Legendary coach returns to the court

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

His St. Anthony basketball teams have won over 1,000 games, four national championships, 28 state championships, nine of which were consecutive wins. He’s sent 150 players to Division I basketball programs, including five first round NBA draft choices. You might think a guy with a resume like that would be parlaying it into a TV analyst gig or endorsing Wheaties, but — less than a week from his 70th birthday — Bob Hurley attends the annual basketball camp he runs.

Hurley: That’s 42 years ago, when we began running camps and I’ve been running camps every summer since.

Cruz: The most impressive thing I can say about you – aside from all your basketball coaching prowess – you were able to survive 40 years coaching in recreation, and high school basketball programs and most people don’t realize how treacherous those waters are.

Hurley: Funny you should say that. I started working in recreation at age 18 and pretty much from 18 until I was in my 50’s in 2001, I went from being a part-time recreation person as a kid to a director of recreation.

Cruz: But you survived mayors and all of that and the comings and goings of this director and that director. That’s part of a skill you really need to have.

Hurley: I guess I’ve been elusive. You know you always tell boxers stick and move but I think, when it comes to basketball, I think what we’ve done has been respected so, over the course of the years, if I say something about basketball in Jersey City, it’s usually someone listens.

And they’ve been listening to him for decades. Unlike some other coaches who have parlayed on court success into financial benefit, Hurley has never made much from his technically part-time coaching job. His job with the city’s recreation department only slightly augmented his main income as a parole officer. For Hurley, who’s always seen his St. Anthony Friars as part of an extended family, his Hall of Fame career there wasn’t always certain.

Hurley: My first year coaching with St. Anthony in 1968, I wasn’t sure that’s what I ought to be doing, but I wanted to continue to work in my parish, which was St. Paul’s in Greenville, so I coached the eighth grade team and when they offered me the freshman job at St. Anthony’s I kept the eighth grade job. I wasn’t sure I was going to like the other gig, and then 50 years went by and I was still at St. Anthony until it recently closed.

That drama played out over the course of the past year, with Hurley leading the charge to keep the school and its storied basketball program afloat. But falling enrollment, and years of falling short of financial goals, were finally too much, and when the school year ended, so did the St. Anthony story.

Cruz: Tell me about what the impact was of the closing of that school.

Hurley: Well, the big thing is you’re looking at roughly 160 kids that wanted to graduate from the school, were committed to being there. We talk about this Friar family, this alternative family to their own family, and they were getting a great education at an affordable price. And there have been rumors for years that it was going to be tough to meet the numbers and all of a sudden for it to be a reality was really hard.

Former players and faculty met at White Eagle Hall at the end of the school year in the former gymnasium and bingo hall. It should be noted that St. Anthony never actually had a home court, per se, and it is now a sparkling new concert hall.

Cruz: Have you seen how they’ve changed White Eagle Hall where you ran many a practice. That’s kind of a fitting change, no?

Hurley: That was our final social gathering. We had a night down there and it was our final get together, and we had about – I don’t know – maybe 200 people and it was like “Remember White Eagle Hall. You all played here. Well, we’re going out in style. Look at White Eagle Hall now. There’s a $6 million renovation to the bingo hall, which used to be just standing up by the grace of God.

All good things must eventually come to their end, but for Hurley teaching this sport that he loves and that has occupied the majority of his life will be what he does until the end of his life, he says. He and his wife are starting a nonprofit – the Hurley Family Foundation – which will run clinics in the fall and spring and sponsor leagues in the winter. The emphasis, as always, for this hall of famer is on kids becoming positive men and women, learning about life, through basketball.

Cruz: You’re not the retiring type.

Hurley: No, I’m going to do it until, well, God willing, I’ll do it as long as I can, and, as long as I can get around and still find joy in the crazy stuff that happens with the little kids, I’m good.

See the full interview below: