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December 20, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Bob Huggins has a way with words

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University’s Bob Huggins is a throwback as a coach, almost in every way, and this is not meant as a criticism.

Oh, he’s on Twitter and he’s certainly more proficient with his cell phone than is yours truly, who still has yet to figure out how to get his Hotmail account on his phone.

But Huggins is old-fashioned in his beliefs. He doesn’t believe he is going to re-invent basketball. Rather, he plays it much as his father and the other greats of that era coached it. He deals with his players the way they dealt with them 20 or 30 years ago, and he deals with the media the way they were dealt with by coaches in the past.

That means he mixes humor with honesty, offers a straight forward approach during which you never know what might come out of his mouth next.

“I’ve got to watch what I say because some of you guys really don’t understand $#H% about basketball, so you write stuff that’s ignorant.”

You do not get any more honest in dealing with the press than that. It is exactly what the man believes, and, may I say, he is probably 85 to 90 percent right, for all too often he is dealing with people who are pretty good at writing, pretty good at analyzing, maybe even pretty good at psychoanalyzing … but know little more about the Xs and Os of the game than that you can use them to spell expose.

If that were not true, wouldn’t you see sports writers or broadcasters or, God forbid, dot-com types going from press row to the bench as coaches.

Surely the pay is better as a coach, and, I suspect, it has something to do with a coach’s knowledge about the game which he coaches.

But that’s not where we’re going today. It was brought up because you almost never know what’s going to come out of Huggins’ mouth, not much different than Earl Weaver or Sparky Anderson or Billy Martin of baseball fame, Lou Holtz or John Madden of football fame and Bobby Knight and Dick Vitale of basketball fame.

Just the other day, for example, someone suggested to him that at least Nathan Adrian, the local kid on his roster, would be able to understand the rivalry between West Virginia and Marshall.

Huggins’ reply?

“Nathan thinks it’s like Morgantown High against University High. He doesn’t understand it either.”

And when someone suggesting that Gonzaga’s 7-foot-1, 305-pound Przemek Karnowski had All-America potential after scoring 19 points and grabbing 13 rebounds against WVU, Huggins answered:

“He’s not an All-American. He’s from Poland.’’

Doesn’t matter the subject, Huggins has his own way of making his point.

On why Coliseum needs to be improved:

“We need suites. I’m watching Marshall. Marshall has suites. We want to make it a great fan experience, we have two heads and troth in a restroom. It may be time for a remodel.”

Anyone who has been in the Coliseum public restrooms knows what he’s talking about.

It goes on and on. Against Loyola, WVU grabbed a season-high 62 rebounds and someone, looking to pull a complimentary quote on rebounding out of Huggins, asked how that came to be.

“You get 62 rebounds by missing a lot of shots,” he answered, honestly, fully aware he was playing a smaller, outmanned opponent.

This ability with words is nothing new with Huggins. It goes back, we suspect, to the day he took the coaching job at Walsh, and he certainly honed it during his long and successful stay at Cincinnati.

Here are a few examples of Bob Huggins at his best at the podium over the years.

• “We’ve never played for second. We’ve always played for first, and as long as I continue to be in this profession, I will play for first.”

• “There’s so much to get ready for, especially with freshmen, if not in the right place, at least get them the hell out of the way.”

• “I told them if they got a rebound, they might like it, and want to get another one!”

• To Jamie Smalligan — “You haven’t hit a three since Moby Dick was a minnow.”

• “If Devin (Ebanks) would have thrown two more balls into the stands, he would have had a triple double.”

• “I grew up in Midvale (Ohio), 500 people, two stoplights, nine bars. I got in the truck with this guy one time and I looked and he didn’t have a rear-view mirror. I said, ‘You don’t have a rear-view mirror.’ He said, ‘I don’t back up.’ He said, ‘We’re going forward, son.’ And that’s kind of how I’ve lived my life.”

• During a press conference after beating Notre Dame in 2010 Big East semifinal:

Reporter: “Is there a New York feel to what’s going on in Morgantown?”

Huggins: “You’ve never been to Morgantown, have you?”

• Reporter: “Why didn’t you call a timeout when VMI was making a run?”

Huggins: “I just didn’t want to talk to them. I wish we hadn’t had media timeouts.”

• In accepting the award as the West Virginia College Coach of the Year, Huggins began, “I’d like to thank the sports writers. ... That’s something I never thought I would say.’’

• On how far John Flowers’ game had come along:

“During the game Flowers runs by me and yells, ‘Are we switching staggers?’ You know, to him, four years ago, a stagger, that was a bar downtown.”

He should have been a sports writer.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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