April 06, 2007

Huggins returns home to West Virginia

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Bob Huggins came home Friday and promised to stay "as long as you people will have me." The return came 30 years after he played his last game as a Mountaineer.

"Thanks for letting me come home," Huggins told a crowd that included Gov. Joe Manchin at West Virginia University's Coliseum. "I've had the greatest times of my life here, and I hope we can have a whole lot more them."

Huggins replaces John Beilein, who left Tuesday to become Michigan's coach.

Huggins' five-year contract guarantees him $800,000 the first year, matching his Kansas State salary. Athletic director Ed Pastilong said Huggins will earn about $5 million, plus incentives, over the five-year period.

Though Huggins had turned down West Virginia once before in 2002, he couldn't refuse his alma mater this time around. He was the first choice to replace Gale Catlett in 2002, but negotiations broke down in the final hours and he wound up staying at Cincinnati.

"I wanted to be here since I was a little kid. Sometimes for whatever reasons it's not the right time," said Huggins, who was born in Morgantown.

"I want to stay here as long as I can do what I'm supposed to do and as long as you people will have me."

Dave Minor, a 56-year-old fan from Shinnston who attended the news conference, said Huggins should stay as long as he remains competitive and enthusiastic.

"If you think you can stay here just because you are from here, it's not going to work," he said.

The 53-year-old Huggins has plenty of history with the Mountaineers. A former captain and two-time academic All-American during his 1975-1977 playing days, Huggins spent the first year of his coaching career here as a graduate assistant.

Basketball under Huggins will be a fast-paced game with a lot of scoring. He stressed the team he's inheriting has "been very well schooled" by Beilein.

"I like to seem them score," Huggins said. "I like to see the ball go in."

Although he's established himself as one of the top college basketball coaches in the nation over the past quarter-century, Huggins is no stranger to controversy.

He spent 16 seasons at Cincinnati, leading the Bearcats to 14 consecutive
NCAA tournaments and one
Final Four. But critics targeted his program for low graduation rates, a series of player arrests and NCAA rules violations that ultimately led to probation and a reduction in scholarships.

Huggins argued the criticism over graduation rates was unfair, but noted the NCAA now does a better job of calculating those rates.

"I think people forget the fact that I graduated magna cum laude," he said. "If I didn't care about academics I wouldn't have had a 3.97. I came from a family of seven kids, and they're all professionals."

Huggins has also had some health issues. He suffered a massive heart attack on the recruiting trail on Sept. 28, 2002.

"Don't I look good? What's wrong with the way I look?" he joked when asked about his current condition. "I'm doing fine. You know, I'm like most of us. I could stand to lose a couple pounds. But you know, I'm doing great."

A DUI arrest in 2004 ultimately led to his dismissal from Cincinnati following the 2004-05 season.

Huggins sat out the 2005-06 season but returned to the sidelines after Kansas State hired him on March 23, 2006.

Huggins had five years remaining on his contract at Kansas State and must pay the school $100,000 for breaking his contract early.

He led the Wildcats to a 23-12 record and a NIT berth in his only season at the school and signed what is thought by many to be the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation.

And he stands just 10 wins shy of 600 career coaching victories.

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