STORRS, Conn. — A night before finalizing the most significant choice of his career, Dan Hurley, who was weighing a massive contract extension from Connecticut against the “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to lead the Los Angeles Lakers, engaged in a 21st-century thought experiment with his wife. He and Andrea Hurley, to whom he’s been married for more than two decades, agreed to text each other simultaneously, on the count of three, with either the word “go” or the word “stay” in reference to the quandary their family faced. 

One, two, three, send it,” Hurley recalled during a media session on Thursday afternoon, his first since being catapulted into the news cycle last week. “And we both got it. And it was both ‘stay.’ I said, ‘Let’s do the same thing in the morning.'”

Their answers matched again the following morning, and then a third time later that afternoon when Hurley cast a furtive glance in Andrea’s direction before leaving their home in Glastonbury, Connecticut.

“Just kind of looked at each other like, ‘Do you feel good about this?’ Hurley said. Because by then, the only thing separating Hurley from a scheduled and rescheduled meeting with his players, his assistants and his support staff — all of whom were still in the dark about what he planned to do — was a 25-mile drive to campus.

Hurley called UConn’s athletic director, David Benedict, and informed him of the decision to stay and chase a third consecutive national championship. Hurley’s agent, Bret Just, explained to the Lakers that his client was declining the six-year, $70 million contract they’d offered. From there, word of Hurley’s choice rattled across social media platforms and reverberated off the walls of the Werth Family Champions Center in Storrs. As he entered the Huskies’ locker room, where nobody had a cell phone, the only people who didn’t know what Hurley had decided were his players. 

“I used it to my advantage as a coach in terms of asking them for a heavy commitment,” Hurley said. “I had made my decision before I went in there, but I kinda demanded a commitment of excellence from them in there, and they didn’t really know what I was doing when I went in. So it was almost like, ‘Whatever you guys say and commit to is going to be the deciding factor,’ which was a lie. I already had decided. 

“That’s why I like coaching guys this age. They’re dumber than NBA players. I wouldn’t have been able to pull that stuff off [in the pros]. But I got a great commitment from the group and I told them.”

His motivational tactic proved to be the final twist in a high-stakes melodrama that captivated and consternated for nearly 96 hours, ever since ESPN first reported that Hurley — and not former Duke star JJ Reddick — had emerged as the focal point of the Lakers’ coaching search to replace Darvin Ham. It was the kind of scoop that sent shockwaves through every level of the sport: from the high school prospects Connecticut had been recruiting to the highly talented roster Hurley assembled for the 2024-25 campaign, from the glitziest of NBA franchises to the inescapable orbit of LeBron James and his draft-eligible son, Bronny James

Barely two months had passed since Hurley laughed away a question about his willingness to entertain new coaching opportunities, namely Kentucky, in the immediate aftermath of winning a second straight title. “I don’t think that’s a concern,” Hurley said with a championship hat draped backward on his head and the trophy beside his right shoulder. But this was the Lakers and their 17 banners calling. This was Hollywood and the chance to coach James, arguably the second-best player of all time behind Michael Jordan. And Hurley, who’d never hidden his interest in plying his trade at that level, knew it was an opportunity worth considering. 

Hurley said he was made aware of the Lakers’ interest in him on Monday, June 3, which ignited what he described as a subpar week of coaching with his mind racing in numerous directions. Andrea Hurley reacted first with anger and then with tears when Hurley shared the news. Just like her husband, she’d come to adore the life they’d built in Connecticut, a state that was close enough to family and friends in their native New Jersey, and the life they’d built at UConn, where a basketball-centric athletic department boasts all the resources to compete for championships. Professionally, the Hurleys have always been climbers: from St. Benedict’s Prep to Wagner to Rhode Island to UConn. But personally, they’d never been more fulfilled than in their six years with the Huskies. 

“She wasn’t happy about [the Lakers’ interest] because we all love it here,” Hurley said. “And I mean, when you love it and you’re so happy, you don’t want that type of disruption, especially one that’s special, like the Lakers. If it was a lesser opportunity, she wouldn’t have reacted so emotionally. And then we handled it like adults. She considered it and weighed it and took the trip and factored in all the things that matter to us.”

Dan Hurley on his decision to return to UConn: ‘I already had the leverage’

Their list of factors was equal parts comprehensive and exhaustive: the impact that moving across the country would have on the family, including Hurley’s parents, Bob and Christine, both of whom are mainstays at UConn’s games; the differences between coaching in college and the NBA; the ever-changing financial landscape of collegiate athletics, especially as it relates to revenue sharing and NIL for a school residing outside the Power 4 conferences; the contractual offers from both the Lakers and Connecticut, whose governor, Ned Lamont, has vowed to make Hurley the highest-paid coach in the country; the loyalty Hurley has always showed to rosters he builds and coaches. 

When Hurley finally told his players that he would be traveling to Los Angeles for an interview, a sea of uneasy facial expressions stared back at him. Most of them, if not all, were keenly aware of Hurley’s desire to coach in the NBA, but none of them expected to face the reality so quickly — not with such a loaded roster for the 2024-25 season and with so much discussion about the sport’s first three-peat since UCLA in the early ’70s. “Images of things that will always be embedded in your mind,” Hurley said when describing the team’s reaction. He and his wife boarded a flight to California the next day.

“Obviously, the Lakers organization is incredible,” Hurley said. “You know, once-in-a-lifetime [chance] to be presented with an opportunity to lead one of the most storied franchises in sports. Get a chance to get to know some amazing people in [general manager] Rob Pelinka and [controlling owner] Jeanie Buss.”

Then came several days of deliberation as Hurley burned a hole in his rolodex. He sought the input of UConn assistants Kimani Young and Luke Murray, at least one of whom would have joined Hurley in the NBA. He checked in with Benedict about the trajectory of Connecticut’s athletic department and fundraising. He reached out to former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, one of Hurley’s closest mentors. He spoke with fellow coaches Billy Donovan (Chicago Bulls), Tom Izzo (Michigan State) and Quin Synder (Atlanta Hawks). He picked the brain of Brad Stevens (president of the Boston Celtics). He touched base with his parents and his brother, Bobby Hurley, the head coach at Arizona State. He even had some communication with James, the 39-year-old Lakers’ megastar and four-time league MVP. 

Dan Hurley reveals text messages with LeBron before deciding to return to UConn

A foray into New York for the Billy Joel concert at Madison Square Garden bifurcated the weekend, with Hurley and his wife joined by Murray, who’d procured some excellent seats and caused a stir by sharing a video of the group on social media. The evening was designed as something of a consolation prize after Hurley had skipped seeing Joel at Fenway Park last September to host No. 1 prospect Cooper Flagg on an official visit. “It was worth it to have a shot at the Flagg family,” Hurley said. “But we couldn’t miss a second concert because of basketball issues.” Only this time, the East Coast-centric lyrics in Joel’s catalogue were messing with Hurley’s mind as the final decision loomed. “The songs were crazy,” Hurley said.

By the following morning, Hurley knew which way he was leaning. And that’s when he called current UConn power forward Alex Karaban, the original centerpiece of Hurley’s offensive revolution and a player who pulled out of the NBA Draft to return for a third season. If there was any player on Connecticut’s roster to whom Hurley felt particularly conflicted about deserting, it was Karaban, the only player he called before announcing his decision.  

“He was kind of gathering my thoughts about how I felt about him considering [the offer] and how the team was feeling,” Karaban said. “Really just trying to make sure the team had a good headspace right now because we did have a lot of distractions leading up. Me, I was a distraction [with the NBA pre-draft process]. Coach [Hurley] was a little bit of a distraction, too. So he wanted to make sure that the team itself was in a good headspace. 

“Then we just had a good conversation and I just told him, ‘I’m happy that you’re considering it, everyone is happy that you’re considering it, we wanted you to consider it because we know it’s your dream.’ And he considered it and did what was best for him. And we’re just all super happy he’s back.”

What proved best for Hurley was to stick with the job he adores in the state that adores him back. He can remain at UConn for as long as he’d like with total control over his program — a luxury he never would have had in Los Angeles. The expectation is that a significant contract extension could be finalized quite soon, Hurley said, after the initial outline for his compensation was agreed upon two weeks ago.  

The NBA will always be there for Hurley should he ever change his mind. But for now, after back-to-back championships and with a legitimate chance to chase a third, there was no reason for him and his family to mess with what makes them happy. 

One, two, three, stay.

“In the end, you love UConn,” Hurley said. “You just love UConn.”

Michael Cohen covers college football and basketball for FOX Sports with an emphasis on the Big Ten. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13.

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