Hurley: Aim High in B-ball and Business

“I want every practice to be a masterpiece,” said Bob Hurley Sr., who for 38 years has coached the Friar’s basketball team at a tiny coed high school, St. Anthony’s in Jersey City. With 10 classrooms and 250 students, the school doesn’t even have its own gym, but, as Hurley said, “What we lack in bricks and mortar we make up in a dedicated faculty. In 38 years, every kid but two has gone to college.”

At 62 his “old style values” and coaching methods are legendary. A Bergen Record reporter, Adrian Woinarowski, covered the 2003-2004 season in “The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball’s Most Improbable Dynasty,” and it may soon be made into a movie.

Hurley spoke to the Princeton chamber on Thursday, February 4, a speech that was admirably covered by Anita Shaffer in the Times of Trenton. Also the St. Anthony Friars will play a Maryland team in the PrimeTime Shootout at Trenton’s Sun Center on Saturday, February 13, at 6 p.m.

You’d have thought this would be a sports speech, but as Herb Ames (who wrote an inspirational memoir “Aim High” about how sports can influence your work) pointed out afterward, there were multiple comparisons between basketball and business.

Work hard. “I teach them how honorable work is,” says Hurley, who sweeps the practice floor himself.

Stay current. “When you’re an older person in leadership, it is particularly important that those around you know you are cutting edge.” He attends 6 to 8 clinics a year. “And I take notes from every single person I come across.”

Don’t let any detail slip by. “I’ve written out my practice every day for 43 years, and I’ll go back and look at what we did five or 10 years ago.”

Make a strategic plan. “After 10 games we scout ourselves, to see where we are and where we want to go to.”

Focus on your dream no matter what. “I found something in life that never made me want to do something else.” The “no matter what” was that, to earn enough money, he spent long days on the streets of Jersey City as a probation officer and only recently retired.

At the end of the talk, prompted by a question from Kristen Appelget about coaching your own sons, Hurley made a poignant observation – he even seemed to surprise himself – as he told how he had turned down a chance to coach at Xavier. (Hurley’s good friend, Skip Prosser, took the job instead and went on to Wake Forest, where he died of a heart attack.)

The family was ready to move to Cincinnati, when his oldest son, Danny, pleaded with him not to go. “He and Bobby made impassioned pleas to stay,” said Hurley, noting that he had never really made the connection between not ever being a college coach and his sons’ desire to play at St. Anthony’s.

Of course it wasn’t easy on Danny to be the coach’s son. “If your son is really good or really bad, it’s not a problem. But if he’s in between — I had to take it up a notch, and I treated them worse than anyone else. The kids didn’t want to be him. But after 18 months we finally got it right. The first kid (Danny) could really pass, and that made everyone kinda happy. The second guy (Bobby) was more of a scorer. We won six consecutive state championships and both were New Jersey players of the year.”

After being a star at Duke, Bobby played for the NBA and is a horse breeder. Danny played at Seton Hall and now – like father, like son — is happily coaching high school basketball at St. Benedict’s. That’s another parallel to business. In sports, as in business, what your parents do can have a huge influence on your career.

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