The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 24, 2013

Huggins is deserving of a pass

By Cam Huffman
Sports Editor

— The natives are getting restless in Morgantown, and I can’t say that I blame them.

After watching the West Virginia University football team go from national title contenders to New Era Pinstripe Bowl losers in the span of a couple of months, they were hoping to find some relief on the hardwood.

This season’s Mountaineer basketball team, though, has been more frightening than a Stephen King novel, uglier than a Chinese Crested dog and harder to watch than a Shaquille O’Neal rap video.

There’s just not much the 2012-13 WVU squad does well. The players don’t hustle, they can’t shoot and they can’t pass. They make bad decisions, they give effort only some of the time and they follow instructions about as well as the first grade class clown.

“I’ve been embarrassed since the first game,” said head coach Bob Huggins, referring to the 84-50 loss to No. 19 Gonzaga that began the season, one of the worst defeats of the coach’s long and prosperous career, and everything that has transpired since. “You go back and look; I don’t get beat like that. My guys played so hard and competed so hard, we never, ever got beat like that.

“You can’t win many games not rebounding. You can’t win many games throwing the ball to them. There’s a myriad of things we could name.”

Huggins went on in his postgame comments after WVU’s latest attempt at becoming basketball’s version of the Bad News Bears — a 73-57 home loss to Oklahoma State that dropped the team’s record to 13-14 overall and 6-8 in the Big 12 — to point out his team’s weaknesses in passing the ball, understanding the system and showing consistency from one game — or one half — to the next.

The coach freely admitted that he’s at a loss for what to do.

“It’s kind of like if you’re a supervisor and you have a guy who won’t do right,” he explained. “You say, ‘You’re out’ and you put another guy in and he won’t do right. Then you put another guy in, and he won’t do right. You just kind of throw up your hands and say, ‘What can I do?’ That’s kind of how I feel.

“I never saw it coming,” he continued. “I’ve always taken a lot of pride in the fact that I could get guys to play hard and get guys to compete. People didn’t like playing against us, because we played so hard. We tried to rebound the ball and did the right things. For some reason, I haven’t been able to reach these guys. That’s my fault.”

Comments like these have rubbed many the wrong way. “He recruited these guys,” I’ve heard several WVU fans point out. “They’re his responsibility.”

“I’m tired of the excuses,” others have complained. “It’s his job to put a good team on the floor.”

Out of the mouths of most coaches, I would agree that those words are empty. When Dana Holgorsen stands up in a postgame press conference and snaps at reporters that he didn’t suddenly forget how to coach, I’ve almost lost my pressbox pasta and peanut butter cookies more than once.

But this situation is a little different. Huggins has a track record to put behind his words. In 29 seasons of coaching, he’s had just two losing seasons — he was 14-16 his first season at Walsh in 1980-81 and 12-14 his first year at Akron in 1984-85 — he’s been to a pair of Final Fours, won the Big East Tournament championship, was named the Conference USA Coach of the Decade and has been to the NCAA Tournament 19 out of the last 20 years. He’s won more than 700 games and lost fewer than 300.

Face it. He’s earned some credibility.

Huggins also bleeds gold and blue, even when he’s wearing black. A Morgantown native and a WVU graduate, Huggins understands the passion for WVU sports within the Mountain State. When he was at Cincinnati, a WVU mug had a permanent spot on his desk.

“It’s not about me,” Huggins responded when asking how he’s dealt with such a disappointing season. “When I came back here, I knew how much it meant. Growing up here when Rod Thorn was playing and then coming back and playing, I knew how much it meant. So it’s not about me.”

Huggins’ fashion sense, sideline demeanor and balance in a hotel room are easy to question, but his love for WVU and his ability to coach should never be.

So when the coach didn’t hesitate Saturday in responding to a question about whether the problems of this season will carry over to next year, confidently exclaiming, “I’ll fix it,” I couldn’t help but believe him. He’s earned it.