The Dan Hurley Era has seemingly come to an end in Rhode Island. And I'm happy to see him go.
Six years after arriving in Kingston via Staten Island (Wagner College) to undertake a massive program rebuild for the Rams, the men's basketball coach is setting his sights on larger challenges. Specifically, Hurley is expected to sign a long-term, big-money contract with the Connecticut Huskies, after also drawing attention from the Pittsburgh Panthers of the ACC.
Hurley took a Rams team that had underwhelmed for 11 years under Jim Barron. Barron had amassed five 20+ win seasons, and five NIT bids between 2001 and 2012, but failed to reach the Big Dance in any season. In fact, the Rams - prior to 2017 - had not made an NCAA Tournament since 1999 under Jim Harrick.
Under Barron, Rams teams often showed a lot of potential, and the run-and-gun coach was able to bring in some big talent, including Dawan Robinson, Will Daniels, Joel Mbang, Kaheem Seawright, and his own son, Jim Barron, Jr., but the teams were rarely cohesive units and would routinely fold against superior competition. Barron's style of fast break, high tempo offense was exciting to watch, and often resulted in high point totals, but required a deep athletic roster, thus limiting the efficacy of spot shooters. This meant that the offense was streaky, and unpredictable.
Also, with limited defensive focus, the Rams under Barron needed to outgun their opponents, which was tough to execute against top-25 teams as well as some of the physical juggernauts in the Atlantic 10 such as Richmond, VCU, and Dayton.
When Barron departed in 2012, it was clear that URI Athletic Director Thorr Bjorn needed a change in culture. Barron had found some success in Rhode Island with seven winning seasons, but they needed to change the paradigm if they wanted to get over the hump.
Enter Dan Hurley.
Dan Hurley, then aged 39, was an up-and-coming collegiate coach with quite a basketball pedigree. The son of Hall of Fame coach, Bob Hurley, and younger brother to Duke superstar and NBA Lottery Pick Bobby Hurley, had just led a Wagner College Seahawks team to a 25-6 record, just missing the tourney.
Hurley's first season two seasons at Rhode Island were lackluster, posting records of 8-21 and 14-18 respectively. Despite the losing seasons, the culture change was undeniable. The Rams were now playing defense. And while they had been losing more frequently than they won, URI was no longer giving up 80 points a game. Instead of 87-83 shootouts, they were playing games at scores closer to 65-59. They stopped trying to outrun every opponent and started trying to execute their own gameplan, and capitalize on the errors of their opponents.
In year three, Hurley's influence as a recruiter began to shine through. He opened up new recruiting circles, and was suddenly able to attract top athletes from around the country. He signed Jarvis Garrett, a top-rated point guard from Milwaukee, and scoring machine, E.C. Matthews from Detroit. He added Hassan Martin from Staten Island, and grabbed big name transfers such as Kuran Iverson (Memphis) and Stanford Robinson (Indiana).
Hurley put together a group of winners, and taught them how to win. In Hurley's last three seasons, the Rams went 68-33, and earned not only two consecutive March Madness appearances, but two March Madness wins. Not only that, he built one of the strongest recruiting pipelines in the nation, which will (barring transfers) be a top-25 freshman class.
While filling Hurley's shoes will be a tough task, the program is in a much better position due to the foundation he built in Kingston. He transformed the Ryan Center into one of the best home-court advantages in the nation, and turned the Rams into the class of the A-10. Whoever steps in next will have their work cut out for them, but that work will be based around a return to the Big Dance, and no longer a fight to escape obscurity.
In six seasons, Dan Hurley carried this program as far as he could possibly take it. It's time for him to move on, get paid, and help return a UConn program to the heights it had reached under another Hurley-esque leader, Jim Calhoun.
So, thank you, Dan Hurley. You've done good for Li'l Rhody. Let me know if you need a ride to the airport.
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