A Kick in the Pants
Bob Hurley is a high school coach who has built his legend by making the most out of the least. From a tiny Roman Catholic school in bleakest New Jersey, his teams have been remarkable: 24 state championships, two national championship rankings, more than 840 victories, five first-round NBA picks--and they've all gone on to college. Not bad for a school that doesn't have a gym. Journalist Adrian Wojnarowski 's new book, The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season With Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty, chronicles the school's impressive 2003-04 team, which hard-to-please Hurley dubbed the most academically, athletically, and socially underachieving in the school's history.
Isn't the misfits-to-winners story a sports cliche?
This isn't the story of a white knight who rides in to save the day--Hurley is a guy who never left Jersey City. He spent 30 years as a probation officer and grew up on those streets. He could be making $1.5 million a year coaching college basketball, but instead he's making $6,800 coaching at St. Anthony's. In a time when sports is all about me, me, me, Hurley can still teach kids to be selfless and work as a team.
Is tough-guy coaching good for the game?
If he coached with this style in the suburbs, he would probably have all the parents trying to get him removed. But it works for the kids in Jersey City. Many of them didn't have father figures growing up, and discipline has not been a part of their lives. They are behind economically, socially, academically, and they've got to catch up. To do that, they've got to be more disciplined than everyone else. Bob Hurley is going to give them a kick in the ass, and kids are still lining up to get it.
The season ends. Then what?
Every one of his players has been accepted to college, and their graduation rate is around 70 percent. That's remarkable for a neighborhood where most kids don't finish high school. Parents know if their kid can play for Bob Hurley that he will get them a college scholarship. He's also teaching them life lessons. One of his favorite stats to throw at his players is that only 1 in 32,000 high school players makes it to the NBA.
This story appears in the May 23, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.