Darren Hertz’s two national championship rings have yet to make the journey from Champaign, Ill., to Dayton. When they arrive, maybe he’ll figure out an appropriate time to show them to his new players at the University of Dayton.
A little bit of bling can go a long way. The Dayton Flyers value the Atlantic 10 championship rings they have won in the last two seasons. It’s unlikely any player would turn down a chance to glance at a bigger prize.
Hertz won national titles in 2006 and 2007 as an assistant coach on Billy Donovan’s staff with the Florida Gators. Hertz’s new boss with the Dayton Flyers, Anthony Grant, was on the staff for the first of those tournament runs.
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Of course, for Hertz, the rings are not the most important thing waiting to move east. Hertz joined Grant’s staff in April after two seasons at the University of Illinois. His wife Julie, son Brandon, 7, and daughter Alexa, who will turn 5 next month, will soon join Hertz and move into their new home in Springboro.
Like other coaches on staff, Hertz started his new job before he had time to help his family move. He took the time Monday during an interview with the Dayton Daily News to thank his wife, who has a successful career of her own as a speech therapist. Hertz called Julie a superstar.
“She has been the rock throughout this transition and the one to Illinois less than two years ago,” Hertz said.
Two moves in three years isn’t uncommon for most college coaches, but it’s a first for Hertz. He coached on Donovan’s staff in various roles from 1996-2015, the entire length of Donovan’s tenure. He treasures that time. He graduated from Florida in 1997, met Julie there and became a part of a college basketball dynasty.
The Gators were 467-186 in Donovan’s 19 seasons and played in two other Final Fours in addition to the national championships seasons. The last one was in 2014 when they beat the Flyers in the Elite Eight in Memphis.
For the first 11 seasons of Donovan’s tenure, Hertz and Grant coached together. Hertz got his start as a student assistant in 1996 thanks in part to Grant.
“We’re both from Miami (Fla.),” Hertz said. “He was kind of my foot in the door there at Florida. I was a student at the time. I was trying to get involved with the team. Lon Kruger had just left for Illinois, and they hired coach Donovan. You’re obviously looking for some sort of connection to get your foot in the door, and me and Anthony had some people in common from Miami. That’s kind of how I got involved. A few people reached out to him and connected the two of us. He was great. He welcomed me there and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to get you involved in camp,’ and it just went from there. That’s kind of how the relationship started.”
Hertz became video coordinator in 2001. That’s a skill he learned from Grant and two other Florida assistants, Donnie Jones and John Pelphrey. All the coaches learned from Donovan, who turned Florida into a perennial power.
“It was unbelievable for me,” Hertz said. “It was neat to see the program getting built. There had been pockets of success at Florida, but when he got there, the roster was a little depleted. It was about trying to build the program to have sustained success. Everyone talks about winning the national championships at Florida, but for me, the most rewarding part of all that was the journey, what it took to get there. For me and Anthony, in his last year at Florida, to win a national championship, it was something really special. It was something we’ll remember forever.”
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The 2006 team reunited last September to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the first championship. Grant and Hertz and their wives spent time together. Little did they know, they would be seeing a lot more of each other a year later.
Grant’s hiring on March 30 came fewer than three weeks after Illinois fired head coach John Groce. Hertz continued to coach with Illinois in the NIT until the Illini lost in the quarterfinals March 22 but knew he would soon need to find a job.
“That was a very difficult couple weeks,” Hertz said. “It was challenging because we knew we were out of a job, and our team was still playing, which was unique. We played in the NIT without our head coach. That was something I had never experienced. I don’t think too many people have experienced something like that. It was difficult. You’re trying to do the best you can still for your university and those kids. They were still playing and actually won a couple games in the NIT. You want to play as long as you can, but at the same time, it would be unrealistic to think you’re not thinking about your family and what’s next.”
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When Grant got the job, Hertz said there was patience on both sides. He knew how busy Grant would be in the first 48 to 72 hours.
“We just laid low for a few days and then connected when he had a little more time,” Hertz said. “We talked for a few days. Right from the get-go, the fact that he had interest in bringing me to Dayton, I didn’t really need to hear much more. I was really excited about it based on the school, the basketball tradition and who I’d be working for.”
Like another new assistant coach, James Kane, who worked with Grant at Virginia Commonwealth and Alabama, Hertz knew all he need to know about Grant.
“He’s somebody I just really looked up to in so many different ways,” Hertz said. “His integrity and his character is unmatched. He’s highly intelligent. He’s a great leader.”