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Tuesday, March 20, 2012 5:14 p.m.

Rhode Island hires new men’s basketball head coach

Junior forward Dwayne Smith reaches for the basket during a January game against Rhode Island. | Hatchet File Photo

Dan Hurley is the new head coach of the Rhode Island men’s basketball team, becoming the 19th head coach in program history. His hire follows the March 4 firing of former Rams head coach Jim Baron.

Hurley spent the past two seasons as head coach of Wagner College in Staten Island, N.Y., where he engineered a program turnaround, guiding a team that won just five games over the 2009-10 season to 13 victories in his first year as head coach. That eight-win improvement was the best in the nation for first year head coaches in the 2010-11 season. This year, Hurley led Wagner to a 25-6 overall record, tying for second in the country with 12 road victories and a .800 road win percentage.

“We are thrilled to name Dan Hurley as our new head men’s basketball coach,” Rhode Island athletic director Thorr Bjorn said in a statement.  “Dan is a proven winner at every level and I am looking forward to partnering with him to build on the solid foundation we have in place.  Our goals are to compete for– and win– Atlantic 10 Championships and advance to play in NCAA tournaments.”

The Rams went 7-24 and failed to make the A-10 tournament this season, including a Jan. 11 loss to the Colonials. SILive.com, a Staten Island news website, reports that Hurley’s contract at Rhode Island is for six years, and could “potentially pay the 39-year-old more than $4 million.” The website also said that Hurley’s brother, Bobby Hurley, his top assistant coach at Wagner, will also join the Rams staff.

Hurley compiled a 38-22 overall record at Wagner, including a 21-12 mark in Northeast Conference games. This season, he guided the Seahawks to the Northeast Conference’s first-ever victory over a ranked program, defeating then-No. 15 Pittsburgh 59-54 Dec. 23. After a successful stint at Wagner over a short period of time, Hurley told SILive.com that his decision to depart for Rhode Island wasn’t easy.

“I didn’t anticipate that I’d have to be making a decision like this for several years,” Hurley told SILive.com. “It was a very difficult thing to do, and I talked to a lot of people. There was a lot of back and forth.”

Prior to taking over Wagner’s program, Hurley spent nine years as the head coach of Saint Benedict’s Prep in Newark, N.J., where he compiled a 223-21 record, including four top five finishes in the national rankings. He graduated from Seton Hall in 1996 after a career as a standout guard on its men’s basketball team, scoring 1,070 career points and leading the Grey Bees to four straight postseason appearances. Hurley’s father, Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Bob Hurley Sr., is the head coach at Saint Anthony High School in Jersey City, N.J.