Talk about high school sports and you can't ignore him. Talk Rutgers basketball and he is tied to it.
Bob Hurley, Sr., the head coach of the St. Anthony's basketball powerhouse, is a sports icon. He has sent a ton of kids from his high school to division 1 basketball all the way to the NBA. And he is intrinsically tied to Rutgers basketball.
I first became interested in Hurley and his life when Fred Hill and the Scarlet Knights landed Mike Rosario, the All American who was going to be the savior of the basketball program. We didn't know it wouldn't work out at the time, and I started reading more about Hurley himself.
First came the anecdotes, the fact that one of Gary Waters' assistant coaches walked into a high school gym with a yo-yo and calling out, "Where's Hurley? High school Hurley?" and damaged Waters early ability to connect to the school. Or how Danny, Bob's son, was hired by Kevin Bannon as an assistant to help bridge the gap. Whenever Rutgers' basketball failure was discussed, and inability to land Hurley's players was often mentioned.
On my honeymoon, I brought a book with me. It was Adrian Wojnarowki's fantastic book, The Miracle of St. Anthony. Wojnarowski follows one of Hurley's team around for an entire season, and the book is an insightful look into the team and Hurley himself. I was struck by the prose, and how Hurley was more than the gruff coach who pushed his (sometimes) undertalented teams to overachieve. Or how he got NBA prospects to go above and beyond what they thought they able to.
No, Hurley was more than that. He was a coach who cared about the school he was trying to keep open. And the kids whom he wanted to succeed in the worst way. Hurley, and his sons Bobby and Danny, cared about their players. That was evident back when Danny was still an assistant at Rutgers. Bob, Sr. came down to watch a game against (I believe) Providence, where one of his former players was attending-and was struggling. During warm-ups Bob went over to him and corrected his shooting form, much to Danny dismay. The player went off and was the reason Providence beat Rutgers*.
Despite my love of Rutgers, that story resonated with me. Many have criticized Hurley as being no friend to Rutgers, but that's not his job. He cares about his players and wants to send them to the best possible place for them to succeed. There have been times when he thought he'd found that, whether it's Rosario or Myles Mack or Eli Carter.
But often, he hasn't.
What also resonated with my was Hurley's 30 year career as a probation officer. He was an law enforcement officer, and a coach. Two very stressful job, tied to his home. It struck me that Hurley was all about the community and saving his players.
I followed the reading of that book up with viewing The Street Stops Here, a documentary that follows Hurley and his team around in Rosario's senior year. Hurley is compelling--tough, sarcastic, compassionate and very much New Jersey. I admire the man.
In fact, I admire him so much that my latest character, Matt Herrick, is both a private investigator and New Jersey high school basketball coach. As he fights his inner demons, he's also trying to save these kids who play hoops for him. Part of An Empty Hell has been inside me for years, from the moment I started to look into Mike Rosario and the Hurley connection.
Hurley's connection to Rutgers almost became completely legendary back in 2013, when he floated the idea of becoming the head coach of the Scarlet Knights. But, in true Hurley form, it wasn't to help Rutgers, but to save his players from more turmoil. Hurley wanted to help Myles Mack and Eli Carter, shield them from more embarrassment. And though it never came to pass, Hurley still shadowed the Scarlet Knights.
While Hurley is 68 years old, he's still coaching some of the best players in the state. This year he's sending Jagan Mosely, a stand out guard, to Georgetown. And Hurley is still out there, trying to keep the school open and keep his players playing tough.
And surely his connection to Rutgers will continue, as he offers the media advice on what Rutgers can do to fix the program, or the hope that the coaches will continue to connect with him and start landing his players again.
I've never met Bob Hurley, but as a teacher and a basketball fan I'm struck by him. As a New Jersey resident, you can't ignore his impact on this state and one of its most prominent cities. It's a slow week for the Scarlet Knights, and Hurley has been running through my brain as I led up to the publication of my book. I've been wanting to write about him for a while, and his connection to Rutgers.
The two are connected, and have been for more than 30 years. There have been moments where fans thought both St. Anthony's and Rutgers would have success.
Though, so far, only Hurley keeps succeeding; his love for his players, his school and his community shining bright. And that's how it should be.
*Forgive my memory, it's been a long time since I read the book. I wish I could name the player, but it was the story that stuck with me more than the player involved. Hurley was always helping his players out.
An Empty Hell is available wherever books are sold starting today. Dave White is the author of five thrillers, most of them set at or connected in some way to Rutgers University.