By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
As they gathered in Kansas City early on Tuesday morning for the annual rib fest that is Big 12 Basketball Media Day, everyone had their best on display.
Kansas was there with its prize freshman, Andrew Wiggins, fresh off the cover of Sports Illustrated, and Oklahoma State was offering up super sophomore Marcus Smart, while Tubby Smith was on hand representing Texas Tech, giving the Big 12 six coaches who had led teams to the Final Four.
But leave it to Bob Huggins to steal the show.
Normally not known for his sartorial splendor, West Virginia University’s Huggins pulled off the fashion statement of the day when he showed up wearing a cardigan letter sweater, in this case the letters being fittingly enough a flying WV.
It would lead to this bit of probing tongue-in-cheek journalism from the Kansas City Star’s college basketball beat writer and budding “fashionista” Blair Kerkhoff:
Q. The story on the sweater? That is a good-looking sweater.
COACH HUGGINS: Really good looking, isn’t it? You’re jealous. I don’t know. I figured I’d be the Max Good of the Big 12. I was in the OVC with Max, and every year he’d come in with an entirely different look. So I just figured I’d do it.
Q. It works.
COACH HUGGINS: It will be something for you to write about.
Q. I think it’s more of a photo op.
For the uninitiated, Max Good, now head coach at Loyola (Calif.) Marymount, was head coach at Eastern Kentucky when Huggy Bear was coaching at Akron in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Now Huggins normally is donned in a pullover, although there was the game at the Coliseum back in ’08 when he decided to break out a suit he claimed his daughter had gotten for him … an all-gold dress suit worn over a black crew neck shirt.
To complete the look there were matching gold shoes, which you could barely see for the pants were so long that they lapped over onto the floor.
The only thing more shocking than the suit was the score of the game, his former Cincinnati team facing him for the first time and beating him, 62-39. The Mountaineers, perhaps blinded by the glare off the gold suit in the national spotlight, shot 20 percent from the field, the worst shooting percentage any Big East team had compiled in 12 years.
That suit has not since been pulled out of the closet, and, we suspect, it might be hanging unsold over the past five years at some Goodwill Store.
There was a time three years ago – when WVU was to play Kentucky to get to the Final Four – that the Charleston Daily Mail polled its readers to see if Huggins should wear his usual black pullover or a suit, and the results were quite telling.
A majority, 53 percent, voted for him to go with the black pullover, but 9 percent actually wanted him to “totally rock a new, gold, tailor-made suit” while 38 percent preferred he wear “the basketball net. Right after he cuts it down.”
Huggins gave up wearing suits back in his Cincinnati days … and, yes, he asked for and received permission from athletic director Bob Goin, a one-time assistant AD at West Virginia in the mid-to late 1970s when the Mountaineer were being led by a player named Bob Huggins.
“Actually, I started wearing the one (warm-up suit) I wore at Cincinnati because I had a suit on and I’d sweat through the suit,” Huggins said in a story written by Bret McMurphy a few years back. “I was soaking wet and I took the suit off and put it (the warm-up suit) on for the second half and my athletic director (Goin) said, ‘I don’ t know who ever told coaches to wear suits. You look great like that.’”
“So I wore that at Cincinnati until we got a new president (Nancy Zimpher), who didn’t think I was supposed to wear that.”
One might recall how the relationship between Huggins and President Zimpher ended. The relationship was not helped any when an online site named Huggins the seventh-worst-dressed basketball coach of all-time. That was two years before the Huggins-Zimpher divorce was filed.
Strangely, WVU fans do not take offense at Huggins when he doesn’t wear the blue and old gold colors of the school the way they do with football coach Dana Holgoren, perhaps because he usually has the flying WV logo on his pullovers or perhaps because he is a graduate.
Maybe, though, it simply is because he legitimately seems to be doing it for comfort and because it is fun, which is important to him. In fact, he made reference to that while answering a question about Eron Harris and Terry Henderson’s role on this year’s team.
“There are a few fun things left in this business, and I think one of them is to watch people mature,” Huggins said. “Those guys went from being very shy, skinny little guys to not knowing what to do and kind of being not very assertive to taking a leadership role.
“We don’t have any seniors, and we only have five returning guys, so those five guys kind of have to assume a leadership role for us. It’s kind of fun watching those two guys grow into that role, helping the younger guys with the things that I think they struggled with maybe initially a year ago.”
Of course, it will be a lot more fun if his Mountaineers can return to their winning ways.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.