By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
When Robert Morris comes into the Coliseum tonight it brings with it not only a team this young and inexperienced but it brings with it the youngest coach in Division I basketball.
Andrew Toole took over the program on May 11, 2010. He was 29, which makes for an interesting coaching matchup for he faces in Bob Huggins a man who also is 29 … 29 years as a head coach.
Toole has three victories as a head coach, Huggins 675.
Toole became head coach after being Mike Rice’s top assistant for the last two years, serving the last two years as Rice’s top assistant before he left for the head coaching job at Rutgers.
With this as the backdrop, it was time to check with Huggins what he was like as a young head coach, turning 29 in his second season as head coach at Walsh College.
“I had a great situation [as an assistant coach] at Ohio State with a great team coming back,” Huggins said.
But anyone who knows Huggins knows that isn’t what it ever was all about with him.
“I didn’t feel I had much impact sitting four chairs down on the bench,” he said. “I think of something and tell the guy next to me who tell the guy next to him who would tell [head coach] Eldon Miller. By the time it got there it would lose something in interpretation.
“Plus I was on the road four days a week. It served me well. I met a lot of people, but I wanted to coach.”
And so it was Huggins left Ohio State for Walsh. Was he ready? Maybe. But he had something important going for him.
“I was fortunate. I had a great resource in my father. I could call my father,” he said. “That helped me considerably.”
Huggins father, Charlie, was a lifer in the coaching business, as successful a high school coach as you will find anywhere and the man from whom Huggins took most of his basketball principles and theories.
Now, of course, telling him the problem you are facing isn’t like being there.
“It’s hard. You can call whoever you want, but if they’re not there every day they don’t know what the problems are. That’s why you don’t call a doctor when you’re sick and have him diagnosis you over the phone,” Huggins said. “But, guys like Dad who had coached all those games, it’s a little easier to spot problems.”
It didn’t take long for Toole, a former Penn point guard, to be faced with one of those problems when he decided to suspend his top scorer, guard Karon Abraham, for four games just before playing Pitt.
A decision like that is a difficult one for a veteran coach, let alone one who has coached three games.
That decision cost him a lot number of victories, as Huggins would note.
“They used to tell me, cut the head off and the monster dies,” Huggins said. “You cut his toe off and he’s still going to eat you. That’s what happened to them.”
But that was what Toole felt he had to do, even if he had to eat some losses. Huggins says it was the right thing, if it was him and not him trying to be like his predecessor, Rice.
“What I really think is you have to be yourself,” Huggins said. “A lot of young coaches make the mistake of trying to be something you’re not.”
He gave an example.
“You saw that with Coach [Bobby] Knight who had all those academies and everyone would leave and say ‘By God, I’m going to be like Coach Knight. But they’re not Coach Knight. There’s only one guy who can handle things the way he handled things.
“It’s your own personality. Jim Boeheim is a great, great coach. He has a different personality than other guys. What happens is you go out and decide to be someone you’re not and you emulate him for two or three days but you start to getting back to being yourself.
“What happens? Your players say, ‘Who is this guy?’ I think you have to be consistent with what you do. It’s hard to make them consistent when you’re not consistent.”
Huggins players always know who he is and that is why this was not exactly a pleasant time for them, coming home from a loss in Miami where they blew a 13-point lead. He is upset with his play at center, where he is getting no offensive production, and with his offensive rebounding, down about 20 from this time last year and he had gone without Devin Ebanks for a number of games.
He spent his time trying to correct that because Big East Conference play is closing in fast.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.