On the heels of Arizona State's hire of Bobby Hurley, we have extensive perspective on the pick and where ASU goes from here.
Bobby Hurley is a good hire primarily because it's a name people know and someone the athletic department and its Sun Devil Club can sell to its boosters, fan base and local media, most of whom have never watched Hurley coach a single game at Buffalo and couldn't tell you anything about his offensive, defensive philosophies or other details about his approach to coaching.
That doesn't matter much though when it comes to selling a hire and Hurley wins the press conference for ASU and will bring energy to the program. Hurley's only been a head coach for two years but has never failed or been pegged as a loser. That isn't just as a coach, but this is one of the most accomplished college players in the last quarter century and a former NBA player. For most people, an initial determination isn't going to be made about the actual merits of someone as a coach, nor could it be. It's, do I know that name? Has he been successful? Has he failed? The answers to those questions largely determine the perception of a hire
Though he has no west coast recruiting connection or infrastructure, Hurley is going to have good access to grassroots basketball because high school and AAU coaches and parents are going to not only know who he is, but be interested in what he has to say (and probably some of the stories he can tell). He'll probably be revered in a lot of these circles immediately, and these people will also know he's largely a blank slate from the standpoint that he hasn't ever failed. With that comes a pretty rare combination of things that Hurley can use to his advantage. He's known for his successes and has a reputation as a winner while also being an unknown blank slate that is hard to criticize as a coach.
Hurley is going to resonate immediately with players, and how could he not? He's a two-time NCAA champion, Final Four Most Outstanding Player and consensus All-American. He can show them the rings. He is the all-time NCAA assist leader. He was picked No. 7 overall in an NBA Draft. That's what every single player wants to accomplish. He's literally done everything that his players will want to accomplish, and he did so as a 5-foot-11 165 pound undersized and relatively un-athletic (when compared with his peers) player. He knew how to maximize his potential. So why would a player think he can't help them do the same?
For point guards especially, such as Tra Holder, how does Hurley not be viewed as anything other than an ideal coach to have as a teacher and mentor? Hurley and Holder actually have quite a bit in common in terms of their skill sets and approach to the game. Holder improved dramatically as a freshman through the season and is an all-league prospect in the making as he matures. Beyond Holder, it's difficult to imagine Hurley won't appeal greatly to point guard recruits, which is the most important position in the game from a talent acquisition standpoint. ASU could easily be advantaged over its previous situation with regard to local recruits at the position, former 2017 commit Markus Howard, and 2017 Alex Barcello, both of whom could end up in the Top-50 nationally. If ASU could secure either of these recruits it would dramatically shape its prospects for success in the coming years.
Previous ASU coach Herb Sendek was very measured with his words and philosophical and it didn't resonate with fans, who want more of a visceral experience. ASU Vice President for Athletics and University President Michael Crow are big superlative talkers and visionary types who are not concerned with setting a low bar they can jump over. Todd Graham is also prone to a lot of hyperbole, but these people understand the salesmenship component of their jobs and embrace that fully. It's a double edged sword because there is a lot of potential for setting themselves up to have people unsatisfied or put forth expectations that are unmet.
It was clear that Anderson in particular wanted someone in the same mold, as that has been universally true in all his hires. He's looking to project an image and resonate externally even more than make a choice based on schematics or technical proficiency. Hurley falls in that mold, as evidenced by his first statement as ASU's coach, in which he said: "With our fast-paced and aggressive style of play, we are going to make Sun Devil Basketball a destination for in-state, national, and international basketball talent. Our purpose is to mold championship-caliber young men on the court, in the classroom and around the community. We are here to set a new standard, to make regular trips to the NCAA Tournament, and regularly compete for conference and national titles. With the full support of this community there is no doubt in my mind we are going to build something truly special here in Tempe."
Don't confuse making a good hire with having a good process. Most everyone can agree that ASU bungled and was off-base with its football coaching search before it ended up with Todd Graham. That wasn't a big credit to the people making the decision who preferred June Jones and fought to make it happen. Graham fell in ASU's lap and was one of the best things to ever happen to Sun Devil Athletics. Hurley is a good hire but it doesn't mean ASU's process was impressive.
Anderson gave Sendek an extension in the months before firing him (ratified in December, fired in March) and actually attempted to give him a three year extension but it was shot down by Arizona's Board of Regents, the first time such action has been taken from what I've been told. What if ABOR had not rejected Anderson's proposal? There is no hiring of Bobby Hurley and Sendek is ASU's coach next year. Also, Anderson gave Sendek a clause that created an automatic contract extension every year he hit 20 wins, and there was no athletic department veto power on scheduling according to multiple sources.
Essentially, Sendek could have loaded up on cupcakes in the non-conference, had a losing record in league play, won 20 games, no NCAA Tournament appearances and earned an extension in every year of his contract. That was a monumental misstep by Anderson and it was ratified by ABOR and part of Sendek's extension. Then, by firing Sendek, an additional expenditures on ASU's balance sheet was created. It owes Sendek $2.4 million and will now be paying two assistant coaching staffs, or at least some overlap, through June. The problems we express previously regarding ASU's process were related to those contract issues, extension and firing specifically, as well as waiting longer than any other major college in America to hire a coach who ultimately decided to not even visit, and the ramifications of that in terms of its program stability internally and its efforts to secure its roster for next year.
ASU has an evaluation period starting Friday, with only six days it can do so the entire spring. It has a spring signing period starting next week and a need to sign one or more recruits and evaluate what it needs to do with regard to its roster. There have already been at least one disciplinary related issues with existing players which perhaps was contributed to in some fashion by a lack of stability. ASU administrators spoke with ASU basketball players only once during the process, when Sendek was fired. Players have not heard from ASU senior school officials since then, according to parents and others close to the program. There are numerous additional factors, many of which are non-reportable but nonetheless we have gleaned by covering this search closely that have led us to our conclusions on the efficiency and wisdom of the process. But the hiring of Hurley will justly address a lot of those things in a way that reflects well on the Sun Devils moving forward.
ASU recently spent at least $75,000 per several sources to make over its locker room in Wells Fargo Arena, which was much needed. ASU's locker room was the oldest in terms of renovation date in the Pac-12 I've been told. Next will be plans to renovate entire arena. You can expect a campaign to push this in the next year and a new coach who is very marketable helps accomplish this. If ASU can bring the capacity of the arena under 10,000, move the students courtside, and put together a much better produced game experience, it will go a long way to helping recruiting and the general perception of ASU basketball locally and more broadly. Right now recruits come to a half empty stadium that doesn't compare with other schools' game experience.
ASU would be smart to keep at least one of its assistants, Stan Johnson or Barret Peery. I know both well and they are very competent both in terms of their understanding of the game and the recruiting infrastructure in the region, the latter of which is going to be a challenge for Hurley based on his East Coast orientation.
ASU needs to keep Tra Holder as a first order of business and then make sure everyone else on the team is doing what's needed to stay in good academic standing and free of any other disciplinary impediments to playing time in the coming year. Then it needs to add a versatile front court player or a center in the spring signing period to back up Eric Jacobsen and Savon Goodman. If it can free up one more scholarship and sign an athletic wing who can help immediately, it should have an impressive team in 2015-16, one that will be capable of competing for an NCAA Tournament.