Bob Huggins, My Favorite Sonovabitch, Finally Gets His Due
Bob Huggins, who has more wins than just a few other coaches to ever coach men’s college basketball, was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame this week. And it’s about fucking time.
I didn’t have a great opinion of Bob Huggins when he came to WVU to coach. I couldn’t deny his resume and the fact that he was an alum, but I always thought he was a bit of a loose cannon and a dumbass. Now, after watching him coach the Mountaineers for a decade and a half, he has my total respect. I watch nearly every game, every year. Even in the years where the team is not very good, he is uncompromising and demands that from the kids who play for him. He will not let the kids drive the bus and those that click with him excel well beyond what anyone could have imagined. Those that don’t may go elsewhere to play. I don’t know that there’s blame to lay at the feet of anyone.
But I do know this: Bob Huggins is Bob Huggins. He’s a basketball coach and he doesn’t really seem to give a shit what anyone says. It’s hard to get along in this world full of sycophants and people pleasers where ‘go along to get along’ is the de facto rule. I love and respect that Bob Huggins goes against that grain. I love how annoyed he is to talk to sideline reporters. I love how exasperated he gets when journalists ask him stupid questions, but he knows all their names and he calls them all by their names.
I’ve had some great teachers who were unvarnished a-holes that didn’t seem to care about your feelings through the years, but those teachers were always the ones who took me aside and checked in with me when I’d taken a few hits. Bob Huggins strikes me as that kind of teacher.
Part of me believes he’s been shut out of the Hall of Fame longer than he should have been because he’s not an ass-kisser. He doesn’t smile for the camera. He coaches basketball, which just happens to have a certain amount of spotlight to it when you do it at a high level. But I think if Huggins could only coach a church league team of 40 year olds he’d do it with the same passion he’s had throughout his collegiate coaching career.
I remember the moment I knew Bob Huggins was a special coach, most likely a special person, though I don’t know him that way. When Da’sean Bulter went down with a knee injury during a Final Four game against Duke, obviously in pain, obviously not coming back for the rest of the game, Bob Huggins came out onto the court, got on his hands and knees and held Butler while he whispered in his ear. I don’t know what he said to him. I don’t know what you could say to someone who just played their best and got so close to the ultimate goal only to be cut down. Butler was in tears. It was heartbreaking. As human, I felt for the kid. As a Mountaineer fan I knew the run was over. Duke was getting the calls that only Duke and a few other schools get (I don’t think they even called a foul on the play that took Butler out). Without Bulter, we were not going to make it out of the game with a win.
I’m sure somewhere in the back of his mind Bob Huggins knew this, too. But in that moment he was with his player, who he obviously cared for like a son. During one of the most watched sporting events we got to see what we rarely get to see: a vulnerable human moment between two people. No matter how long he coaches, I’ll always looked back to that moment and think of Bob Huggins as someone willing to lay prostrate on the floor for his players, talented enough to win more games than a rare few, and brave enough to tell the rest of the world to screw off if they don’t like it.
Congratulations, Coach. I’ve learned a lot just from watching you do your job. You deserve every accolade they throw your way, even if you couldn’t give a shit one way or the other.