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Column: UB needs to think big in basketball

Bucky Gleason

As it stood Sunday, Bobby Hurley appeared to be going about his business under the assumption he would return to the University at Buffalo. He met with DePaul officials Saturday before the school reunited with former coach Dave Leitao and signed him to a five-year contract.

Hurley can return for a reported $550,000, plus bonuses that would likely take him over $600,000 for next season, or double what he made last year. He would be the highest-paid coach in the Mid-American Conference. It’s also about $1.4 million less than what DePaul is expected to pay Leitao.

How much did Hurley want the DePaul job?

The Chicago Tribune reported he wanted the gig “badly,” but Hurley gave the opposite impression to people around him after he returned. Showing interest is a long way from being desperate for a job. He had 2 million reasons to meet with DePaul. There was no harm in him getting a feel for what’s out there.

Hurley would have been foolish for ignoring DePaul, especially after someone in the UB athletics department leaked that he had agreed to the parameters of the deal when he had not. It made UB look sleazy, as if he would cave to public pressure while still trying to negotiate an extension.

No deal was completed, which was why there was no announcement. The silence told me that Hurley wanted more money, likely for his assistant coaches. It also suggested that UB Athletic Director Danny White and other officials were trying to squeeze him out of money while praying Hurley didn’t get another offer.

At best, it’s risky business. At worst, it’s bad form.

White hired Hurley to build the program and win. Hurley did his job. He will continue to win next season, assuming he sticks around. Winning comes at a price, and it’s getting steeper by the year for mid-majors such as UB. If winning is the object, they can pay him or pay someone to replace him.

Hurley has shown to be nothing but an honest person with good intentions, a straight shooter in an industry short on them. He’s also among the fiercest competitors you’ll find in sports. The stubbornness that made him a great player is an inherent quality of his personality. At heart, he’s still a Jersey City kid who will not back down.

UB would be wise not to alienate him, assuming it hasn’t already, or underestimate him. If it comes down to principle, the school has no chance.

He’ll approach the immediate future as if nothing has changed because, well, nothing has changed. There’s offseason business that needs attention, such as staying in contact with recruits. He needs to address the non-conference schedule for next season and tidy up other matters in the program.

Hurley’s future will work itself out. Another school eventually will lure him away. In the meantime, UB should be trying to keep him for as long as it can while planning for the future. How many other NCAA all-time assist leaders, with his pedigree and renown, will fall in Buffalo’s lap?


Arizona State is looking for a new coach to compete against an elite Arizona program under Sean Miller. It means winning recruiting wars with West Coast schools for the top players in California. Former St. John’s coach Steve Lavin reportedly was interested in Arizona State, which supposedly was intrigued by Hurley.

Texas is looking for a new coach, but rumors were swirling about Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart landing that job. If Smart leaves, VCU will use the $1.5 million for Smart on its next coach. Gregg Marshall could get the Texas job, leaving behind $1.75 million at Wichita State. It goes around and around, with one vacancy often creating another.

St. John’s reportedly hired Chris Mullin on Sunday. Hurley’s brother, Rhode Island coach Danny Hurley, was on its short list. Rhode Island locked up Danny Hurley for about three times as much as UB paid Bobby last year.

Hurley has not shown to be all about money, but there’s also no disregarding the money out there. It’s crazy money, stupid money, life-changing money that’s not going away. UB can stick to its coaching budget, but it will come at a greater price than it’s paying now.

See where this is going?

The future of the program at UB will work itself out, too. If it’s not Hurley, it’s going to be another coach who was hired to win, to keep the program in contention in the conference, to get back to the NCAA Tournament. It’s what White wanted all along, but winning consistently means paying more to keep good people.

Regardless of what happens with Hurley, the university needs to decide how it should proceed. UB has an opportunity to corner the market in Buffalo. It’s there for the taking. Fans will get on board with a big name like Hurley, but they’re not going to make an investment if they believe the school isn’t doing the same.

Hurley generated the kind of momentum that comes around every so often in Buffalo. He has spread the good word about UB on a national level. He captured local attention beyond the Bills and Sabres. He drew basketball fans out of hiding and created new ones along the way. He made UB hoops cool.

The university can turn this into something big, but it means thinking bigger. If I were king of the castle, if I were Danny White, I would be reaching for a better basketball conference even if it compromised football. UB has made progress with football, but it’s difficult to justify the expense in a pro football town.

UB has poured millions of dollars into its football program, which is required for MAC schools. The Atlantic 10 would be a considerable upgrade. It’s a terrific conference and would include a geographic rival in St. Bonaventure. It could think really big, as in the Big East or the American Athletic Conference.

It would likely force UB to downsize the football program, which would be a bold move given how much has been invested. But there comes a point in which Buffalo could be spending good money after bad. In basketball, with no NBA team in town and no other major threat, it would be spending better money after good.

The door is open for Buffalo, but it works both ways. It will be open for Hurley, too, unless UB locks him into a new deal. That’s the key.


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