By ERIC RUEB
KINGSTON - Standing behind a podium with a University of Rhode Island jersey with his last name emblazoned on the back, Dan Hurley opened his introductory press conference with a couple jokes and ended talking about winning.
And winning is something he is not taking lightly.
The Rams, coming off one of the worst seasons in the program’s history, needed something to give the alumni, boosters, students and fan base a sense that things were going to be heading in the right direction and after two-and-a-half week search – and 13 years without an NCAA Tournament bid - everyone got what they wanted in Hurley.
“When I looked at the top of my list – and the idea that every AD has a list is true – starting last year I was looking to see who was doing what and he was special, but you never know,” URI Director of Athletics Thorr Bjorn said. “You never know if he was going to be interested, if there’s going to be the right fit, if you’re going to hit it off. We spent some time together and we felt that we really hit it off. We talked about partnership, talked about building something special and talked about how he and I are together on this all the way through and that to me is so critically important.”
“I’m excited to be here,” Hurley said, “for a very long time.”
A very long time could be anywhere from a few years to the rest of his career. When he left St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, N.J. to take over at Wagner College, a small school located on Staten Island, the Seton Hall graduate expected to be with the Seahawks for several years as he built a resume looking for that next big job.
The season before Hurley arrived, the Seahawks won five games; in 2010-11, Wagner won 13 and this season the team finished 25-6 and 15-3 in Northeast Conference play. The success immediately put Hurley on the radar of every and any mid-major conference school looking for a head coach.
And, as it turned out, there was one in URI.
“As much as Thorr likes me, if we didn’t go 25-6 this year,” said Hurley speaking to the crowd of around 300, which included players, faculty, alumni, students and fans, “I don’t think I would be standing up here.
“If we were .500, probably not.”
“We were trying to recruit him. He was happy with where he was,” Bjorn said. “Wagner loved him and he loved them and loved his team. We had to, in my opinion, go out and recruit him.”
The numbers surrounding Hurley’s deal depend on a lot of things, but his salary will be in the range of $600-$750,000 over the next six seasons, depending on the success he and the Rams have.
But what wasn’t part of the deal, despite some reports indicating otherwise, was the inclusion of brother Bobby Hurley, the former Duke legend, as part of his coaching staff.
Rumors persisted that Bobby was going to take over for Dan as head coach at Wagner, but on Wednesday he sat on the stage at Keaney Gymnasium listening to his brother speak.
“He did not have to come. He gave me two years of just unbelievable work as an assistant, a coach and a recruiter; he owes me nothing,” Dan Hurley said. “For him, getting to his level is exciting to him. He played at Duke and played in the NBA so getting to the Atlantic 10, a higher level of college basketball where he can grow as a coach, I think was important for him.”
Officially, Bobby Hurley hasn’t been hired by the school; with the state’s strict nepotism laws, Dan cannot hire him or oversee him in any way, so Bjorn will take over the duties of being Bobby’s boss and be the one doing the hiring.
It seems like an extremely sketchy way around the law, especially with the debacle of the Jim Harrick-Jim Harrick Jr. hire in 1997, a move that was approved by the state’s ethics commission.
However, URI is already doing a similar thing with its women’s track program. The head coach there is Laurie Feit-Melnick and the assistant her husband John Melnick.
“I don’t want to say it’s a way around it, but it’s a way we’re protecting the university and protecting everyone involved,” Bjorn said. “It’s our obligation to make sure we have controls in place and we have to make sure we have to protect the coaches too and make sure they’re not doing anything wrong, take away any perception that they may be.
“Having the AD be the guy who is in charge of annual evaluations and if you’re the right guy or aren’t you. I have no problem with that and we do that now with some other sports. It’s the right way to do it.”
With Bobby Hurley on board, the big question at Keaney was would he be joined by Preston Murphy, who served as an assistant for Jim Baron the past two seasons and was the only coach on staff before Tuesday’s hiring.
“Preston is on staff,” Bjorn said, “and he’ll have an opportunity to interview with Danny.”
“The staff thing we’re going to talk about and I’m going to meet with Preston,” Hurley said. “Our staff is not close to being finalized. One of my assistants at Wagner [Bashir Mason] who would join us is currently interviewing for the position there, or at least still in the mix there, so we’ll see where that goes.”
Hurley was joined at the press conference by his family, including father Bob Hurley Sr. – the only Basketball Hall of Famer in the gym Wednesday – wife Andrea and sons Danny and Andrew, who were more than happy to laugh and film their father with cell phones during the press conference. The three also played a role in Bjorn getting his man.
“It was my wife’s decision,” Hurley admitted. “All along she was supportive of it and my children were excited to move to the area.”
Rhode Island fans left Wednesday’s press conference excited at what the future holds and after doing a couple television interviews and one mass interview with several reporters, Hurley looked at ease that the pomp and circumstance of the day – and decision-making from the preceding days - was finally over.
“I’m excited and relieved, but thrilled to be here mostly,” Hurley said. “You’re able to move on from yesterday now and you’ve made a decision and you don’t look back.”