It looks like a lot has happened in Tempe during the 10 days I’ve been out of town. Apparently, it’s a good thing for Arizona State men’s basketball that Duke has a deep bench of former players who have gone into the coaching profession.
Before I left, it looked like ASU Athletic Director Ray Anderson was going to smash his own record for quick hires.
Less than 24 hours after announcing the dismissal of head coach Herb Sendek and telling the public the school would begin a national search for his successor, Anderson had reportedly contacted Jeff Capel to make him an offer to come to Tempe.
If this had been true, Anderson must have had this offer in his back pocket.
On a Sunday night, Sendek’s team lost in the second round of the NIT. By the following Tuesday, Anderson had pulled the trigger to fire his coach and posted the news on the school’s website. And by Wednesday ESPN was reporting that the job had been offered to Capel, a former Duke player and current assistant coach.
When that report didn’t pan out, we all assumed the ASU brass wanted to wait until Duke was officially done with the NCAA Tournament. And when the tourney was over, Capel became the assistant coach on a team that just won a national championship.
But apparently Capel wasn’t interested in moving to the desert and taking on the age-old challenge of turning ASU into a national contender. So the coaching search took a turn toward New York where former Duke point guard Bobby Hurley was head coach at the University of Buffalo.
On April 9, one of the most recognizable names in college basketball was announced as the new face of Sun Devil basketball. Bobby Hurley had accepted the challenge.
This is the third major coaching hire for Anderson, who was named the school’s new athletic director just 15 months ago. And he has proven to be decisive in not only his firing practices, but in his hires. He fired the school’s head wrestling coach just three months into the job and hired his replacement a week later. Shortly after that, he took just 15 days to find a new baseball head coach after moving Tim Esmay out the door.
Hurley’s hire took a little longer – but only because he whiffed on Capel.
The 40-year-old Capel was the Big Dog on Anderson’s short list, a coach with head-coaching experience that included stints at Virginia Commonwealth and Oklahoma, where he took the Sooners to two trips to the NCAA Tournament in five years, including an appearance in the Elite Eight. He has been the right-hand man for Coach K at Duke for the last four years.
A Capel hire would have been more similar to that of Sendek, who was let go March 24. Sendek was a well-known and highly-respected name in the college game and came to ASU in 2006 after leading the North Carolina State program for 10 years.
But now ASU will look to youth and a tradition of winning, rather than big-program experience, to lead the Devils out of the desert and onto the national stage. The 43-year-old Hurley spent just three years working as an assistant coach for his brother, Danny, before being hired two years ago to direct the Buffalo program.
Experience obviously isn’t the primary reason Anderson is taking a flier on a rising young coach. At Buffalo, Hurley led that team to the school’s first-ever Mid-American Conference title and NCAA Tournament appearance, winning 42 games, which were the most in the first two years for any Buffalo head coach.
“Bobby is energetic, passionate and tough,” said Anderson in announcing the hire, “and his contagious competitive fire will bring unmatched vigor to our men’s basketball program. A teacher first and foremost, he is a proven winner as both a player and a coach, and understands the steps it takes to be a champion.”
Hurley led Duke to two national championships as one of the best point guards in the game. He hung up his college sneakers as the NCAA career leader in assists. He was the No. 7 pick in the 1993 NBA draft, but an automobile accident five years later ended his pro career when he was just 26 years old.
That energy and passion that Anderson referred to will be much needed in his next step on the coaching ladder because it will be success on the recruiting trail, getting young players to buy into his vision, that will enable him to do something that more experienced coaches in Tempe haven’t been able to do.
Sendek was well-liked by players and fans alike, but it was no secret that his supporters weren’t happy with his failure to load his rosters the way his counterpart in Tucson has done. Sean Miller has pulled in Top-10 recruiting classes for the Wildcats for the past five years, and has been a regular participant at the Big Dance in March.
Hurley had to know what he was facing when he took Anderson’s offer. But the Arizona State job has been an attractive challenge that has sucked in plenty of experienced coaches over the years.
So, at least for now, there is a new positive buzz in Tempe. The fans have something new and exciting to hang their hopes on for the future.
Yes, Bobby Hurley knows from experience what it takes to win in college sports at the highest level. And he’s shown – albeit briefly – what he can accomplish at the mid-major level of college basketball.
But it will take top-level player talent to get the job done in the Division I game. And that’s where Hurley will have to begin… on the recruiting trail.
Hopefully, he’s already out there.