Vermont’s John Becker, a proven winner in the America East Conference? Nate Oats, the Buffalo coach who took his team to the NCAA Tournament two of the last three seasons and upset Arizona this year? Ryan Odom of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, whose 16th-seeded team stunned No. 1 Virginia in the first round of the NCAA this month? Rick Pitino, currently unemployed and no further introduction necessary? We won’t have to wait long for an answer, that’s for sure. With a solid nucleus and a class of talented recruits, URI is an attractive coaching position now.
Give credit to URI’s director of athletics, Thorr Bjorn, for tempting Hurley with a contract extension through the 2026 season, $2 million for the 2019-20 season, a bigger overall budget for men’s basketball and planning for a dedicated practice facility. But he could not touch UConn’s salary offer and other perks. In the end, it’s almost always about money, isn’t it?
So good luck, Dan Hurley. We Rhode Islanders thank you for the memories. And good luck Thorr Bjorn. We Rhode Islanders are counting on you to find another winner to continue the renaissance of URI basketball.