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Coaching the Lakers is a hard job to pass up, except maybe Dan Hurley should

Coaching the Lakers is a hard job to pass up, except maybe Dan Hurley should

Earlier this week, during an appearance on "The Mike Francesa Podcast," UConn’s Dan Hurley left open the possibility of one day leaving for the NBA.

The coach of college basketball’s two-time reigning national champs said that UConn fits him perfectly but that he aspires to test himself at the highest level “if the right NBA situation were to come along.”

When Francesa expressed surprise, Hurley elaborated on what the “right situation” meant to him. He said it had to be a job “where an organization wants a tone setter to come in and instill a culture. You know, young players and an organization that wants to pursue championships.”

Those comments took on newfound meaning early Thursday when ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski dropped a bombshell story with the potential significant implications at both the NBA and college level. The Los Angeles Lakers are targeting Hurley as the franchise’s next head coach and are preparing a massive, long-term contract offer, Wojnarowski reported. The two sides are reportedly set to meet on Friday.

Would Dan Hurley pass up the opportunity at a three-peat to become the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers? (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

It doesn’t take a basketball savant to see why Hurley would be intrigued by the opportunity to coach the Lakers. This is maybe the premier job in basketball. It’s a chance to guide a franchise that has captured 17 NBA championships, that has landed high-profile free agent after high-profile free agent and that has never hesitated to pay big-name coaches top dollar.

Phil Jackson earned an annual salary of $12 million near the end of his Lakers tenure that ended 13 years ago. Would it surprise anyone if the Lakers’ offer to Hurley surpassed that?

It also helps that Hurley appears to have the approval of the most powerful man in the Lakers organization. In April, responding to an interview that JJ Redick did with Hurley for his podcast, LeBron James wrote on X: “He’s so DAMN GOOD!!! Along with his staff. Super creative with their O! Love it.”

Then there’s the matter of how much more taxing and exhausting it is to be a college basketball coach today than it was even five years ago. Between the transfer portal and players gaining the potential to receive NIL money, recruiting is more intense and more round-the-clock. This past March, coaches whose teams were in the NCAA tournament were simultaneously raising NIL money, scouting and pursuing transfers and re-recruiting their own players.

Hurley himself joked about that on the eve of UConn’s national title game showdown against Purdue two months ago. Asked about his biggest motivation during the NCAA tournament, a smiling Hurley quipped, “I just don't want to deal with the portal s***. That's why we're trying so hard to win right now.”

“I'm seeing what other people are doing, and it's chaos,” he added. “I can hide behind, ‘Hey, my season's still going on.’”

Those are all good reasons for Hurley to be tempted by the Lakers job — but not necessarily for him to take it. He’d be risking a lot going to the Lakers and giving up even more if he leaves a UConn program that he himself has described as a perfect fit.

History is littered with successful college basketball coaches who took a shot at leaping to the NBA but failed spectacularly.

In 1996, the New Jersey Nets hired John Calipari away from UMass on the heels of a Final Four run. The young, brash Calipari lasted only two-plus seasons with the Nets after rubbing veteran players and the New York media the wrong way on more than one occasion.

In 1997, the Boston Celtics plucked Rick Pitino from Kentucky after he won the 1996 national title and fell one win short of going back-to-back the following year. The result was a 102-146 record and the infamous “Larry Bird is not walking through that door" rant.

Jerry Tarkanian, Tim Floyd, Fred Hoiberg and Mike Montgomery had similar results. John Beilein somehow fared even worse. Only Billy Donovan and Brad Stevens achieved sustained NBA success — and even Donovan hasn’t won a playoff series since his debut season in Oklahoma City nearly a decade ago.

The 51-year-old Hurley undeniably has the coaching acumen to thrive in the NBA and the authenticity and fiery demeanor to hold players accountable, but there’s also no denying that he’s quirky and that his temper burns hot. This is a guy whose practices are legendarily grueling; who searches for the slightest perceived slight to use as motivation; who rants and raves at referees after every close call.

On the sideline at UConn practices last fall were a set of cardboard posters representing every trophy the Huskies could win during the upcoming season. Those posters took a beating from Hurley kicking them down or firing projectiles at them whenever he felt his team didn’t practice up to its capabilities.

Hurley’s hand-picked UConn players fed off his nonstop intensity. Would NBA veterans feel the same over the course of an 82-game schedule?

The Lakers’ track record of burning through seven coaches in 13 years is also a red flag that Hurley shouldn’t ignore. Frank Vogel lasted two seasons after winning a championship. Darvin Ham was ousted the year after reaching the Western Conference finals. Who’s to say Hurley wouldn’t be scapegoated the first time things go awry?

At UConn, Hurley has the job security that comes with engineering the greatest two-year run in modern men’s college basketball history.

In 2023, a UConn team led by Jordan Hawkins, Andre Jackson and Adama Sanogo trounced its six NCAA tournament opponents by 20 points per game. Five of that team’s top eight players moved on, yet last season’s Huskies proved to be even more unbeatable, winning six NCAA tournament games by a record-setting average of 23.3 points.

The college game may be tough on coaches these days, but Hurley has thrived better than anyone else amid the chaos. He has found a formula that works for him, sometimes passing on the most talented prospects in favor of team-first freshmen and transfers who prioritize winning and who aren’t afraid to be coached hard.

Thanks to Hurley, UConn now has a chance to become the first program to three-peat since the heyday of John Wooden’s UCLA dynasty in the 1970s. The Huskies are a fixture in way-too-early preseason top fives, thanks to the return of standout forward Alex Karaban and the arrival of a bevy of accomplished newcomers.

When speaking with Francesa earlier this week, Hurley acknowledged that leaving the Northeast in general, and UConn in particular, would be hard. He said he hopes to stay “as long as we're able to find these old-school folks to bring into our program and then we just blend it with modern basketball.”

“If we keep doing it like this,” added Hurley, “I'll stay here and the NBA will never be a thing.”

Maybe Hurley should take his own advice. Maybe he should leverage the Lakers’ interest into a big raise and then stay where he is beloved.

Coaching the Lakers is a job you can’t pass up, except maybe Dan Hurley should.

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