Commentary

Hurleys bring brother act to Wagner

Coaches Dan, Bobby have squeezed three wins out of team that won five last season

Updated: December 2, 2010, 4:29 PM ET
By Kieran Darcy | ESPNNewYork.com

Dan and Bobby HurleyKieran Darcy/ESPNNewYork.com Dan Hurley, left, says having Bobby on the staff was a key factor in taking the Wagner job.

NEW YORK -- It was a long bus ride, but a happy one, for Dan Hurley on Monday night. His new team had just defeated Bucknell 77-73, and was now making the three-hour trek back to Staten Island.

They rolled onto the Wagner College campus right around 1 a.m. Tack on another hour, and Hurley was back at his house in Freehold, N.J., headed straight for bed. However, his older brother, Bobby -- also his assistant coach -- had other ideas.

"He texted me at like 2 a.m. last night about the game," Dan, 38, said Tuesday afternoon, laughing. "I looked at it this morning and I said to myself, 'This guy can't be serious right now. Just go to sleep!'"

"It's hard for me still. I haven't adjusted," said Bobby, 39. "I can't unwind after [a game]. It takes awhile for it to get out of my system."

• • •

It's fair to say neither Hurley brother has been able to get basketball out of his system -- and why would they?

Their father, legendary coach Bob Hurley Sr. of St. Anthony in Jersey City, became just the third high school coach ever inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Bobby was a first-team All-American and two-time national champion at Duke, and remains the NCAA's all-time leader in assists. Dan played on three NCAA tournament teams in four years at Seton Hall, and finished his college career with 1,070 career points.

Both brothers had excellent playing careers but Bobby was a much bigger star, eventually going on to play five seasons in the NBA. Yet Bobby was the one who always envisioned coaching in his future.

"I thought coaching was gonna happen for me quicker than it did," Bobby said. "I was fortunate to have a chance to take basketball pretty far."

Dan, on the other hand, had a different frame of mind.

"I always dreamed of playing," Dan said. "I didn't realize I would be a coach really until Allen Iverson and Ray Allen and Kerry Kittles showed up into my life in the Big East. When Iverson had 39 on me my senior year, it kinda hit home that if I wanted to stay involved in basketball, I'd be wearing dress clothes and using a clipboard."

[+] EnlargeBobby and Dan Hurley
AP Photo/Amy SancettaBobby, left, and Dan Hurley squared off in an NCAA tourney game on March 26, 1992. Bobby's Duke Blue Devils won en route to the national title.

Their father is not surprised that both ended up following in his footsteps.

"I thought there was a good chance it would happen for both," the elder Hurley said. "I think when you play in college, there's a natural opportunity -- particularly as point guards. Having grown up around the house, they were brainwashed from the time they were young, being around the game all the time. I think it's kind of a natural transition."

Dan had opportunities to play professionally overseas, but decided to enter the coaching ranks immediately after college -- first as an assistant for his father for a year, followed by four years as an assistant at Rutgers. Then, for nine years, he was the head coach at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, N.J., transforming that program into a national powerhouse.

Bobby, on the other hand, moved to Florida after his NBA career ended in 1998, and turned his attention to being a thoroughbred horse owner and breeder. But in the past year he got bitten by the coaching bug, and let his brother know that he'd be interested in giving it a try as an assistant if Dan decided to make the leap to a college program.

Now the two brothers are trying to resurrect the men's basketball program at Wagner College, a small liberal arts school on Grymes Hill in Staten Island, which has been to the NCAA tournament only once in school history.

The Seahawks finished 5-26 a season ago, resulting in the dismissal of coach Mike Deane in March. Dan said he could have stayed at St. Benedict's his entire career and been very happy, as his father has done at St. Anthony -- but he was tempted by the opportunity at Wagner, so decided to pursue it. In early April, Dan was offered the job, and he ultimately accepted it -- under one condition.

"I would not have taken it if I wouldn't have been able to have Bobby with me," Dan said. "For me to take on a job like this, with the inevitable highs and lows of taking over a program that's been pretty down, I felt like I needed people around me that would keep me from having a meltdown over the inevitable losing that would go on in the early years of building your program."

The Year 1 results have been a pleasant surprise. Wagner -- picked by Blue Ribbon to finish 10th in the 11-team Northeast Conference -- is 3-2, with wins over Lafayette (picked to win the Patriot League) and Stony Brook (picked to finish second in the America East), in addition to Bucknell. The Seahawks lost by 16 at Lehigh, and by four at Hofstra.

The Hurleys are going with three freshmen and two juniors in the starting lineup, so all five players will be around next year. And the Hurleys are excited about the two high school players they've signed so far for next season.

Their father, who watched the team scrimmage in the spring after his sons took over, and has seen two games so far this season -- one in person, one on TV -- has been impressed.

"I absolutely knew that [Dan and Bobby] would get the kids to really start to change," Hurley Sr. said. "Five games into the season, you can see their influence already. It's been terrific."

The brothers' coaching collaboration seems to be working well, too -- despite the potential awkwardness of Dan being Bobby's boss. It probably helps that both brothers say they were very close growing up.

"It's been a great experience for me coaching under Dan because he's very good at what he does," Bobby said. "I've obviously been exposed to some very good coaches in my life in basketball, and he stacks up with anybody."

[+] EnlargeBobby Hurley and Allen Iverson
AP Photo/Rusty KennedyBobby Hurley spent 4 1/2 of his five NBA seasons with the Sacramento Kings.

On Wednesday night, Wagner faces its toughest challenge yet, taking on St. John's at Carnesecca Arena in Queens. But Dan and Bobby are used to challenges. Despite all the statistics and accolades they piled up, neither one had a smooth ride through his playing career.

Bobby was in a serious car accident during his rookie season with the Sacramento Kings and was never the same player after that. Danny had to take a leave of absence from Seton Hall his senior year, suffering under the mental stress of trying to live up to his brother's success.

Both think the adversity has made them better coaches.

"I feel very strongly that way," Bobby said. "I knew nothing but winning at St. Anthony, and then at Duke. And I don't know if anyone [else] could win like that. But then at the NBA things went really sideways, completely in the other direction. I experienced at times not even being in the rotation, having to be the 10th, 11th man on the team, and still show up at practice and work hard and support my other teammates.

"I had to feel the pain of being not as successful as I wanted to [be]. So I think I know maybe what everyone on our roster is going through."

"I was my own worst enemy," Dan said. "I created the majority of my struggles, just because of my mental approach, my immaturity. When I look back upon it, it had nothing to do with who coached me or where I was playing or who I was playing against or crowd reactions -- I just wasn't as mature or as focused as I needed to be, or as prepared.

"So now I study my guys, I study our team, I study individual players. And I spend a lot of time thinking about what they need. Is it an encouragement day? Is it a day you build them up, or is it a day you break 'em down?"

It remains to be seen what kind of day Thursday will be, after the St. John's game. But no matter what, the Wagner players and the program's supporters should feel confident about the future, looking at the pedigree and track record of the new men behind the wheel.

And Dan should probably expect a text message from his brother in the wee hours Thursday morning. Some people can never get it out of their system.

Kieran Darcy is a staff writer for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
Follow Kieran on Twitter »

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