At age 60, Huggins has weathered other storms
After 25 games of this inconsistent season, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was still firmly in place in the all-time records kept by the NCAA.
Huggins was 16th on the list of career wins with his 738 victories achieved at Walsh (Ohio), Akron, Cincinnati, Kansas State and West Virginia.
Now age 60, Huggins became a head coach at 28 and is currently completing his 32nd season as one of the nation’s winningest coaches.
After playing for his father, Charlie, at Indian Valley South High School in Ohio, Huggins went to Ohio University as a point guard. His high school team was an undefeated 26-0 when he was a senior.
Huggins transferred to WVU and played for two seasons when Joedy Gardner coached the Mountaineers. As a senior he averaged 13.2 points a game. The next year he was a graduate assistant on the staff of Gardner, who was fired following the 1979 season.
It wasn’t long before Huggins was hired at age 28 to be the head coach at Walsh College, an NAIA school in Ohio. In his three seasons at Walsh, he compiled a 71-26 overall record.
His concentrated stay in the NCAA ranks began with the 1984-85 season at Akron, where in five seasons the Zips registered a combined record of 97-46 and went to the NCAA tournament once and visited the NIT after two other winning years.
The University of Cincinnati hired Huggins to restore its fading glory in 1989. The Bearcats had won national championships in 1961 and 1962 and were beaten by Loyola (Illinois) in the 1963 national championship game. The legendary Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati’s much-recognized all-time best player, still attended the Bearcat home games.
Cincinnati received bids to the NIT in Huggins’ first two seasons, showing records of 20-14 and 18-12.
Those seasons were quickly blurred by a highly successful streak of 14 consecutive bids to the NCAA tournament.
Even though there were seasons that brought 30 or more wins and consistent Top 10 rankings, Huggins had detractors that pointed to the low graduation rate of his players and to police blotters that showed individuals with convictions after being arrested.
After achieving a 25-8 record in the 2004-05 season, Huggins was informed by university president Nancy Zimpher that he would be replaced. Zimpher gave him the choice of taking a $3 million buyout or being fired and Huggins accepted the buyout.
He did not coach for one year. But then long-dormant Kansas State hired him for the 2005-06 season.
The Wildcats sold 12,580 season tickets — the capacity at their Bramlege court — for Huggins first year in the Big 12. Satisfied looks returned to the brightened faces of the purple-clad Wildcat boosters when Kansas State went 23-12 and was blessed with an NIT bid.
When West Virginia’s John Beilein found what he thought was more fertile coaching ground in Ann Arbor, he took his old kit bag to the Big 10 and left the Coliseum door open for Huggins, who had earlier turned away an offer to return to Morgantown and coach the Mountaineers.
Huggins took the vacated West Virginia job.
He’s now in his seventh season, the last two being troubled by more losses and fewer wins than his tournament-filled first five.
His first season brought a 26-11 record and in 2010 the Mountaineers reached the Final Four in the NCAA tournament.
The NCAA tournament had been West Virginia’s fruitful destination in all of Huggins’ first five seasons.
Last year was West Virginia’s first in the Big 12, and it was mostly drowned in losses that eventually played to a 13-19 overall record and a dark loss to Texas Tech in the first round of the conference tournament.
It was only the second time in two decades that a Huggins-coached team didn’t find a home in the NCAA tournament.
Here in the 2013-14 season, two of Huggins’ recruits were not allowed to play under NCAA statutes, leaving him with two freshmen post players and little to show any opponent in the way of an inside scorer/defender.
West Virginia was 15-12 after 27 games. Its only probable path to the NCAA tournament would be to win the Big 12 conference tournament held far away in Kansas City.
The NIT could come calling, but with road games at Oklahoma and Iowa State and a homecourt finale on March 8 against fortress-like Kansas even that eventuality is uncertain.
Huggins had 738 wins. And only 238 losses. His quickly established success in Morgantown may have spoiled people that don’t remember the ugly and losing years when Sonny Moran and Gardner coached the Mountaineers. Or the 8-20 record when Coach Gale Catlett was in his final year.
Just ahead of Huggins on the all-time list of wins is John Chaney, last seen coaching at Temple after his beginnings at Cheyney State in Philadelphia. Chaney has 741 career wins.
Huggins gained his undergraduate degree from West Virginia. He was an excellent student with cum laude certificates to prove it. He also earned his master’s degree in Morgantown.
When he returned to town as a head coach, Huggins produced five straight NCAA tournament teams.
His combined records in these past two seasons was 28-31 before the last 10 days of this regular season. His only losing season took people by surprise and even seemed unexpected to Huggins himself.
Upon his return to West Virginia, Huggins signed an 11-year contract.
He’ll move on up the ladder and pass others ahead of him on the list of career wins.
Yet the absence of post players and those with any inside influence on either end of the floor make the future one where new faces are a necessity, not a luxury.
The Big 12 has seven teams with NCAA tournament-type credentials. Only Texas Tech and TCU have loss-filled backgrounds and current seasons.
Huggins has never gone long without plowing through the next season with at least 20 wins and an NCAA tournament ending. His coaching history is replete with successes and enough wins to rank 16th on the all-time list of victories.