When it comes to knowledge of the historic UConn basketball program, Gavin Keefe is as tied in as anyone in the state. Keefe, who writes for The Day in New London, CT is a native of Vermont and has been covering UConn basketball for the past 28 years.
This evening, Keefe reported that he was hearing that Dan Hurley is expected to make a decision on his coaching future by tomorrow afternoon. Will it be Pitt, UConn or Rhode Island?
We caught up with Keffe to get his thoughts on Hurley and try to find out which way he may be leaning.
PSN: With Pitt reportedly offering $3 million per season, how high do you believe UConn can come in at to get close to Pitt’s offer?
Keefe: I don’t think they can come in that high. With Coach Ollie contesting that $10 million … UConn doesn’t know where that stands. The state is in financial difficulties so UConn is going to have to come up with that money. I don’t know if they can meet Pitt financially, in fact, I’d be surprised if they could at $3 million per year. Could they get close? Maybe, but that’s a lot of money to be shelling out if you don’t know if you have to pay Ollie $10 [million].
PSN: If UConn can’t match Pitt with money, how do you believe the UConn administration is going to sell Hurley and try to get him to overlook that?
Keefe: I’m not sure that they have to sell themselves that hard to him. I guess they’ll be some selling but he’s a guy that grew up in the Northeast, he’s got UConn ties in that he played for George Blaney who went on to be associate head coach at UConn, he competed against UConn in the old Big East, he’s a guy from New Jersey so he’s familiar with UConn’s tradition, he’s got a former UConn assistant on his staff right now in Tom Moore, who coached under Jim Calhoun, so he’s got him as a resource to ask about UConn. Coach Calhoun as been by Rhode Island practices to watch, so there’s a UConn connection. Hurley has a lot of respect for the UConn program. As far as just programs, I hear he prefers UConn but that’s not necessarily enough. Pitt has the league going in their favor, the ACC has more money, they have pretty good facilities there so Pitt does have a lot going for them too. One thing I’m hearing is that the next coaching job that Hurley takes he wants it to be a place that he has a shot to win a national championship so that’s one of the things he’s thinking about. He also could stay at URI. He makes about $1.1, $1.2 million so obviously Pitt’s offer is much larger but he could get some enhancements with stuff from URI like chartered flights and some upgrades in the practice facility. There’s a chance he could stay there so I wouldn’t rule that out. The question is does he want to wait around and possibly bypass the UConn and Pitt job to wait for another job. He probably has a lot going through his mind right now. He’s only 45 and doesn’t have to immediately jump to another job, he can wait.
PSN: It’s been rumored from the start that the UConn people wanted Hurley. Is there something in particular that UConn likes about Hurley?
Keefe: Being so close to Rhode Island they obviously know what’s gone on there the last couple of years. He’s won 51 games and is the first Rhode Island coach to win games in back-back NCAA tournaments so in six years, he’s done great things with that program and he’s had a lot of obstacles to overcome there. I think you tend to see what the guy down the road is doing here so guys like that pop up on your radar pretty quickly. I think he’s a perfect fit for UConn but that mean he’ll take it. He understands the program and understands the history. He played against Ray Allen, he knows Jim Calhoun. He’s been described as kind of like Calhoun, he’s feisty on the sidelines, he builds a family atmosphere, they players love him but he’s very demanding too. I think with URI being so close to UConn and when things went south with Ollie, he became the obvious top choice.
PSN: You mentioned that having a chance to win a national championship at his next job is a big factor for Hurley. If that’s the case, considering the history of UConn and the league they play in versus Pitt being in the ACC and the current state of Pitt, isn’t that advantage UConn?
Keefe: Yeah, I would agree with you. Pitt has a long ways to go but remember that Jamie Dixon won there. He might not have done great in the NCAA Tournament but he won. No doubt, Pitt is in a very difficult league and it will be a long climb in there conference. But let me put it this way, I don’t think it’s impossible for him to win at Pitt and make them into a strong program again. But no doubt, the Pitt job would be the longer climb than UConn would be. At UConn, they should be competing for the conference title every season. I don’t think it’s impossible to rebuild the Pitt program, it would just take longer.