Friday, March 26, 2010

A Big Bear Hug for Huggy Bear

Bob Huggins (aka Huggy Bear) and West Virginia face Kentucky in the Elite 8

2Hot has handled the West Virginia matchup earlier this week. I thought, let's look at the coach, Bob Huggins, a little bit further to see what's behind that mustard yellow suit.

When you look at Huggins, affectionately known as Huggy Bear, see past the mustard yellow suit to his more common pullovers. Avoid focusing on the calloused spilt tooth smile and see the sad pursed lips. See the West Virginia man molded into the 8th highest winning percentage of any NCAA coach (73.6%) and seventh place in volume of victories.

Huggins was born in Morgantown, West Virginia. He went west but only as far as Ohio and stayed close to his roots landing in Cincinnati for his first major college basketball position. Huggins made Cincy, Cincy - physical, thuggish, athletic, criminal, winners. He turned a team that had not seen the NCAA tournament for the 12 years prior to his arrival into a constant C-USA contender and a team that made the postseason in each of his 16 years there.

He led the Bearcats to the Elite 8 twice, Final Four in 1991 but had his best chance at a Championship slip away with an injury to Kenyon Martin in 2000.

Huggy Bear's off court issues always followed him and cost him his job at Cincinnati (2005) but his tenure and reputation earned him a second chance at Kansas State(2006). This single season served as a chance to make Kansas State relevant and his intentions were known after arrival when he said "why settle for #2 when #1 is available."

In 2007 he was offered the head position of his hometown team, the West Virginia Mountaineers. He left the best player in the 2007 class (Michael Beasley) for the chance to go back home.

He's been with West Virginia since 2007 and at the end of the 2007-2008 season signed an 11 year contract extension, shoring him up as a Mountaineer until Huggins turns 65. Huggins has a 79-29 record at WVa, finishing as high as 2nd this season.

But this is a Kentucky vs West Virginia game coming tomorrow in the Elite 8. This game has a history other than Huggy Bear losing in the second round to the Wildcats in 2004. Huggins has beaten Kentucky Coach John Calipari 7 of 8 tries but that hasn't stopped the two from being a personal friend of Coach Cal.

The story goes that Huggins suffered a massive heart-attack in 2002 and collapsed in the streets of Pittsburgh. While in the ambulance he asked the ambulance driver "What's the ETA." 22 minutes, the ambulance driver told him. "I'm not going to make it 22 minutes", Huggins responded.

The EMT told Huggins he wasn't going to let him die, "until Calipari beats you at least once." Why would someone say this? The EMT was Cal's nephew. Cal heard about Huggins and flew from Memphis to Pittsburgh, talked his way - the way Cal does - into the family only section. When he got in, he talks about how the paddles were still singed from the use on Huggins.

Huggins and Cal have been close friends since early in their careers. That night ensured they would stay there despite tomorrow's 9th matchup between the teams. Tomorrow's game is anything other than meaningless though. Crazed Kentucky fans and monsterous Mountaineers shouldn't worry, the coaches still care about the outcome. The two are competitors but as Huggins put it:
"When he was coaching Memphis, they beat us and I went on his TV show. We beat
them in Memphis and we're eating ribs at the Rendezvous and he comes and brings
his priest from UMass with him. John and I have always been friends."

Expect Huggins to remain friends with Cal after tomorrow's game, but during the game they play for themselves, their teams and their fans. As one paper put it though, you could see Huggins on Cal's TV show after a UK win or Cal out for more ribs in Syracuse if Huggins pulls of the upset.

So despite what you may have thought, Huggins has another side - there's something under that pullover besides a bad heart... and hopefully he is seen with Cal on Cal's show next weekend.


  1. Thank you for that unbiased article. Huggins was the only coach I remember who scared the crap out of me with those tough bruisers from UC. He's toned down a bit, and it seems like him and Pitino have a decent relationship as well.

    I hope no one gets sick from those ribs tonight! :)