By Chris Chaney
The University of Cincinnati – Clermont College fired their Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach John Hurley Friday, May 10 despite his string of success at the school.
The school declined to comment on the reason behind the decision, saying they do not comment on personnel matters, but issued a short statement that read, “There has been a coaching change in our men’s basketball program. We will have someone new in place as soon as possible.”
Hurley, a member of five Halls of Fame including the Greater Cincinnati Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Junior College Hall of Fame, has won 923 games over a career that spans back to the early 1970s.
Hurley said he first heard rumblings about his departure two weeks prior to being fired.
“I started hearing rumors about two weeks ago, evidently someone had leaked it out,” Hurley said. “I questioned my athletic director (Brian Sullivan) who told me that he knew absolutely nothing and as far as he was concerned, I was fine.
“Last Monday (May 6), the athletic director called me and told me that there was going to be a meeting on Friday at 9 a.m. and that I needed to be there. I asked (Sullivan) what it was about and he said he didn’t know and that Jen Radt, who is in charge of the student services area, wouldn’t tell him. When I showed up to the meeting, I was handed a letter of dismissal that said no cause.”
Aside from Hurley, assistant coach Jason Moberly was let go as well. Moberly had been with the program since 2007.
Hurley came to Clermont College in 2004 after 26 years at Cincinnati State. Beginning with his first season at Clermont College, Hurley led the Cougars to five straight Ohio Regional College Conference Championships and capped off the run with the school’s first national championship in any sport, winning the 2008 United States Collegiate Athletic Association National Championship.
Hurley won 267 games over his 10 years at the helm of UC-Clermont, eclipsing the 900-career win mark at the school late in the 2011-12 season.
While there has been no official reason given for his firing, Hurley believes that the dismissal had something to do with the academic performance of his players.
“The only criticism I’ve ever had from Dr. (Gregory) Sojka (the dean of the school) was about the grades of my players and that was about two years ago,” Hurley said. “We’ve had some years where the overall grades of our players have been down, but we’ve had some years when the grades of our players have been pretty good, so I’m suspecting that is what this is about because I have not been given a reason. That’s the only criticism that I’ve ever gotten from (Sojka).”
Hurley admitted to being confused by the criticism because of the academic nature of the institution. As an open-enrollment school, the only requirement for admission is a high school diploma or GED and Hurley said he took that requirement literally.
“What I’ve done over the years is I’ve tried to give kids an opportunity,” Hurley said. “Some of them have made it and some of them haven’t, but there have been kids that I’ve brought in that had very poor grades in high school, but did wonderfully in college and went on to become very successful. That just doesn’t seem to be the philosophy of the college right now.”
Another point of confusion for Hurley was the lack of academic help for the student-athletes. While the UC main campus has tutors available for their student-athletes, Hurley said Clermont College has none. The coach said there is a learning center that’s available to all students, but that it has a stigma attached to it that if a person goes there for help, they are perceived as dumb.
“A lot of the players that I brought in needed academic help and they never got it,” he said. “I’ve always been about trying to help kids and give kids an opportunity, particularly those from lower socioeconomic (backgrounds) and I think that backfired on my at Clermont.”
It is those same players that remain Hurley’s biggest concern. Hurley said since his dismissal he has talked to most of them and they are taking his firing hard.
“I’ve had a couple of the players crying on the phone,” the coach said. “Several of them want to leave and go somewhere else. I think it’s going to be a mass exodus the way it looks. There might be a couple of them that might hold on, but several of them have asked me to see if I could find (another school) for them to go to.
“I don’t have bitterness. My biggest concern is the 18 players that I have in the program. I recruited a number of players this spring and the timing on this is very poor. Now these players are out in limbo. There’s just no regard for these student-athletes. If they were going to fire me, they should have fired me the day the season was over and we wouldn’t have this situation.”
Hurley ended by saying that he was grateful for his time at the school and will remember fondly the opportunity to coach the Cougars, as well as the milestones that he achieved as the head coach at Clermont College.