The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

December 8, 2012

The great ones have common link

MORGANTOWN — It was early before West Virginia University’s final pregame practice before today’s meeting with undefeated Virginia Tech at the Coliseum, a quiet time for Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins, who was lounging in the seats outside the facility’s weight room.

Not long earlier, Huggins had been informed that when he took the floor he would not be the winningest coach in the Coliseum, which says something, considering that Huggins possesses 713 victories, the latest one coming at Marshall’s expense on Wednesday night.

Across the way from him, not on the visitor’s bench, but instead serving as the color commentator will be a fellow with whom Huggins is most familiar, a gentleman named Robert Montgomery Knight.

Between the two there are 1,615 victories, 902 of them belonging to Knight, including four of them at Huggins’ expense.

“I played him twice at Cincinnati and twice at K-State … and I didn’t fare as well as I’d like to,” Huggins said when the subject was brought up. “The second time we played at Bloomington and (Nick) Van Exel is coming off knee surgery. Terry Nelson had a heart deal the day of the game. I didn’t have Corey Blount; that was when the NCAA suspended him.”

He wasn’t making excuses, but …

“I’ve got John Jacobs starting at center; Keith Gregor is making his first start. His first shot landed outside the paint, honest, outside the paint he was so nervous,” he noted.

As Knight will be the first to remind him, you go with what you’ve got, and on that day, Knight had a whole lot more than Huggins.

As the discussion continued, it became more and more evident that the great coaches of our time, and Knight certainly qualifies as he is in the Hall of Fame while Huggins’ time is coming, have certain character similarities that carry them to that greatness.

Certainly, they believe first in defense. They push their players, and they take matters very seriously.

When Huggins was asked about the similarities he and Knight share, he backed away a little bit.

“Honestly, I’m probably more like my dad than any coach ever,” he said. “I played for my dad; I know how my dad was. There are a few things that I tried not to do like my dad did, but I think that’s the case with anyone you ever played for.”

Huggins, however, agrees that there is a commonality between the greatest of coaches, be they named Boeheim, Carnesecca, Thompson, Wooden, Smith, Knight or any of them.

“They can, to a degree — and I don’t know if the right word is impose … that’s probably too strong — but can impose their will to win into their players.”

It is this desire that flows from coach to player to win that takes away the individuality in the members of a team, that makes them play hard throughout. It’s easy to do when it’s early in the game, easier to do when you are winning … but when the going gets tough, as they say, that’s when the coach’s full influence kicks in.

It was suggested this came about through a coach’s ability to communicate.

He saw it slightly differently.

“My dad used to say ‘fear,’” he said.

Fear is a motivator, be it fear of a coach yelling at you, benching you, putting you on the treadmill. It is what drives a player when he is mostly likely to slip.

Huggins recalled playing against Knight one time.

“We were playing. We weren’t nearly as good early in the season, but we were pressing. We gave them fits the first half. Then they came out the second half and we couldn’t get them out of the middle of the floor. I promise you that was the halftime talk he had with his guards. They felt if they didn’t do that when they went to the sideline they might lose an arm or something.

“We were pretty good, but not as good as we got, but we couldn’t get them out of the middle of the floor.”

Oddly, if you get Knight away from the sidelines, he’s an engaging, likeable man, much as Huggins is. Both are very different than the images they obtained through coaching.

“You can’t be like that all the time. You will stress out. You’ll have something really bad happen to you,” Huggins said, knowing that he is a survivor of heart attack.

Huggins remembers how he was when he first began coaching, his first head coaching job being at Walsh College and that first year wasn’t a good one at 14-16.

“They had this Space Invaders game in the lobby, and I’d play Space Invaders until 4:30 in the morning after we lost,” he said. “I did it to get away. My wife would say, ‘Where you been?’ and I’d say, ‘Playing Space Invaders.’”

He has studied people, though, and knows what it takes.

“Honestly, I have been very fortunate in my life. I’ve got to know a lot of people most people don’t get to spend time with, and most people who are very successful aren’t really any different from us … but they bring an unbelievable passion, an unbelievable energy and unbelievable will to their given profession.”

Email Bob Hertzel at or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

Text Only
Bob Herzel
  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Under pressure, NCAA decides to change rules

    At first glance, it appears that they do not go hand-in-hand, a pair of rules changes the NCAA’s Legislative Council approved this week, sending them off for what seems to be smooth sailing toward becoming rules.

    April 18, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU gymnast hopes to stick her final landing

    The reaction, one suspects, was the same as most people who see either a picture of West Virginia University gymnast Hope Sloanhoffer or meet her for the first time in person — a quick double take, maybe even stumbling over the first few words of an introduction.

    April 17, 2014

  • Bussie looks forward to WNBA

    On Tuesday, the weather turned cold, the wind blew and amongst the raindrops that fell a few snowflakes fluttered quietly to Earth.
    It was as if it was a celebration of Asya Bussie being drafted on Monday night by the Minnesota Lynx, champions of the WNBA, with the third selection of the second round, the 15th overall pick of the draft.

    April 16, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Jackie Robinson’s impact extends beyond baseball

    It is Jackie Robinson Day as I sit here writing this today, and I feel as though I am doing it in a world gone mad.
    Every player in Major League Baseball wore No. 42 on Tuesday in honor of Jackie Robinson, the man who took racism’s best shot and integrated the game that was known then as the National Pastime even though it was as white a Ku Klux Klan robe.

    April 16, 2014

  • Gyorko, Padres agree to extension

    Jedd Gyorko, who hasn’t hit much of anything with a .178 start on this season, hit the jackpot on Monday, signing a six-year contract extension with the San Diego Padres for $35 million with a one-year club option at $13 million.

    April 15, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- Spring game showed defense has improved

    From Dana Holgorsen’s viewpoint, which was standing right behind the offense, West Virginia’s Gold-Blue Spring Game on Saturday was a rousing success for it showed very little of what the Mountaineers will be in this coming season, probably not even showcasing the man who will direct the offense in the quarterback position.

    April 15, 2014

  • WVU signs guard; Adrian arrested for DUI

    There was something good and something bad for West Virginia men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins this past weekend as Kansas junior college player Tarik Phillip committed to play for the Mountaineers but rising sophomore Nathan Adrian was charged with Under 21 DUI after he was stopped at 1:20 a.m. Sunday for an expired registration sticker.

    April 15, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- Garrison still proving he can carry the ball

    The running back raves from the West Virginia coaching this spring have been directly mostly toward Wendell Smallwood, and rest assured he earned every one of them with his versatility, but it was a reborn running back who well may have taken the biggest jump up the depth chart.

    April 14, 2014

  • WVU baseball drops seventh straight game

    One’s athletic skills are tested on a daily basis but every so often other aspects of an athlete’s makeup are tested, often far more important aspects in the game of life.

    April 14, 2014

  • Gold-Blue Game answers few questions at quarterback

    Dana Holgorsen finds himself in a quarterback quandary.
    He’s looking to have one quarterback and has five of them as spring practice ends, and nothing about the spring session has done anything to straighten out the situation.

    April 13, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads