JERSEY CITY, N.J. – When Bob Hurley began coaching at St. Anthony High School in 1967, he was a 20-year-old single man with no children.
Five years later, when he launched the varsity team during the 1972-73 season, his first son, Bobby, was 18 months old.
“It all kind of started here, downtown Jersey City. Forty-four years ago, when I started coaching, I wasn’t even married yet,” Hurley recalled Wednesday afternoon after capturing his 1,000th career victory with a 76-46 victory over St. Mary’s of Jersey City thanks to Kyle Anderson’s 14 points and 12 apiece from Myles Mack and Jerome Frink.
Before the game began, Hurley swept the gym floor at the Golden Charter School, just as he’s done thousands of times before.
After it was over, Hurley, now a 63-year-old grandfather and member of the Naismith Hall of Fame, had improved to 1,000 and either 110 or 109 (he isn’t quite sure).
Already the winner of 23 state titles, 10 New Jersey Tournament of Champions crowns and three mythical national championships, he became the fifth high school coach in the country to reach the 1,000-win plateau.
Robert Hughes of Fort Worth Dunbar, in Texas, is the nation’s all-time leader with 1,333 wins.
“It’s a very difficult number to get to,” Hurley said of 1,000. “You have to do this for a long time and be pretty good at it and have an awful lot of help along the way. So it’s a wonderful accomplishment. We’re very proud of it.”
In 1987, 15 years after his father launched the varsity squad, Bobby was a sophomore at St. Anthony when the Friars lost at Jersey City rival Ferris High School.
The next year, they lost again.
The car rides home with pop were not pleasant.
A longtime Jersey City probation officer and director of recreation in the city, Bob hated losing.
And he reserved a special level of disgust for losing to Ferris.
“I hated to lose to begin with, and my dad it was 10- or 100-fold in that department,” Bobby recalled. “So it wasn’t pleasant.”
Bobby took those lessons with him to Duke.
There he helped Blue Devils Mike Krzyzewski win back-to-back NCAA championships in 1991 and ’92.
“It’s always been a big part of me,” Bobby recalled of the Ferris defeats. “I carried that with me through other stops that I’ve had in life. So I definitely learned a lot of lessons from it.”
Said Krzyzewski: “You never had to teach Bobby how to work hard. He came into the program knowing how to work hard and knowing the game.”
In 1990, after Bobby had moved on to Duke and his younger brother, Danny, played for their dad, St. Anthony was ranked No. 2 in the nation when it lost to All Hallows of New York City at St. Peter’s College.
“We lost the chance to be national champs,” Danny recalled.
Still, the Friars advanced to the New Jersey Tournament of Champions final against an Elizabeth High team that was ranked No. 1 in the state and featured future Seton Hall standout Luther Wright.
In the final, with St. Anthony down 2, Danny missed a 25-footer at the buzzer and Elizabeth held on to win, 65-62.
“He was proud of me because I played with a really bad ankle,” Danny, now the head coach at Wagner College, recalled of his father. “I shouldn’t have played but I played well. Just missed the last shot.”
Danny took his family’s hatred of losing with him on his own journey.
He compiled a 223-21 record in nine seasons at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, where his team never played St. Anthony because his mother, Chris, wouldn’t allow father to compete against son.
After Dan Hurley took over a Wagner team that went 5-26 last season, the Seahawks (10-11) have already won twice as many games as last season and are 6-4 in the Northeast Conference.
In 2005, Bob Hurley nearly retired.
He had been listening to another Jersey guy, Bill Parcells, so much that he nearly called it quits.
“A few years ago, Bill Parcells was very grumpy,” Hurley recalled. “And I’m a big Bill Parcells fan. And he was talking about how he didn’t want to coach anymore and all of these things were going on. And it was like through osmosis, I started to almost repeat his lines.
“Until I started to think about what exactly I was going to do outside of this. And there is no replacing this in my life. I spend a lot of time with my family. I’m retired now, and this is a terrific way to spend time. And these kids are really good kids. I think it’s to a certain extent I have a chance to maybe have some effect in their lives, and that’s very rewarding.”
So virtually immediately after winning his 1,000th, Hurley began to look ahead, four or five years down the road, to the next plateau.
“I’m going to do it for a while,” he said. “We hit 1,000 today. Eleven hundred is already a number we’d like to chase.”
Looming in that bracket is Kevin Boyle’s St. Patrick team, ranked No. 1 nationally and featuring Kentucky-bound Michael Gilchrist, arguably the top prep player in the nation.
“Unless you’ve been living under a rock, St Pat’s is looming down the road in a few weeks,” he said.
The St. Anthony-St. Patrick game has the potential to be an all-time epic.
The No. 1 and 2 teams in the nation — both potentially undefeated — squaring off in one bracket in the New Jersey state tournament.
Winner moves on with a shot at the Tournament of Champions.
Over the next few weeks leading up to that game, the current Friars will learn what Bobby and Danny Hurley learned before them.
The old coach hates to lose more than he loves to win.
Even as he holds his 21-month-old grandson, Gabriel Ursic, in his arms and looks like a cuddly grandpa, don’t be fooled.
And he’s teaching them all life lessons that go beyond the basketball court and will extend for decades into the future.
“I don’t think anybody wants to come back to me 10 years from now and say, ‘Coach, I wish you had pushed me more. I would’ve been more successful.’
“I just say to them now, ‘We’re never going to have that conversation because I’m going to push you all and then at the end of it it you’ll look back and laugh at some of those moments…and maybe not laugh at some of those moments.'”
(The AP contributed)