By DENNIS HOUSE
University of Connecticut’s (UConn) men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley and his wife Andrea are often referred to as Mr. and Mrs. UConn. It’s been an amazing ride for the Hurleys in a year that began with great expectations and, after a few bumps in the road, led to a national championship victory in April. Weeks and months of celebration followed.
The national champs did not take the summer off. There was a visit to the White House and President Biden to kick off Memorial Day weekend, workouts on campus, and games overseas in Europe. Coach Hurley is excited and optimistic about the upcoming season.
I caught up with the Hurleys over the summer at the UConn practice facility in Storrs, a state-of-the-art building adjacent to Gampel Pavilion, which is tastefully decorated in UConn colors and logos and giant photographs of the Huskies’ storied history. I was taping an interview for “This Week in Connecticut with Dennis House” on WTNH. I felt goosebumps as I absorbed all the images of UConn greatness around me.
When asked about the pressure of repeating the win, Coach said he was internally nervous. “The memories of Houston are comforting and encouraging as thoughts of a repeat are talked about by fans. It brings you back to that mountain climb to the top. It’s an incredible feeling. But I’m more 85 percent of the time just obsessed and grinding on to winning it again. And because you just you want to experience that again with a group of people. How it just built from Albany to Vegas to Houston. The crowds, the attention and the sense of accomplishment got bigger.”
The Hurleys are super friendly, approachable and easy to connect with. Andrea is a very warm person who shares some qualities my mom has. Andrea is Greek and Italian, and my mom is Italian too. Coach is more serious but also has a fun side. I began our conversation by asking this power couple what it has been like to be sudden celebrities.
“The feeling of going places and people calling you champ or congratulating you on a championship is a feeling you could get used to. I hope every offseason I’m referred to as a champion, a championship-level coach. It’s just the reaction of people in the state, and it’s cool,” a very down-to-earth Coach Hurley told me.
The Hurleys met in college at Seton Hall and celebrated 26 years of marriage in August. Kara Sundlun and I celebrated 20 years of marriage a few weeks before Coach and Andrea, and I wanted to know what makes them tick and click after 26 years.
When asked about his advice for other married couples out there watching our young couples, Coach advised, “Stay with it. It’s stressful, especially when you have young kids, and you first start out in your career. The finances are tough, the kids are young, and you’re just gotten into this relationship where you’re together constantly. You’ve got a lot of adversity and growing pains; you’re not fully formed yet as who you know, as the best version of yourself. I think every year of our marriage, we’ve gotten closer. We’ve become better friends and our relationships got stronger.”
“It’s never 50/50,” Andrea said. “It’s never going to be. Even if it’s 50/50, there’s something wrong and some people give up so easily. You have to bring fun. Sometimes you have to give a little bit extra. It can’t be stale. You have to always do that. When we couldn’t stand each other, we kind of just say you’re going to go through this like everybody does. We’re like best friends.”
Andrea is constant fixture at UConn games and considers herself a den mother to the team. She knows the players and their families personally, has cooked for them in her home, and given them a shoulder to lean on. Without a doubt, she is her husband’s closest advisor.
One thing that keeps Coach Hurley grounded is a practice my wife has implored me to take up: meditation. Coach starts his day, every day, with alone time, meditating, journaling, exercising and reflecting. Andrea supports him 100 percent.
“If you’re someone that struggles with depression or anxiety, which I have in a lot of my life, both, mostly when I was younger, but even in my adult life, throughout my coaching career, when things have gone bad, I find myself in some real moments of great despair,” explained Coach. “And that’s where you have to lean into a lot of your practices and your faith, and then your family and the people that you love to meditate together. She doesn’t mock it. I think she sees the value in it for me because I think she knows if I didn’t have this early morning routine that starts at 6 a.m., and takes me to around 7:30, the exercise, the prayer, the meditation, the journaling and the reading.”
“I would be just an uncontrollable monster if I didn’t have things. These things at least give me a chance when I start the day to have some balance, to have some momentum.”
Kara also meditates daily and over the last year, I had joined her in it now and then. Coach inspired me to get on a regular meditation schedule. Right after my visit to UConn, I tried Deepak Chopra’s 21-day meditation challenge. Kara and I would sit outside and have coffee before the kids woke up and meditate. We both have stressful jobs as news anchors and parents. I did find it gave me a better foundation for a better day. I felt better instantly and smarter. The experts say meditation is good for the brain!
The Hurleys may not see themselves as inspiring figures, but I told them they certainly are. They inspired me for sure. Our chat this summer was much more of a conversation than an interview; it changed me. We bonded over our mutual love of Connecticut and its people, and the joys of a long marriage and raising kids.
Coach shares daily messages from others on his Instagram account (that I admit I have shared). Here is one of my favorites: “Never regret a day in your life. Good days give happiness, bad days give experience, worst days give lessons and best days give memories.”