Can Dan Hurley Coach the URI Rams all the Way to March Madness?
Hurley's passion for basketball has taken him on a ride of soaring highs and excruciating lows.
Danny thought if he just worked a little bit harder, wanted it a little bit more, he could will his way to greatness. The harder he pressed, the more he wanted it, the worse he got. In the first two games of his junior season, Dan Hurley took seventeen shots, and made only one. Now it wasn’t only opposing fans who taunted him with “Bob-ee’s better.”
“I got tired of playing bad, tired of being taunted by crowds and chants,” Dan recalls. “It was more about me chasing ghosts — my brother, possessions, the prestige of the NBA, as opposed to trying to be the best version of myself.”
He became reclusive, shied away from teammates, lost weight, drank by himself in his room. “I was depressed and sad and angry,” he says. “I was falling into depression, sadness. Real sadness.”
December 4, 1993, should have been a fun day for the Hurley family. The brothers, Bobby and Danny, were both playing in a twin bill at Madison Square Garden, Danny for Seton Hall in the afternoon and Bobby coming from Sacramento to play the Knicks that night. Bob Sr. and his wife, Christine, took the Holland Tunnel from Jersey City to see the games. Both boys lost, and neither played well.
That night the brothers went out for a late dinner in Greenwich Village, and over a few drinks it all came tumbling out of Danny: the pressure, the depression, stuff he couldn’t tell his parents. “I was failing and I didn’t know how to stop it,” Dan says. “The only way I knew how to stop failing was to stop playing.” He told Bobby: I’m quitting basketball.
Dan does not remember Bobby’s exact response, he only recalls how those words made him feel. The lifeline that Bobby threw to his brother was: It’s good. I understand.
For a couple of days Dan stayed in his room, blowing off practice, not answering the phone. Then he made his way back to Jersey City, to the row house on Ferncliff Road to tell his father he had quit. There was no outburst of emotion, no warm hug, just a quiet acknowledgement that he was welcome home.
That Friday, December 12, the family settled in to watch Bobby play out in Sacramento, a moment featuring Bob Sr.’s one great indulgence: a big satellite TV to watch all of the great college and pro players that he had guided away from the streets of Jersey City. A few hours after the game ended, the phone rang, jangling Danny from sleep in his old basement bedroom. He figured it was Bobby on West Coast time, calling to complain about how he had played that night. Then Danny heard his father saying words like “critical” and “life threatening.”
On the outskirts of Sacramento, a Buick station wagon drove along a dark road with its headlights out. The speed limit was fifty-five miles per hour and the big Buick was doing all of that, hurtling through the darkness with the weight and speed of an unseen asteroid. Bobby Hurley approached the T-shaped intersection in his Toyota 4Runner, his lights probing straight ahead into a dark field. He took a left onto El Centro, an unlit, arrow-straight road. The Buick wagon slammed into his driver’s side door.
The trauma surgeons who worked on Bobby for eight hours that night called his list of injuries “coroner’s statistics”: His left lung was torn from his trachea, which is almost always fatal; both lungs had collapsed behind his five broken left ribs; a torn knee ligament; broken right fibula; compression fracture in the back; left shoulder blade fractured like a crushed egg.
“Looking at [Bobby] and wondering how he’s still alive,” Dan recalls of his arrival at the UCal-Davis Hospital in Sacramento. “Beyond recognizable. Swelling in every part of his body … the tubes. Bloated with all of that swelling.”
Just a week before, he had needed Bobby to tell him that he could take a break from basketball, that things were going to be okay. Now his brother needed him. “That’s when it hit me,” Dan says. “You idiot. To get this upset over basketball? I would say 90 percent of my healing happened right then.”
Danny stayed by his brother’s side until he was well enough to return to Jersey City, and upon returning, they began pushing each other forward the way they had done as kids; the brothers drove each other back onto the basketball court. Less than a year after he nearly died in a ditch in Sacramento, Bobby Hurley returned to the NBA, and in November of 1994, Danny returned to the Seton Hall Pirates.
“My issues were mental, emotional,” Dan says. “And just maturing. Just perspective issues. I mean, you grow up in Jersey City, and you get your college paid for. You get a full athletic scholarship to an outstanding university. My brother’s accident gave me some perspective.” He realized that his father had helped him the way he had helped literally hundreds of other kids, by pushing him to be a good enough athlete to get into college and out of Jersey City.
Freed from his self-imposed pressure, Dan Hurley averaged fourteen points per game his last two seasons at Seton Hall, and was among the Big East’s leaders in steals and assists. None of that mattered to the person he most wanted to impress: Andrea Sirakides, a freshman from Tom’s River.
Sirakides did not even want to be at Seton Hall; her first choice was the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, but her protective parents did not think she had the street smarts to live in the city. Her friend dated a Seton Hall basketball player, and while hanging out with them she met Danny Hurley. She wasn’t overly impressed. “He was kind of rough around the edges,” she says from the kitchen of their Saunderstown home. “I mean, not in a bad way.”
He, on the other hand, was smitten. Befitting a person who wanted to study fashion, she was fashionable; she had thick, dark hair, straight the first time they met, curled the second time. She comes from a line of what she calls “fixers,” a mother and grandmother who hate to see anybody sad and who will do whatever it takes to lift a down person’s spirits.
“Meeting Andrea in college fixed me,” Dan says. “She’s cleaned up the cave man, the Neanderthal parts in me, and helped me become a nice, more well-rounded person.”
By the end of his senior year in 1996, Dan cleaned up well enough to win her over. They got engaged, and Dan returned to St. Anthony, coaching with his father and teaching health to high school kids. After one season, college coach Kevin Bannon offered him a job as an assistant at Rutgers, and Hurley did what his father never did: He left St. Anthony to coach at the college level.
By the spring of 2001, the Rutgers basketball team was falling apart. Not only was it losing games, the head coach was being sued for a form of strip poker he had once put his players through. During a 1997 practice, whenever shooters missed a foul shot, they had to remove an article of clothing, a drill that ended with two players and two student managers running naked. As soon as that drill began, Hurley asked Bannon for permission to leave to go watch some video. Because he wasn’t there, Hurley was not included in the lawsuit filed against Bannon, but he was swept up in the head coach’s dismissal: In early 2001, Rutgers fired all the coaches to build the program anew. Dan was twenty-eight years old, father of a toddler, and out of a job.
“I walked away from that with unfinished business,” Hurley recalls. Colleges called with offers to make him an assistant, but Dan Hurley made a vow: “I would never put my family’s life and my career in the hands of another man again,” he says. “I was intent on only being a head coach. And the only place that was gonna let me do that was high school.”
The school that let Hurley cut his teeth as a head coach was St. Benedict’s Prep, a demanding all-boys Catholic school in Newark. Like St. Anthony, a majority of the students were black or Hispanic, and came from nearby New Jersey cities. St. Benedict’s motto was: Whatever hurts my brother hurts me, and whatever helps my brother helps me.
“I had a plan before I got there,” Hurley recalls. “I said to myself, ‘I’m gonna put together one of the elite high school basketball teams in the country, and Rutgers, I’m gonna show them they had a great person, a great coach, an outstanding recruiter.’ That drove me. I was so obsessed and driven, partly because my father raised me and that’s who we are, but I also had this external motivation.”