MORGANTOWN — Bob Huggins hammered on the homecoming angle Friday afternoon when introduced as the new West Virginia men’s basketball coach.

Several hundred fans attended the press conference in the Coliseum, where he was an outstanding player in the mid-1970s.

“It’s great to be home,” Huggins said. “(Thursday) was a tough day. I had to leave some great people at Kansas State. As I said to them, they are the closest thing to West Virginians.”

The Morgantown native and WVU graduate, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, admittedly struggled a little bit in giving up a job he held just one year.

“As soon as I put my feet on the ground here, I’ve been walking on air ever since,” Huggins said. “This always has been a dream for me to coach here.

“Hopefully, I coach better than I played.”

He signed a five-year contract at a salary of $800,000 the first year. It includes a $1 million buyout should he leave before the commitment expires.

“I’ve had some of the greatest times of my life here,” said Huggins, who’s 53. “I just hope we can have more of them. I thank everybody for giving me this opportunity.”

He recalled that he grew up on Dug Hill in the Sabraton area and sat on grandfather Harry Huggins’ lap while listening to WVU basketball and football games.

When the game was over, he would enjoy shooting a basketball inside his grandfather’s garage. His mother would be mad because he went home with coal dust all over his body.

“Anytime I get to within 20 miles of Morgantown, my face starts to brighten up and I start to smile and am happy,” he said. “We will represent the state well.

“There’s nothing like being here. There’s nothing like walking into this building, as I did today. Thanks for letting me come home.”

Admittedly proud to be a West Virginian, Gov. Joe Manchin said he has worked very hard to try to keep people in the state and also has worked just as hard trying to bring people back home to West Virginia.

“It’s an unbelievable time for West Virginia in sports,” he noted. “So I’m saying, ‘Welcome home, Coach. God bless you.’”

Athletic director Ed Pastilong expressed his thanks to those who were involved in luring Huggins to succeed John Beilein, now the head coach at Michigan.

“I called Bob and asked, ‘Are you ready to come home?’” Pastilong said. “He said, ‘Absolutely!’”

Huggins said it was a very short negotiating session and that he had “no idea” what he was signing. Some items apparently are yet to be spelled out.

He assured those present that he’s in good physical condition, despite having suffered a heart attack a few years ago.

Huggins has compiled a 590-211 record (.737 percentage) for his 25 seasons as a head coach. That includes stints at Walsh College (1980-83), Akron (1984-89), Cincinnati (1989-2005) and Kansas State (2006-07).

He ranks sixth in total victories and eighth in winning percentage among active NCAA Division I coaches.

Huggins has taken teams to both the NCAA and National Invitation tournaments. He expects to do the same at WVU.

“I’m looking forward to being here,” he declared. “It’s a great challenge (to coach in the Big East). We’re going to win ... and win big!

“I wouldn’t care if we were still in the Southern Conference. I just love to be in West Virginia.”

He admittedly likes to teach and coach youngsters on the hardwood.

“I like to see guys get better,” he said. “It’s fun.”

Huggins won numerous awards, including national coach of the year, during his 16 years at Cincinnati.

“I love West Virginia basketball,” he said. “I’ve wanted to be here since I was a kid.

“Sometimes for whatever reason it is not the right time. It’s always difficult for me to leave players (for another job).”

He said he had talked to about six Mountaineer players, though most of them already had left for the Easter weekend. Three were at the press conference.

“You have to win,” Huggins admitted. “We want people to really care about us. (Selling out every game) is what we’re going to get here. There’s no reason why we can’t do that.”

While coal generally is regarded as the Mountain State’s chief resource, he rates its people as the greatest anywhere.

Huggins prefers a fast style of basketball.

“I like to play fast and I like to score,” he said. “It’s a better game that way.”

But he doesn’t like to give up 70 points to an opponent, making defense critical in close games.

He hopes his teams can finish first or second in the conference.

Taking over the WVU program should be fairly easy, Huggins ventured. “These guys are very well schooled in fundamentals by a great coach (Beilein).

“I pretty much can teach any style and win. You try to recruit guys that want to be here. I don’t think getting people to come to Morgantown will be hard at all.

“This is a wonderful state with wonderful people. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?”

Capping his remarks, he said:

“This place has meant so much to me. I’ve learned so much here. Coaching is hard work, but it’s fun.”

His father, Charles, 70, played here as a freshman and sophomore in the early 1950s. Then he finished his playing career at Alderson-Broaddus College.

Huggins and his wife, June, have two daughters, Jenna Leigh (24) and Jacqueline (21).

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