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February 21, 2011

Huggins, Harrison build strong bond

MORGANTOWN — Two images.

That’s all it takes to understand the depth of the relationship between West Virginia University head basketball coach Bob Huggins and his longtime assistant Larry Harrison.

The first you see on the video board in the Coliseum before each Mountaineer home game, a video clip taken right after beating Kentucky to advance to the Final Four last season, the two men walking side by side, arms around each other, a satisfied smile on their faces as tears seem ready to flow from Huggins’ eyes.

The other is a recent photograph that went national from the Louisville game, where Huggins is snarling at an official as Harrison tries to restrain him to little avail as Huggins earned a technical foul.

If you believe in imagery, that sums it up. Bob Huggins has had good times and bad times, and as that has gone on he has had Larry Harrison at his side.

Through two Final Fours, through a much-too-public DUI arrest, through a heart attack, through a showdown with the University of Cincinnati president, through his return to his alma mater in West Virginia, Larry Harrison been there for Bob Huggins, either as an assistant or a friend.

o o o o o

In Larry Harrison’s mind, his relationship with Huggins began back when the University of Cincinnati first hired Huggins, but Huggins says it began long before that, back when Harrison was a college player of Muskingum College in Ohio, playing for Jim Burson.

“I knew Jim Burson from the time I was a kid,” Huggins said, meeting him through his father, Charlie, who was one of the great high school coaches in Ohio history. “I knew how he taught basketball and the hard work he required.”

When Huggins went to Cincinnati, following Akron and Walsh College, Harrison was at American University. He received a call from a young friend just getting started in the business, a friend named Tom Creen, coach now at Indiana.

“He was finishing college and applying to be a grad assistant. He had talked to Huggs about being a grad assistant there, but there was also a job at Michigan State and being from Michigan he was leaning more toward that,” Harrison recalled the other day during a talk in his office. “He called me and asked me if I heard that Bob got the Cincinnati job and asked if I would be interested.”

Harrison was fine at American but had to be interested, so at the Final Four in 1989 Creen introduced Huggins and Harrison.

“We talked,” Harrison said. “He talked about a lot of things, one of them was how he wanted to win a national championship at Cincinnati. That was my goal, too, either as an assistant or head coach.”

That is worth remembering, for Huggins remembered it and offered Harrison the job during that job interview, but told he would have to get back to him after he put everything in place.

A month later, Harrison hadn’t heard anything.

“I went through a period there where I was a little antsy,” he admitted. “Tom Creen and I were talking and I said, ‘You sure I got the job?’ He said, ‘If he told you that you’ve got the job, you’ve got the job.”

Huggins stayed true to his word.

“Ironically,” Harrison points out, “three years later we went to the Final Four. When he brought me back here, three years later we went to the Final Four again.”

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