Friday, March 24, 2006

The Case Against Huggy Bear

This was written right before Huggins was hired by KSU:

Not in their best interests

Major programs should be leery of hiring Huggins

Posted: Wednesday March 22, 2006 1:31PM; Updated: Wednesday March 22, 2006 7:34PM

While most of the college basketball world is focused on the NCAA tournament, it seems a different sort of March Madness has taken hold of certain fans in Big 12 country. Call it Bob Huggins Fever.

According to reports, prominent Missouri boosters have been lobbying AD Mike Alden to hire the ex-Cincinnati coach to replace the departed Quin Snyder. Similar sentiments are being voiced by backers of Kansas State, who even set up a Web site,, which includes a doctored photo of Huggins roaming the sideline in a K-State pullover.

Saner heads are apparently prevailing at Missouri. According to Wednesday's Kansas City Star, Alden has declined to interview Huggins, much to the chagrin of former Tigers standout and search-committee member Jon Sundvold. When Sundvold, who is leading the charge to hire Huggins, voiced his displeasure to university chancellor Brady Deaton, he reportedly told Sundvold he "wasn't comfortable" with Huggins.

Here's hoping other major programs with coaching openings will follow Missouri's lead.

In the current climate of college sports, with the NCAA putting greater emphasis than ever on academic reform and ethical behavior, any athletic director or university president who signs off on Huggins might as well hold up a huge poster that says, "We don't care about anything but winning."

Cincinnati operated under that mantra for 16 years before new president Nancy Zimpher finally stepped in and instilled some much-needed priorities (though her handling of the situation left a whole lot to be desired). To this day, Huggins remains universally revered in the Queen City for returning its flagship program to national prominence. That its place in the limelight had as much to do with player arrests and poor graduation rates as it did conference titles and NCAA tournament appearances never seemed to faze most Cincinnatians -- and apparently, that extends to victory-starved fans lobbying to hire Huggins as well.

You can't blame fans for their misplaced enthusiasm. They're fans. They want to win. They know Huggins will do that. University administrators, however, are theoretically bound to act in the best interest of their school, whether or not that jives with fans' wishes. Suffice to say, hiring Huggins would not be in a school's best interests.

In interviews following his ouster last fall, the ever-defiant Huggins insisted he was done in by negative "perceptions" about his program. Don't kid yourself, Bob. You were done in by reality.

Reality No. 1: Huggins' success was due in part to his willingness to recruit thugs. While nearly every team in the country has had players run afoul of the law, none could hold a candle to Huggins' Bearcats when it came to appearances in the police blotter. A timeline compiled by the Cincinnati Enquirer following Huggins' dismissal last August listed 19 former players or recruits who had been charged with a crime. Five wound up serving jail time. Center Art Long pleaded guilty to choking his girlfriend. Former player Dontonio Wingfield was arrested for assaulting two police officers during a domestic dispute. He was sentenced to a year in jail. Donald Little was accused of kidnapping, beating and burning his roommate. The charges were dismissed after he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated assault and was sentenced to 30 days in jail. The list goes on and on.

Reality No. 2: Cincinnati graduated players at a disturbingly low rate under Huggins. According to a letter faxed to Huggins' attorney last August by a university lawyer, 27 players graduated during Huggins' 16 years, or an average 1.7 per year. A typical recruiting class includes four to five players. Huggins' standard defense was to criticize the flawed nature of the traditional graduation rate used by the federal government, which doesn't take into account entering or departing transfers who graduate. A funny thing happened, however, when the NCAA unveiled its new, more realistic Graduation Success Rate last fall: Cincinnati's score for players who entered the program from 1995-98 actually went down, from 40 percent to 31 percent.

Reality No. 3: Huggins is not exactly a role model himself. His hard-drinking ways were well known around the sport long before his June 2004 DUI arrest. In fact, the same officers who arrested him that night had stopped him for weaving and drove him home in April 2003. A month before that, ESPN the Magazine reported that Huggins got into multiple confrontations with patrons in and outside a Salt Lake City bar after his team's NCAA tournament loss to Gonzaga earlier that day. All three incidents, mind you, came after Huggins' 2002 heart attack, which he claimed at the time had motivated him to change his lifestyle.

Whichever victory-starved school decides to hire Huggins will quickly find that change is not a priority for the coach, because, quite frankly, he doesn't feel he's done anything wrong (besides the DUI). Potential employers can be reasonably certain of these two things: Their team will begin reaching the NCAA tournament annually, and the embarrassing headlines will follow shortly thereafter.

Missouri and K-State fans both should look to their Big 12 rival, Iowa State, for a model of how to begin righting one's ship. When it was revealed recently that Cyclones coach Wayne Morgan was paying a shady third-party company with ties to prominent junior college recruits to schedule certain nonconference opponents, AD Jamie Pollard not only booted Morgan but also replaced him with Northern Iowa's Greg McDermott, a pristine character who may not be as big a name as Huggins but has certainly demonstrated his abilities by leading the long-dormant Panthers to three straight NCAA berths. And as last weekend's NCAA tourney action showed, there is no shortage of other quality coaches -- Wichita State's Mark Turgeon, Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery, Creighton's Dana Altman and Montana's Larry Krystkowiak among them -- currently prowling the mid-major level.

Does this mean Huggins should be exiled from coaching altogether? Of course not. He's certainly entitled to a second chance. But much like Larry Eustachy, whose alcohol-related ouster at Iowa State has left him rebuilding his reputation at Southern Miss, or football's George O'Leary (Central Florida), who took several steps down the ladder following his own scandal, Huggins' second chance should not come at the sport's highest level. To hand Huggins the keys to a Big 12-caliber program just to make a "big splash" is tantamount to endorsing and encouraging his renegade behavior.

Ask Georgia (Jim Harrick), Fresno State (Jerry Tarkanian) or St. Bonaventure (Jan Van Breda Kolff) how their "big splashes" turned out.


1 comment:

  1. It is useful to remind ourselves why Huggins has the reputation he has. Even Cincy's most famous alum, Oscar Robertson, did not approve of the way Huggins ran that program, despite the perennial tourney invites.

    I am pleased, however, that Mizzou chose Mike Anderson (UAB) to replace the Quin-ster this weekend. When KU played UAB in the tournament two years ago, their Nolan Richardson-style pressing attack led to one of our most entertaining tournament games ever.

    With Anderson, Huggy and McDermott at ISU, look for an extremely competitive Big 12 North in about two years.