No, my favorite coach is not Doc Rivers. He’s actually a high school coach at a small, unfortunate high school in New Jersey, one that probably wouldn’t be standing if it weren’t for his contributions to the school, if it weren’t for his undying loyalty in the face of many intriguing offers to leave the high school ranks for greener, more well-paid pastures. His name is Bob Hurley, and his teams are the most well-coached groups of players I have ever had the pleasure to watch.
Hurley isn’t my favorite coach because of his aforementioned loyalty, even though it’s impressive as all hell that he has turn down many offers and stayed with St. Anthony’s High School through 38 years, 25 state championships and 984 victories. He isn’t my coach for the way he treats his players, though the strong, stern hand he uses to help mold his players, many of whom have struggled through tough lives, into productive members of society is certainly admirable. He isn’t my favorite coach because he wins, because he screams, because he really cares about his players, or because he was the subject of a wonderful book written by Adrian Wojnarowski.
No, Hurley is my favorite coach because of the way his teams play. I mark my calendar for the day his team plays in the Springfield HoopHall classic and never miss that game, because he somehow manages to urge his team to play harder than any other I’ve ever seen. His teams play defense with the scrappiness of caged pitbulls, and any lesser metaphor would be disrespectful to those kids, to Hurley.
Hurley’s teams are fearless. They back down from nobody. They make almost every defensive rotation seamlessly, and, on the rare occasion they don’t, inevitably receive an earful from their head coach, the coach they clearly listen to and aim to please. I’ve never spoken to a St. Anthony player, but I don’t have to to know that every single one of them, even if they don’t like his sometimes abrasive style, respects the hell out of Bob Hurley. That fact is abundantly clear to anyone who has ever seen Hurley’s teams step on the floor and play perfectly organized, controlled basketball at a frenetic pace. They are a joy to watch, the most easily-visible well-coached team I’ve ever seen. And they’re high schoolers.
They can thank Bob Hurley, the man who teaches them discipline not only on the court but off it. Who sends his players to college, even at a high school that would never be mistaken as a feeder school for secondary education. Who could have left, many times, but always returns for another year at St. Anthony’s. Who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame tonight and then travel to Pennsylvania tomorrow to hold a youth clinic (“I’m probably the only inductee who will be yelling at 9-year-olds the next day,” Hurley told USA Today). Who exudes value and integrity in a game that has long since lost a lot of it.
Bob Hurley will take his place in the Hall of Fame tonight alongside, among others, fellow coaches Red Auerbach and John Wooden. And just by watching his teams play a handful of times over the years, I know he’s one of the very few people who deserve that most elite company.