MORGANTOWN — Considering that his post-season fate may well hang in the balance over the last three games of the regular season, the last thing Bob Huggins wanted to discuss was whether or not he is a legitimate candidate for the Basketball Hall of Fame, but it was a subject that came up in the midst of a recent interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Their interest, of course, runs deeper than just the fact that Huggins is coaching against Cincinnati at 2 p.m. today in a game that both teams really need to win, the Bearcats even more than West Virginia University if they are to have any NCAA Tournament hopes at all.
Huggins, as has been well documented in publications that range from the Wall Street Journal to the National Enquirer, spent the bulk of his career in Cincinnati, a successful coach whose career was often wrapped in controversy.
In truth, it was Huggins who brought the subject up as he talked about the competitive nature of the Big East Conference.
“You’ve got a Hall of Fame coach at Syracuse, a Hall of Fame coach at Connecticut, a future Hall of Fame coach at Louisville and probably a future Hall of Fame coach at Villanova,” Huggins told Bill Koch of the Enquirer.
Koch turned that right back at Huggins, suggesting that he might also be a Hall of Fame coach.
That’s probably not true,” he said. “But I have been very fortunate to have great players.”
Perhaps it is time we discussed this matter, for Huggins is certainly an interesting figure when it comes to what is and isn’t a Hall of Fame coach.
His record at Cincinnati surely is impeccable, 14 NCAA Tournament teams in 16 years, including a Final Four team. He won 399 games and lost only 127 during that time.
As for his career that encompassed time at Akron, Kansas State and West Virginia as well as Cincinnati, he has won 660 and lost 240, a .733 winning percentage.
If all that mattered was victories, just to mention that he is four behind no less a coach than John Wooden, who won 10 NCAA championships at UCLA, it would make it seem that he is a cinch for the Hall of Fame.
So, too, it would seem when you consider than only three active coaches – Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim (825), Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (857) – have more victories than Huggins.
Huggins is 28th all-time in the history of college victories, moving in not on Wooden but on Denny Crum.
But the Hall of Fame is not just decided on career victories.
One thing that catches the eye of those who decide such matters is national championships, and Huggins does not have one of them.
It isn’t that you can’t make the Hall of Fame without that on your resume, but it helps.
True, John Chaney of Temple never won an NCAA title and won 150 fewer games than Huggins and got in and St. John’s Lou Carnesseca has no national titles and 130 fewer victories than Huggins. Of course, Louie’s sweaters outdid Huggins’ haberdashery habits, save for the gold suit he broke out once on the WVU sideline.
Still, winning the NCAA creates an aura. Boeheim has one, Calhoun two, Bobby Knight three, Krzyzewski three, John Thompson one, Crum two.
There is one thing that makes Huggins continued success seem to scream for Hall of Fame attention, and that is that he did it without the benefits that come with being at the nation’s premier programs. That was something that Mick Cronin, a former Huggins assistant who coaches the Cincinnati team, brought up recently.
“He’s had great fans, but he hasn’t had the best of the best with budget and facilities and the amenities of the elite programs,” Cronin said.
We’re talking UCLA, Kentucky, North Carolina, Duke, Syracuse … the legendary schools with the famous arenas and the rich alumni.
True, Cincinnati had Oscar Robertson play there and won two national championships before Huggins, and West Virginia had Jerry West and did get to an NCAA final, but neither school has the aura of those other schools.
Considered one of the great recruiters and one of the great game coaches, Huggins does have a shadow that lays over his Hall of Fame credentials, however, and it may well be what keeps him out of the Hall.
He has had his program serve a term on probation, has been accused of neglecting academics in Cincinnati, had a very public DUI and had an equally public battle with the Cincinnati administration that led to his leaving.
This, more than anything else, will work against Huggins when the time comes for consideration from the Hall of Fame.
Right now he has a lot of coaching ahead of him. With 660 victories, it is not unreasonable to think he could surpass 800 before his career ends, and that almost certainly would lead him into the Hall of Fame.
Of course, another Final Four on that resume wouldn’t hurt matters, either.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at email@example.com.