Year 1 to Year 2: A chat with Buffalo coach Bobby Hurley
In this short series, SI.com has spoken with several coaches entering Year 2 at their current jobs about what they learned in the first year and what they’re looking for next season. Next up: Buffalo's Bobby Hurley.
Bobby Hurley's father is a Hall of Fame high school coach who has won more than 1,000 games at fabled St. Anthony (N.J.) High School. Hurley's college coach, Mike Krzyzewski, is also approaching 1,000 career wins at Duke. So even though Hurley had been a college assistant under his brother, Dan, for all of three years at Rhode Island, he knew what being a head coach required when he took over at Buffalo for the 2013-14 season. Good results followed, with the Bulls going 19-10 and winning the MAC East. Hurley talked with SI.com about progressing into Year 2 and maintaining the momentum of what Year 1 brought.
SI: Your Year 1 was both your first at Buffalo and first as a head coach. What did you learn about the program and the job that you apply moving forward?
BH: I think I was in a pretty good situation in that I had a couple key players that were on the roster, and then we brought in a fifth-year guy, Josh Freelove, who ended up being our second-leading scorer. I had experience on the team. They hadn't tasted winning a conference championship – they bought in completely to that being the goal. It was a pretty smooth transition for me. As an assistant, obviously you have good ideas, you try to really work at it in skill development in players and you're getting after it in practice within your role. It's a little different obviously as the head coach. There are a lot more decisions you're making ultimately on how you prepare, how you practice, how you travel. Then during the course of the game, the decisions you make and the effect they have on the outcome. There's just more on your plate.
SI: What were a couple key decisions that fell to you, that hadn't fallen to you before?
BH: During games (as an assistant), I would suggest, 'Hey Dan, what do you think about zone this time, just one possession and get out of it?' Now, I'm hearing those same suggestions, or it's a play call or something, and I was usually the one giving him quick-hitters and then he's got to pull the trigger on that. That's where the game management stuff, the decisions on switching defense or maybe a play call, you have to make the last call on that.
SI: What did you learn about Buffalo specifically that you can now use moving forward, or that you have to adjust to?
BH: I thought it would be a real blue-collar town and community, and a town that appreciates its sports and loves its sports. I was on target with thinking that – nothing this year changed my opinion. Maybe the league – our league I think is an underrated league. It was really, really competitive. A number of teams had a chance to win our conference, a number of our RPIs were competitive nationally. It's a conference that has a chance to continue to grow and get better. I think more of me learning the league was the transition, and getting an appreciation for how good the basketball is in this league.
SI: We're only in June here, but what might you change or adjust to your approach to playing in the MAC?
BH: We're at a disadvantage from a travel standpoint at times, just from where we're located in relation to a number of the Michigan schools and Ohio schools. But the commitment is here from the administration. We're trying to be as creative as possible to make that easier. We're moving towards chartering, which I think would be a big advantage, and I think it was last year. We were able to charter two flights, and we'll continue to try to upgrade that. That's important. It really paid dividends for us this year in a couple games.
SI: The success of Year 1 – do you deal with different expectations? Was that ahead of schedule for you or did you think that was about what you could get done in Year 1?
BH: We talked about getting in the top 4 in our league. That was one of our goals. We were able to achieve that, which was right on target. Finishing atop of our division was something that was a great accomplishment for our program. Ohio and Akron have been at the top of the league for the past few years and they had very good teams this year. I'm proud of what we did this year. That being said, I don't think we should be talking about taking a step back. We have a really strong class coming in, six new players. We have some experience. Will Regan is our senior that averaged 10 a game for us, a really good player. Our freshman guard, Shannon Evans, was first-team MAC All-Freshman. So we have some really good returning players to go along with the class we're bringing in.
SI: Who are some guys that need to make strides for you? Who are the question marks that need to make a fairly big jump?
BH: I have high expectations for Lamonte Bearden. He's a point guard from Milwaukee; I think he's maybe one of the best recruits that Buffalo has been able to get. He's a very talented guy. His learning curve, his transition – hopefully he's ready early in his career to be productive. Jarryn Skeete – he dealt with a lot of injuries as a freshman last year that I think limited his productivity. If we can keep him injury-free, I think he can take another big step for us.
SI: What's on the checklist for things to accomplish in the summer?
BH: It's getting our new players adjusted to life here and getting them acclimated and getting them in a couple classes and accelerating their adjustment process away from the court. On the court, it's going to be hard for them. I want them to see the difference or feel the difference from being in a high school program and playing in a college program that's looking to contend for a championship. It'll be hard for all of our players. There will be a skill development piece where we're working on their handle and their shot and those things, and then we'll be introducing some of what we're going to do this year. We're going to try to check all those boxes.
SI: Because you've got a really different frame of reference – your Dad, playing for Coach K – did any part of being a head coach surprise you, or it was just not that hard?
BH: The first game, I'll admit, I was shaky, at Texas A&M. It felt a little bit overwhelming the first time on the sideline as a head coach. But from that moment on, it felt pretty normal to do what I was doing. So I guess the experiences of just being an assistant for three years and working real close with my brother prepared me for it, and then obviously everything I've been exposed to with my Dad and K. But I did feel like it was what I should be doing. It felt pretty natural and normal.
SI: Do you have any thought in your mind about what you'd like things to look like at this point next year?
BH: I would hope that based on the kind of year we have, there's a buzz about our program and what we're doing. Particularly because we brought in so many new players, that have a chance to have great careers here, I hope that we would be a team that people would consider as a threat in our conference on a year in and year out basis. I need to see that obviously in the next couple weeks, when I'm watching and evaluating our team, and I hope that they're at the level that I project them to be.