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Colleges start to try to woo UB’s Hurley

Bucky Gleason

According to a report Tuesday in the Chicago Tribune, DePaul University has targeted Buffalo coach Bobby Hurley and Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew as top candidates to take over the basketball program. No surprise there. If anything, it showed DePaul has good taste.

Hurley’s stock, climbing for a month, took another jump last weekend after UB played well in a loss to West Virginia. That’s what the NCAA Tournament does. It gives a program and its coach credibility, even more after it becomes clear that the invitation to the Big Dance was worth sending.

OK, so let’s talk numbers.

DePaul reportedly was paying its previous coach, Oliver Purnell, between $1.8 million and $2.2 million on a seven-year deal before he resigned March 14. He had been a head coach for 22 years and had reached the NCAAs with Old Dominion, Dayton and Clemson before five consecutive losing seasons and a 54-105 record at DePaul.

The Blue Demons play in the Big East. They have more money and compete in a much better conference than Buffalo. The Big East isn’t what it was during its glory days with Georgetown and Syracuse, but it’s still an elite league that sent six teams to the NCAAs, second-most behind the Big 12.

It also had the second-highest Rating Percentage Index, behind the Big 12 and ahead of the Atlantic Coast Conference. DePaul plays with the big boys and pays like the big boys. It could use a big name like Hurley to help resurrect a program that, for the most part, has fallen on its head for 20-plus years.

The job isn’t attractive the way it appears now. Purnell was successful in other places before stumbling at DePaul, which makes you question the support he received from the athletics department in areas unrelated to his own salary. Recruiting shouldn’t be a problem for a Big East school based in Chicago.

Perhaps that’s what the school sees in Hurley. The kids he’s trying to attract were born after he ran the point for Duke and won back-to-back NCAA titles, but their parents certainly remember. They know he learned from two of the best in the biz, his father, St. Anthony coach Bob Hurley, and Mike Krzyzewski. It counts.

Hurley never has given any indication that he’s coaching for the money, or that he’s interested in leaving. I would be shocked if he left. Still, he could get an offer that’s too good to turn down. He may be unpretentious, but he’s not stupid. Everybody has a number. The trick for UB will be finding a reasonable amount that will keep him.

The cost of doing business is going up at UB no matter how long Hurley sticks around. Mid-major programs are shelling out more money with the idea that the exposure has a positive overall effect on the university. It’s sad that sports can make such a heavy impact, but there’s no denying its existence.

Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart made $1.45 million last year, plus incentives and $60,000 in deferred compensation, in the Atlantic 10. Ohio University paid $550,000 to first-year coach Saul Phillips after seeing Jim Christian jump to Boston College despite a $500,000 buyout.

The Mid-American Conference is inferior to the A-10, but that gives you an idea of coaching salaries these days. There is, and should be, a trickle-down effect from better conferences if a university is serious about winning, as UB athletic director Danny White claims, at the Division I level.

Hurley should be the highest-paid coach in the MAC because, over the past two years, there isn’t one that had a greater impact on his university.

He made $300,000, plus 25 percent of the gate after the first $300,000 in ticket revenue was counted. The more he won, the more fans showed up. It was an incentive for him to build a program worth watching. The community was slow to climb aboard, but it eventually came around.

So what’s his magic number?

Well, that’s the magic question.

Hurley is intent on building a strong program that can consistently contend in the MAC. UB should be favored to win the conference next season given the talent being added to the players coming back. If the Bulls win 25 games and stumble in the conference tournament, they could win an at-large bid.

But to keep the program trending in the right direction, Hurley also knows it means him leaving money on the table now. Buffalo basketball has never been in a position in which a coach figured to be in such high demand. Whether other schools attempt to hire him away this year or beyond, interest isn’t likely to wane.

It would make sense for the university to give Hurley a major raise with the idea he knows they’re serious about keeping him. UB can’t pay top dollar, but it can make it difficult for him to leave. It can make the job attractive for the next candidate if, or when, he walks out the door. That’s how programs build.

Hurley was a bargain considering the impact his name had on the basketball program itself, such as drawing recruits, or selling the university brand, which he did during the tournament and his subsequent appearance on CBS. He helped put Buffalo basketball on the map and made the program relevant.

Plus, the man can coach.

Common sense suggests DePaul will not be offering Hurley the same money it was paying Purnell based on experience alone. Hurley has been here for two years. He does need more time to develop. A pre-emptive strike locking down Hurley for next season would serve UB well before another school comes after him with $1 million or more.

Ironically, it could make financial sense for Hurley to stay for at least another year. Whatever money he left on the table could be made up, and then some, if he stacks another good season on his resume. A school that knew he turned down $1 million or more would need to increase its offer if it wanted him.

Long-term, he could pocket more.

It shouldn’t take much for UB to double Hurley’s money if it tapped into alumni or wealthy “Friends of the Program” the way other schools do. Raise his base salary, lower the threshold for collecting on the gate and raise the percentage of gate he would collect. Pass the hat.

Would around $600,000, plus a bonus for reaching the NCAAs again, be enough to make it right? Would it be enough to keep him? Would it be enough to draw better coaches in the future and keep the machine humming after he leaves? Maybe. It would show that Buffalo was serious about reaching its potential.

And the potential exists for UB hoops to become a third franchise in Western New York. We love our football and hockey, but for decades there’s been a passionate basketball fan base with little to cheer. Canisius and Niagara can no longer keep up with UB. St. Bonaventure is 90 minutes away from Buffalo.

The region loves a winner and any connection to the big time. UB has the ability to draw 6,700 fans into Alumni Arena and make games must-see events. Who knows? Maybe it could someday join a power conference and bring basketball downtown. Maybe it could become Butler or Gonzaga or Valparaiso or Xavier or … DePaul.

If you want to play with the big boys, you need to pay like the big boys. The alternative for Buffalo is paying less and accepting the same.


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