On Saturday night, Dan Hurley's UConn team will take the floor in Houston in the NCAA Tournament men's Final Four. It's a huge achievement, cementing Connecticut's place as college basketball's newest blue blood and Hurley as one of the best coaches in college basketball. The Huskies are the Vegas favorites to cut down the nets Monday night; but even if they fall short of a national championship, it's been a tremendous season for UConn and its annoying fans.
For many casual hoops fans across the nation, the Final Four will also serve as an introduction to Hurley, the Huskies' fiery head coach. Hurley comes from New Jersey basketball royalty. His father, Bob Hurley Sr., is a Hall of Fame high school coach who won 28 state titles with St. Anthony's in Jersey City. His brother, Bobby Hurley, starred at Duke in the early '90s and is currently the head coach at Arizona State University.
You can see elements of Jersey fire in pretty much everything Dan Hurley does. He walks with intensity, talks with a chip on his shoulder and is incredibly quick to play the "who me?" aggrieved card.
As someone who's watched him for several years at Connecticut and the University of Rhode Island, let me assure you: The guy is must-see TV.
He's passionate, he's loud, he's demonstrative, and he's unafraid to let the referees knows what he's thinking. He takes the most basic parts of being a fired-up college basketball coach and turns them into performance art, with a commedia dell'arte-like repertoire of faces, expressions and gestures to match.
College Hoops Coaching: A Legacy Of Theatrics
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One of my earliest memories as a young Providence College fan was watching all the Big East coaches come to the Providence Civic Center and recognizing the different demeanors each brought to the role. There was Jim Boeheim, who always had an annoyed look about him, as if he was on his way to something fun but someone made him stop and coach this stupid game. When he pleaded with the refs, it was less a passionate desire for righteousness and more of a "are we really doing this right now?" look you see a tired parent give their misbehaving 7-year-old.
Jim Calhoun, on the other hand, would yell with such a feral-ness that you could see the spittle flying from across the court. He was like one of those well-trained, overly exuberant Shakespearean actors — really hitting all the plosives and accentuating each syllable with a hand gesture. Jay Wright would simply stand there in his impeccably tailored $3,000 suits, looking less like a harried basketball coach and more like a Men's Warehouse commercial. "You're gonna like the way my team plays defense; I guarantee it."
And so, as someone with a keen appreciation for the theatrics of college basketball coaches, I really admire Hurley's work. He brings a genuine short-guy-from-Jersey scrappiness to the sidelines that can't really be faked. Very few college coaches can convincingly pull off the look that they may actually start a fistfight with a referee in the middle of the game, but Hurley has it holstered and ready to go at all times He can alternate between chest bumping his own players and cooly shaking hands with the opposing coach at a moment's notice. He does the whole Shaka Smart get-down-in-your-defensive-stance thing, but while his team has the ball.
I mean, who else gets kicked out of a game for firing up their own fans?
This clip contains multitudes. First he's tech'ed up for something we don't actually see but which announcer Bill Raftery describes as "banging the sideboards." What does that even mean? What's a sideboard? Why was Hurley banging it?
When he realizes the technical foul is on him, it does not take an expert lip-reader to recognize the "what the f—- did I do wrong!?" at the 0:10-second mark.
I love this look of apoplectic shock and awe. Photoshop away the basketball scenery, and this is a board member at Succession's Waystar Royco when he learns Logan might back out of the deal with GoJo.
But what makes Hurley a virtuoso is his range. Anyone can just play angry. But can you go from incensed and wronged to high-fiving a student athlete in the course of just a few seconds? Of course you can't, because you're not Meryl Freaking Streep or Dan Freaking Hurley. He then turns to the crowd and waves his arms to get them to make some noise. The refs react as if Hurley is trying to incite a riot — and, to be fair, he does have a certain riot-inciting energy in that little frame of his — and toss him from the game.
In another Hurley ejection, the coach can be seen trying to initiate a handshake with the opposing team's head coach from about 60 feet away, giving classic "Is this guy serious??" face. The only reason Hurley is trying to make nice with the opposing coach is because Hurley started a fight with him. So you've got faux outrage and aggrievedness all in one package. And then moments later, when the refs toss both head coaches from the contest, we get a meme-worthy hands-on-head, WTF-is-happening-to-me, my-life-suckssss moment from Hurley.
The great thing about Hurley is you can't really tell if his team is winning or losing based on his reactions. There's so much fire and joy and rage and elation lying just beneath the surface at all times that the slightest missed cut or blown call can elicit any number of looks.
This one looks familiar. Like, I've definitely seen this face before.
Dan Hurley: Work of art.
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