Let’s assume you’re the athletic director at Arizona State University, and you’ve got to make a decision about whether to retain your men’s basketball coach, who’s been in place for eight seasons and reached the NCAA Tournament in three of them, kinda.
We say “kinda” because ASU coach Bobby Hurley has made the “First Four” each time, including this season, where he’s going to take his Sun Devils to Dayton, Ohio, to play Nevada on Wednesday for the right to crusade against TCU in the proper field of 64.
Making the “First Four” is sort of like getting booked to play a music festival, but your band is on the small stage first thing in the morning. It’s like getting a thousand dollars for your birthday, but you can only spend it at a deli and you’re a vegetarian. It’s like going on a game show and winning a free trip … to see the Lakers or the Dodgers.
The “First Four” is nice in its own way, but it’s not exactly what you want.
The thing is, the “First Four” is better than the final four left out of March Madness altogether, which is where ASU typically found itself before Hurley. That’s if the Sun Devils were lucky and had a great year by their standards.
The last time ASU made the tournament with any regularity, Fat Lever was in Tempe drinking weight-gainer shakes. It was the early 1980s, and milk was about $1.12 a gallon.
So, what do you do? Do you keep your coach regardless of his team’s performance in the Big Dance based on the reality that before Hurley hit town the music typically stopped in February?
Do you overlook the reality that the former point guard and coach’s son wouldn’t recognize X’s and O’s if they were at the end of a love letter? Or the fact that his squads can never seem to shoot? Or the risk that the guy gets so intense at times it looks like he’s going to have an aneurysm screaming about a foul call with 12 minutes to go in the first half of a non-conference game against East Middle North Central State University in November?
Do you bank on the fact that Hurley can attract high-level recruits to Desert Financial Arena? Even if he has no apparent system to put them in? Even if they’re hometown guys who end up leaving the team after a Twitter rant?
(And can we just pause and reflect on how odd the Marcus Bagley situation ended up becoming? The guy was supposed to be a one-and-done player, stopping in Tempe before heading to join his big brother in the NBA. Instead, he’s played just 17 games in the last three years, never coming close to fulfilling the promise that made him one of the nation’s most highly coveted recruits. Ridiculous.)
Do you give Hurley a chance to earn his job on the court? Wins over Nevada and TCU set up a showdown with either Gonzaga or Grand Canyon for the right to reach the second weekend. It’s a lot to ask, but it’s not impossible.
Do you look at the reality that the men’s basketball facilities aren’t top-tier and that the school has no basketball tradition to speak of in a state with a blueblood program just down the road in Tucson and realize that your expectations have no right to be higher than they are?
Or do you call Byron Scott and beg him to come home to tell recruits how he played with Magic, mentored Kobe and helped turn Jason Kidd and Chris Paul into all-time greats?
I love Bobby Hurley.
He’s been a world of fun to cover.
His early season victories over high-ranked teams and hot starts have generated excitement beyond anything this fanbase could have imagined.
But for me, that’s been his undoing.
Hurley made the crucial mistake of giving people hope, which led to expectation, which led to disappointment.
If I were Hurley, I’d probably want out. I’d probably want to go somewhere where my efforts and passion were appreciated – even respected.
But if I were ASU’s athletic director Ray Anderson, I’d look at all the evidence and say that after eight years, we know exactly what Bobby Hurley is as a coach: a gritty overachiever who dragged this program into relevance in spite of itself. And then I’d wish him well and make some calls to see whether anybody out there was ready to light a new fire under the Sun Devils.
Here’s hoping Hurley uses this as bulletin board material on the way to a Sweet 16 run that makes everyone reconsider, but for me, my mind is made up.
If I were ASU’s athletic director, I’d be ready to make my decision before the NCAA Tournament even tips off.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona State should fire Bobby Hurley after NCAA Tournament