Dan Hurley’s looming decision to leave UConn for the Lakers is different than any college coach has faced before

When Mike Krzyzewski was presented the opportunity to coach the Los Angeles Lakers exactly 20 years ago, Ed O’Bannon had recently played his final professional basketball game, Shawne Alston was in elementary school and Grant House was just past his sixth birthday. The institution of college sports was in a much different position before those three men became the faces of a revolution.

The world Dan Hurley conquered in the past two years is the product of the legal cases in which O’Bannon, Alston and House were at the head of class actions. The NCAA’s defeat in the O’Bannon case opened the door for cost-of-attendance payments. The NCAA’s overwhelming loss in the Alston case destroyed the organization’s ability to police name/image/likeness compensation. The settlement in the House suit, still waiting to be finalized, will lead to programs being permitted to share up to $22 million of athletic revenue with active athletes.

It’s that last part that will make Hurley’s decision so much different than what Krzyzewski considered in the summer of 2004, or what Tom Izzo was offered four years prior to that to jump to the NBA. Near the turn of the century, a coach could look forward with great assurance about what the future might bring.

Coach K had three NCAA Championships on his resume when the Lakers called. Then 57, he understood he could be Coach K at Duke for as long as he wished. Same for Izzo. They never would be fired.

It’s not like that in the NBA. Not then, and not now. This is the league where one franchise, the Milwaukee Bucks, fired a coach two years after he won the NBA Finals and another who’d compiled a 30-13 record through the first half of a season. The average coach lasts fewer than four years on the job.

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Even winning a title doesn’t help. By May of 2023, the NBA Finals winning coaches of 2019 (Nick Nurse), 2020 (Frank Vogel) and 2021 (Mike Budenholzer) had all been fired by the teams they won the title with.

So that’s something for Hurley to consider. With the NBA on the verge of signing broadcast contracts worth a combined $76 billion, though, there is no doubt about the league’s future. That sort of clarity is not available to any college coach.

Those in the SEC and Big Ten at least know they’re likely to be among the survivors. Beyond that, it’s impossible to be certain of much.

We know the NCAA Tournament will survive another decade or so, because the funds to amortize settlement of the House v. NCAA case are tied to future March Madness payments. If a group of teams were interested in departing the NCAA, they would need to pull that money from their own pockets.

We can’t be sure, though, how competitive any entity will be that operates outside the dynamic duo.

In UConn’s specific case, locating the source of that $22 million ‘salary cap’ will not be easy. The university has chosen to continue its FBS football program, even as an independent, which operated at a $14 million loss in the 2023 fiscal year. The athletic program required a $35.8 million institutional subsidy that year, down by 35 percent from the prior year. And all of that occurred well before the impending revenue-sharing model is adopted.

Hurley’s situation is much different than what Jim Harbaugh considered after leading Michigan to the 2023 College Football Playoff title. Michigan athletics produced a surplus of $4 million for the 2023 fiscal year. The Wolverines draw an average of more than 109,000 for home games, and Big Ten broadcast rights took an exorbitant leap starting this past season and continuing for the next half-dozen years.

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MORE: The similarities and differences of Jim Harbaugh and Dan Hurley

Harbaugh also had played in the NFL for 14 years and worked two years as an assistant with the Raiders and four as head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Hurley has existed in college basketball for 25 of his 51 years, and given the prominence of St. Benedict’s Prep while he coached there, within the sport’s ecosystem for another nine.

He also has spent the entirety of his life within a few hours of his family’s Jersey City home. The farthest he moved away was to Rhode Island, a little more than 4 hours up I-95. Moving to LA will involve a significant culture shock, one UCLA’s Mick Cronin would recommend but is not to everyone’s taste.

And he would need to reconsider his approach to in-game coaching. Working 82 games with the operatic emotion he has demonstrated at UConn, particularly toward game officials, would be entirely out of step with how the league’s other coaches operate. Not only are there far more games, they are longer and involve more possessions because of the shorter shot-clock cycle. It’s not healthy to be that angry that often.

Hurley has the mind for this. His sophisticated offensive schemes were an essential ingredient to UConn’s consecutive titles. And he’s excelled with player development and deployment; he is adept at helping players to improve their skills and incorporating those talents into successful strategies.

His is a tougher decision than Coach K’s. That doesn’t mean Hurley won’t make the same decision, but the road to get there will involve more obstacles.

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