The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

January 6, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN- Huggins lives up to “Huggy Bear” nickname

MORGANTOWN — This is the game I’ve been waiting for.

Being somewhat of an aficionado of nicknames — they say I gave the Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s the nickname of The Big Red Machine, although that can be disputed, but no one disputes that I hung Captain Hook on the Machine’s manager Sparky Anderson for his penchant for hooking pitchers — things don’t get much better than tonight’s West Virginia at Texas Tech basketball game.

On one side you have the Red Raiders coach, Tubby Smith, while on the other side you WVU’s own lovable Huggy Bear, Bob Huggins.

Now you may be wondering how Tubby Smith got his nickname, considering that the man never has been more than a couple of pounds overweight.

The story goes that back in Scotland, Md., where Smith was the sixth of 17 children born to sharecroppers Guffrie and Parthenia Smith. As a child he was fond of staying in the galvanized washtub where the children were bathed.

Why not? In a family with 17 kids, it probably was the only place he could be alone for a few minutes.

As a result, though, they began calling him Tubby and the name stuck, much to his chagrin.

Smith tried to shake the moniker several times to no avail and finally accepted it as life as it is.

Ask him and he’ll tell you the last time anyone called him by his real name, Orlando, it was a 10th-grade teacher who refused to use nicknames.

Huggy Bear is a bit more obvious, Huggy being a play on Huggins’ last name and Bear being … well, did you ever see the man?

Not that it fits, for “Huggy Bear” infers this big, cuddly teddy bear of man, which Huggins most certainly is not. He’s one tough, demanding dude.

Well, tonight in Lubbock, Texas, the two men get together for the third time as coaches, Smith owning victories in each of the prior engagements.

The two first met in 2005 when Smith was at Kentucky and Huggins at Cincinnati, the No.7 Wildcats topping the No. 23 Bearcats, 69-60; and they met again in 2010 when Smith’s Minnesota Gophers beat Huggins’ Mountaineers in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic.

There was one other confrontation between the two, that coming in 2001 when the two traveled to the Belterra Golf Club in Belterra, Ind., to square off in a golf event to benefit children in the two coaches’ communities, in which two golfers from each school’s golf teams squared off in what was termed the “Huggy-Tubby Classic,” the winner claiming the “Hug Tub Jug.”

I could find no record of who took possession of the “Hug Tub Jug,” but perhaps whoever owns it could put it up for the winner of this game.

Huggins, in truth, is far more the cuddly Huggy Bear than people realize. Oh, it’s true, he hasn’t lived the life of saint and he is tough on his players, but as tough as he is on them is as soft as he is with them, too.

The way he took Joe Alexander under his wing and turned him into an NBA prospect after John Beilein had pretty much given up on his talent is a vivid memory we will keep of him, just as it was the view of him bending over Da’Sean Butler as he lay on the Final Four court, his knee torn apart, his career at stake.

Huggins seemed to be feeling the pain even more than Butler.

This so went against his image, an image that once had Sports Illustrated columnis Rick Reilly write:

“Don’t understand his nickname — Huggy Bear. The man is about as huggy as an ulcerous porcupine. It’s like calling Dick Cheney ‘Smiley.’”

Even Reilly, though, was taken in by Huggins and his handling of Joe Mazzulla after he injured his shoulder, how he used Mazzulla while he was unable to use the arm to replace Truck Bryant, who had broken his foot.

Mazzulla went out and overwhelmed Kentucky to advance to the Final Four, making his first 3 of the year scoring 17 points and defensively driving the Kentucky giants so crazy that at one point center DeMarcus Cousins looked down at Mazzulla and said, “Are  you being serious right now?”

Huggins nursed that performance out of Mazzulla and when it was over, Mazzulla went off looking for his coach.

“I had to find him,” Mazzulla says, “I never want him to forget that I love him. What he did for me, how he stuck with me, nobody else would’ve done it.”

And that is why rough, tough, gruff Bob Huggins is “Huggy Bear” and always will be, especially to his players.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

Text Only
Bob Herzel
  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Big 12 provides plenty of optimism

    This past week the Big 12 held its annual media gathering in Dallas and served up a heaping portion of optimism for the 2014 season that is now upon us, West Virginia University opening its preseason practices on Thursday.
    This is a time of year when no one has lost a game, not even Charlie Weis at Kansas, and it’s a time of year when opinions are more plentiful than tattoos in an NFL locker room.

    July 27, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU needs White to follow in former receivers’ footsteps

    A year ago Clint Trickett took a lot of grief as the once potent West Virginia offense came unraveled, but there is more that than meets the eye.
    The criticism was not unfounded, of course, although behind each incomplete pass there was the pain Trickett was suffering through to throw it, his rotator cuff in need of surgery.

    July 26, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: O’Toole joins long list of eccentric WVU kickers, punters

    The star of the Big 12’s annual football media day wasn’t a star at all.
    He intrigued the media far more than Bob Stoops, the coach of preseason favorite Oklahoma, and more than Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, the preseason player of the year.

    July 25, 2014

  • WVU, N.C. State to meet in football

    Following a trend of creating non-conference games against regional opponents, West Virginia University has reached agreement with North Carolina State to play a home-and-home football series in 2018 and 2019.
    The Mountaineers are scheduled to play N.C. State in Raleigh on Sept. 15, 2018, and then play host to the Wolfpack on Sept. 14, 2019.

    July 24, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: ‘Cheating pays’ remark should draw attention

    When Bob Bowlsby, the outspoken commissioner of the Big 12, presented his opening-day picture of the future of college sports in Dallas for the annual media day gathering, his bleak comments were not unexpected.

    July 24, 2014

  • Holgorsen’s program hits turning point

    You can almost sense, as you watch West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen sit before the gathered Big 12 media contingent answering questions in the Omni Hotel in Arlington, Texas, that he senses his program has reached a turning point.

    July 23, 2014

  • Big 12 Media Days Foo_time(1).jpg Trickett’s play key factor for Mountaineers’ success

     In the end, it comes down to the quarterback.
    Always has with Dana Holgorsen, always will.
    Quarterback is the offense with the West Virginia University coach. When he does well, the team wins – almost always.
    When he does poorly, the team doesn’t stand much of a chance.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Saban, family happy at Alabama

    Alabama football coach Nick Saban, whose team opens the season against West Virginia in Atlanta on Aug. 30, denied receiving or turning down this offseason an offer of $100 million to coach Texas, indicating he planned to finish his career as coach of the Crimson Tide.

    July 18, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: ‘Quarterback child prodigy’ comes to WVU amidst very high expectations

    Has West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen finally put the arrow he needs in his quiver with the commitment received Wednesday from high school quarterback David Sills, who is a rather extraordinary story and may also just be a rather extraordinary quarterback?

    July 18, 2014

  • WVU kicker Molinari ‘All-American boy’

    West Virginia kicker Mike Molinari may not be an All-American but he is an All-American boy.
    He was honored for that on Wednesday when the Allstate Insurance Company and the American Football Coaches Association announced the West Virginia redshirt senior kicker/punter Michael Molinari is a nominee for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.

    July 16, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads