Dan Hurley Staying at UConn Is Good for Men’s College Basketball

Dan Hurley Staying at UConn Is Good for Men’s College Basketball

College basketball has always been a sport about its coaches. 

For players, the sport is a transient stop in between high school and the NBA, especially in the modern era. Its coaches, much more so than in professional basketball, are the faces of the game and its biggest programs. 

Personalities that anchored the sport for decades—Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Jay Wright—all departing it in the span of roughly 13 months was a landscape-shifting moment. Especially with rapidly increasing roster turnover, college basketball desperately needed a new coach to step into the spotlight and take the reins … and there was no obvious candidate. 

Over the last two years, Dan Hurley has been everything any supporter of the sport could have asked for and more. A coach who hadn’t won an NCAA men’s tournament game at UConn at the time of Wright’s retirement in late April 2022 and had long been stuck in the shadow of his more-successful brother and father took over the sport in rapid succession. His latest move, turning down a reported massive six-year contract from the Los Angeles Lakers to stay at Connecticut, only adds to the legend of Hurley, college basketball’s unquestioned star of the show for as long as he wants to be. 

In many ways, Hurley has been the perfect frontman for modern college basketball. He has the big personality needed to carry the sport, a captivating figure who merges the fiery sideline persona that oftentimes becomes a show of its own with being a thoughtful, introspective person off it. His roster construction can be a model throughout the sport for those looking at how to navigate the transfer portal, seamlessly meshing elite freshmen and top transfers with multiyear rotation players and emphasizing player development. He has brought new ideas to the table from an X’s and O’s standpoint, embracing an offensive system that runs more sets than just about anyone in college basketball and has influences from overseas pro hoops to high school and AAU games. And he’s doing it at a true basketball school in UConn, a program that won three titles under Jim Calhoun and another under Kevin Ollie and was willing to bet big on hoops over football by ditching the American for the Big East in 2020.

The sideline antics, the bluster in interviews, the ruthlessly dominant teams … the Hurley experience is, if nothing else, an entertaining one. You may love Dan Hurley or you might hate him, but you’re going to have a hard time not watching him. And quite frankly, the sport needs as many coaching personalities like that as possible. With rosters changing drastically every offseason, giving fans reasons to turn on games between teams they aren’t familiar with is massive. 

UConn’s hunt for a three-peat will be wildly compelling television next season, with Hurley’s willingness to turn down one of the most storied organizations in sports to chase it only adding to the specter. Duke isn’t the same draw yet with Jon Scheyer on the sideline as it was with Krzyzewski. Neither are Kentucky with Mark Pope instead of John Calipari, North Carolina with Hubert Davis rather than Williams, Syracuse with Adrian Autry over Jim Boeheim or Villanova with Kyle Neptune instead of Wright. Hurley and UConn are the unquestioned headline-creator of the college basketball world today, and that’s not going away anytime soon. 

The rising tide attached to Hurley is particularly impactful for the Big East’s future, a league that has produced four of the last eight men’s basketball national champions but will always exist on slightly shakier ground than its high-major counterparts due to its lack of football. Hurley’s emergence coming right after Wright’s retirement at Villanova was a godsend for the league, especially with the conference’s TV deal set to expire at the end of the 2024–25 season. Hurley, Rick Pitino and a bevy of other high-profile coaches around them makes this league must-see television.

And in 2024–25, there will be nothing more interesting than Hurley and UConn’s chase of a three-peat. The back-to-back titles club is already an elite one, with only Billy Donovan, Krzyzewski and John Wooden able to pull it off in the last 60 years. Make it three, and now Hurley enters the conversation for being the greatest college basketball coach of all time. Turning down one of the biggest brands in professional sports to do it only further adds to the lore. Krzyzewski turned down the Lakers in 2005 and eventually won two more titles in college. If Hurley does that, he’ll top Calhoun in the UConn record books and join Wooden, Krzyzewski and Adolph Rupp in the four-plus club. 

This won’t be the last time an NBA team makes a hard push for the UConn coach, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one eventually succeed. Hurley has been open about his interest in coaching in the pros, and at 51 years old, he still has time to make a move in the coming years. Whenever the New York Knicks head job opens up, the rumor mill will assuredly take off again. 

But every year Hurley spends in the college game is a major win for the sport. With drastic changes abound in college sports and many of the sport’s biggest names having recently retired, the leadership vacuum at the top was evident. Hurley’s emergence in the last two years has been everything the game needed, and his chance to impact its future is only just beginning.