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Tim Benz: Despite rejections, Pitt can’t settle in coaching search |

Tim Benz: Despite rejections, Pitt can’t settle in coaching search

Tim Benz
| Thursday, March 22, 2018 3:48 p.m
Nevada head coach Eric Musselman reacts to a play, during the first half of a second-round game against Cincinnati in the NCAA college basketball tournament in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, March 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Dan Hurley probably didn’t need a pitch of “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”

I’m sure he was well aware.

He has to know he’s jumping from a plush, tidy lawn in Rhode Island to a nasty burned out brown patch in Connecticut.

But to him that apparently still looks better than the vast desert here in Pittsburgh.

UConn announced the hiring of Hurley Thursday. He leaves Rhode Island after taking the Rams to two straight NCAA tournaments.

So we know Hurley finally chose Storrs over Kingston and Oakland. What we don’t know yet is exactly why.

Apparently the reason isn’t what it normally is: money.’s Jeff Goodman writes that the offer from Pittsburgh was “more lucrative” than the deal he accepted at UConn.

Granted, the devil may be in the details. Goodman tells us Hurley’s deal is for six years at UConn. Maybe the length of Pitt’s offer — while for more money — wasn’t as long.

Goodman also followed up with a second tweet reading that URI’s offer to retain Hurley was $2 million for seven years with salary increases for his coaching staff and the construction of a new basketball facility.

It’s possible the Panthers couldn’t match those sweeteners regarding term and staff expenses.

Or, maybe it has nothing to do with money or benefits. As has been reported all along, Hurley could simply think it’ll be easier to win at UConn before it will be at Pitt.

He’s right. It will be.

Rebuilding storied UConn to winning in the American Athletic Conference should be an easier task than getting Pitt to equally lofty heights in the more rigorous ACC.

That’s a problem Pittsburgh athletic director Heather Lyke might be realizing. She can’t buy her way out of the desert.

Depending on who you want to believe, Lyke may be onto her fourth or fifth option.

It’s been reported Pitt talked to one-time Indiana coach Tom Crean .

He went to Georgia instead for $3.2 million, almost identical to Pitt’s offer to Hurley.

It was rumored the Panthers were interested in former Ohio State bench boss Thad Matta .

It doesn’t appear — even at the second biggest salary in the ACC — that the Pitt job is enticing enough for him to return to coaching.

Then there is the Sean Miller saga. Did the Arizona coach approach Pitt about its vacancy ? Or was it the other way around?

If it was the other way around, make Lyke 0-4, counting Hurley.

I thought Hurley was a better choice than Matta and Crean. He’s younger, with more energy and heading in the right direction — moving up the ladder to a bigger conference.

For Matta and Crean, Pitt would’ve been a step back from their previous jobs. A point of reentry into the game. Nothing more.

The notion of Hurley seemed to garner more enthusiasm here in the city, and I think he would’ve gotten more patience from money-pooling alumni to properly rebuild.

Now he’s going to a UConn team that went 14-18 and has missed the NCAA tournament three of the last four years. The Huskies also aren’t in a Power 5 conference.

They just fired a national championship hero who had taken over as coach. They may be paying Hurley less than Pitt offered. And, similar to the Panthers, many players are leaving the program.

But Hurley still wants to go there instead of coming to Pitt.

I can’t blame him. At least UConn still has a national championship legacy and some semblance of a roster.

At Pitt, they’ll be starting play next year as the college basketball equivalent of an expansion team. Unlike the Vegas Golden Knights though, you don’t get to pluck the point guard version of Marc Andre Fleury off of Duke’s roster to get better fast.

Sarcasm aside, that NHL expansion approach is the way to do it at Pitt now.

The Panthers need a coach who knows the transfer game so they can at least avoid being a laughing stock for the next few years while they backfill a roster through more natural recruiting procedures.

That’s why Nevada’s Eric Musselman should be the school’s next target. He’s an expert in that regard. Lyke may miss on him as well. That may look bad. But it’s worth the shot.

Pitt needs the best possible coach, optics be damned. The program is in such dire circumstances, the public should understand that a few people may say “no” before the right guy says “yes.”

Don’t settle for someone just because they’ll accept the gig. The low hanging fruit is: “Get the guy from UMBC! Get the guy from Loyola-CHI! Get the guy from Buffalo!”

That’s not the answer. My guess is someone of that ilk will be gone within three years given the mess he’d inherit.

One good tournament upset is fleeting. It’s not an indication that a coach can build a competitive program in the ACC within a quick enough time frame before donors give up on him.

They may do it as quickly as they did with Kevin Stallings.

If they come back at all.

Tim Benz is a columnist for the Tribune-Review. He hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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