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UB’s Hurley heads West, takes Arizona State job

University at Buffalo basketball coach Bobby Hurley ended his two-year run with the Bulls Thursday by accepting the head job at Arizona State.

The hiring was announced by the Sun Devils on their athletics website.

“I am thrilled to announce Bobby Hurley as the new head men’s basketball coach at Arizona State University,” Ray Anderson, ASU vice president for University Athletics, said in a statement. “We conducted an exhaustive search and after numerous discussions with many of basketball’s most knowledgeable and respected individuals, one thing became clear: Bobby is the right person to lead this program to new heights.”

Hurley’s departure comes some three weeks after a high-placed source at UB told The News that Hurley and the Bulls had reached agreement on a contract extension that would make him the highest paid coach in the Mid-American Conference at more than $550,000. But other sources said Hurley hadn’t agreed to the deal, and that he was dismayed that the offer on the table was for $551,000 – just $1,000 more than the salary of Ohio University coach Saul Phillips.

That would have represented a major jump for Hurley, who at UB had a base salary of $250,000 plus attendance and other incentives. But sources close to Hurley say he was upset on two counts. First, that it was falsely leaked a contract extension had been reached. And two, that the salary offer barely eclipsed what Phillips made in his first season at Ohio.

A jump to a program in one of the five major conferences surely will result in a satisfactory salary, and then some. Hurley is replacing Herb Sendek, who reportedly was making $1.8 million with the Pac-12 Conference school.

“We would like to thank Bobby for his contributions growing our men’s basketball program,” UB Athletic Director Danny White said in a statement. “It is important for us to continue to build on the success with a new leader, and I am extremely confident that we will find a leader who can take our program to even greater heights.”

UB said in its statement that it has begun at search for a new head coach. Meanwhile, the Bulls have announced that they will employ Hurley assistant Nate Oats in the position on an interim basis. Oats was instrumental to Hurley’s recruiting, particularly in the Midwest, and utilizing him in the interim could help UB protect the highly regarded recruits it has lined up for next season.

Less clear is whether any players currently on the UB roster would be of interest to Hurley at Arizona State. Sophomore guard Shannon Evans and freshman guard Lamonte Bearden are two players who might project to a higher level.

A similar scenario unfolded in 2012, when Joe Mihalich left Niagara to take the Hofstra job and two Purple Eagle players, Juan’ya Green and Ameen Tanksley, then transferred to Hofstra. Other plays transferred out of Niagara at that time as well.

Hurley gained the UB job after serving three seasons as an assistant coach for his brother Danny, two seasons at Wagner and one at Rhode Island. And it took no time at all for Bobby Hurley to establish himself as a qualified head coach. He compiled a 42-20 record in his two seasons at UB and got the program over the proverbial hump by winning the MAC and reaching the NCAAs.

Of course, Hurley’s credentials on the basketball court were established long before he arrived at UB. He started four seasons at point guard for Duke, guiding the Blue Devils to consecutive national championships beginning in 1990-91.

Where does UB go from here? Hurley’s success and the solid state of the program given the current roster and incoming recruits make the job highly attractive. There are myriad potential candidates, a list that would include Buffalo native and longtime Rick Barnes assistant Rob Lanier. Barnes and his staff landed at Tennessee shortly after being ousted at Texas, and Lanier is renowned as a recruiter and was known in the past to covet a chance to coach in his hometown. Money was an obstacle in those days – Lanier makes more than $350,000 as Barnes’ top assistant – but that might no longer be the case given what UB was willing to pay Hurley.

But Lanier is just one candidate, and there’s no doubt a number who will express interest in the position. And White has shown a tendency to go outside the mainstream with his prominent hirings, first with the unproven Hurley and next with football coach Lance Leipold, who built a Division III powerhouse at Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Oats could be another option – he was a highly successfully high school coach in Detroit. But one has to wonder whether he has the name recognition to satisfy White, who hired Hurley with the idea of giving UB basketball a national presence and boosting the program’s local profile.

And for two seasons, it worked.