Spinal surgery gives UConn's Hurley new outlook

HARTFORD, Conn. -- UConn men's basketball coach Dan Hurley says he spent his life believing that when it came to his health, he was bulletproof.

That was before he was told by doctors in August that he had a degenerative spinal condition that could have left him paralyzed.

Hurley returned to work full-time Wednesday, less than two weeks after he had surgery to replace two disks in his neck with artificial ones. He expects to make a full recovery but says that as health scares go, this was terrifying.

"I started worrying and having a lot of anxiety about my health and my ability to get back to being myself," he said. "You start playing worst-case scenarios in your head."

Hurley said doctors told him the condition was partly hereditary and partly the result of years of the wear and tear associated with being a lifelong athlete.

He said he was hoping to deal with the discomfort and tingling he was feeling through physical therapy or maybe an injection, but doctors quickly told him that he needed immediate surgery and that any hard fall or bump could leave him paralyzed.

He had the surgery on Sept. 6, with the doctor using an incision in his throat to get to his spine. He said he was told that for experts, it's a relatively routine procedure.

The 46-year-old coach said he felt better immediately but has some restrictions for the next month, such as being prohibited from flying or lifting anything heavier than 10 pounds.

Hurley, known for his animated coaching style, said he has kept recruits informed and is very confident the situation won't have any long-term effects on his ability to do his job the way he has always done it.

However, he said his first major health issue has changed his perspective on life.

"How important my faith is to me was reinforced. How important my family is to me was reinforced," he said. "And just how important I am to my players, to not just succeed and excel in their careers. My true sense and purpose as a coach came into much clearer focus for me."

His players gave him a warm welcome back on Wednesday. He said that meant a lot to him, but it didn't make him go any easier on them.

"Any of, like, that feeling sorry for me or goodwill toward the coach returning from injury went out the door when I got on guys for their lack of defensive prowess," he said. "Yeah, all that love is gone."

UConn opens its season Nov. 8 against Sacred Heart.