The once-revered college basketball coaching legend has his work cut out for him to restore his tarnished image. PIC: USA Today Sports
I befriended a staff member - let’s call him Steve - at Ohio State this weekend. Steve is a part-time usher at the school’s athletic facilities, enjoying his retirement checking tickets and escorting fans to their seats, while getting a front-row seat to most Big Ten action at OSU.
On Saturday, we got to know each other in between PLL games. As the talk of Bob Huggins came up, we were shocked by the impact the news had on the sports world. I learned that Steve felt incredibly passionate about the news, so I knew there must have been something more on his mind.
Steve went on to tell me that his niece was killed by a drunk driver many years ago. The pain of their loss, he mentioned, is still indescribable. I listened, I nodded, and I acknowledged his story. No one wishes that pain upon anyone to walk this earth.
The pain manifests itself differently for supporters of Bob Huggins, who resigned from his longtime post as the head coach of the West Virginia Mountaineers this weekend. His fans will most assuredly find it easy to criticize the police officers for not simply letting him off the hook, giving him a ride home, and encouraging him to get help. But what if - by taking him off the road - the police saved Bob Huggins’ life? What if they saved others?
To put it candidly, the actions of Bob Huggins - the once mighty and fun-loving Hall of Fame coach - over the past month have been indefensible. And if not handled the way they were, they could have cost lives.
In early May, Huggins used a homophobic slur on local radio network 700WLW, describing the Xavier-Cincinnati rivalry and the phallic objects that were thrown onto the court. West Virginia suspended him for the first three games of the 2023-24 season, which was widely perceived as nothing more than a “slap on the wrist.” Huggins said the word not once, but twice in rapid fashion; it appeared evident that he had certainly used it before in more quiet circles.
This Friday - just over 30 days after his radio appearance - Huggins was arrested in Pittsburgh for driving under the influence. The police report states that officers discovered Huggins outside his SUV in the road with a shredded tire that went flat, and they approached him to see what help he needed. Officers asked Huggins to move the car off the road, when they noticed he had “difficulty maneuvering the SUV.” After a .210 breathalyzer reading, multiple sobriety tests that failed, and stating he thought he was in “Columbus,” Huggins was taken into custody.
Bob Huggins has, unfortunately, been down this path before. In 2004, Huggins was arrested when he was the head coach at Cincinnati for DUI. The school parted ways with him after the season, both for the off-court issues he had caused and the ongoing struggle for power with Cincinnati’s brass.
Perhaps the only silver lining to this horrible situation is that nobody was hurt, and no lives were lost due to Huggins’ actions. But Huggins had a big decision to make: did the lives he changed through his coaching career outweigh the potential for ending the lives of others?
Huggins ruled definitively (and correctly) on the matter this weekend, and informed both West Virginia and his players that he would be retiring from coaching effective immediately.
The news of Huggins’ departure & retirement was met with a melancholic nostalgia and disappointment. Most of college basketball’s base fell in love with his old-school, hard-nosed, “no-nonsense” attitude that attracted the best players in the nation wear a Cincinnati or West Virginia uniform Huggins had dreamed of coaching at West Virginia - he grew up minutes from the WVU campus, scored 800 points for the Mountaineers, and made it abundantly clear where he wanted his career to take him…back to Morgantown.
Of course, Bob Huggins’ career as a head coach was ridden with accolades. He retires as the 4th-winningest coach of all-time; his 916 wins at the Division I level recently surpassed Roy Williams (903), Bob Knight (902), and Dean Smith (879) who are each cemented in college basketball history for their own unique ways. Huggins won 34 games in the NCAA Tournament, went to two Final Fours, and was enshrined just last year into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his coaching efforts.
Huggins received messages of support from media members, former players, and fans. To summarize into a concise statement, the people in his corner are disappointed, but they recognize the impact he had on them.
Time will tell how Bob Huggins is perceived in an historical sense. It’s clear that Huggins needs a major life change; his actions have been detrimental to both himself and the people around him. It’s up to him to prove that this is only a rough patch; if not, he risks his legacy being tarnished forever.