By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The other night, during something of a light-hearted moment in the first Bob Huggins radio show of the 2011-12 basketball season that begins Friday night with a women’s-men’s doubleheader at the Coliseum, the veteran coach gave us a little look into what makes him tick.
It all started with host Tony Caridi, the Mountaineers’ play-by-play announcer, talking about a panel discussion that was about to come up on a preseason basketball TV show. One of those on the panel was Jim Boeheim, the pouty-faced Syracuse coach.
Sports writer Jeff Goodman noted that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is closing in rapidly on Bobby Knight’s all-time victory record of 901 and pointed out to Boeheim that he currently stands 44 victories behind Krzyzewski.
He also pointed out, probably not much to Boeheim’s liking, that the Syracuse coach is a couple of years older than Coach K, which would seem to lessen his chances of ever passing him and getting the record to himself.
That point having been agreed upon, Goodman asked him who he thought would be most likely to break Krzyzewski’s record, if he gets it.
“The guy I think who has a shot is Bob Huggins. He’s got a lot of wins; he’ll try to coach forever; he’s about the only one out there who has a chance to do it,” Caridi quoted Boeheim as saying.
Huggins, they noted, is only 58 and possesses 691 victories as he enters this season. He has averaged 25 a year at WVU.
They got out the calculator and started to figure what it would take for Huggins to get past 1,000 victories and claim the record. They noted that he would need about 12 more years, coaching into his 71st year on Earth.
The thought of Huggins coaching at 70 boggled Jay Jacobs’ mind, and the two got to joshing about a 70-year-old Huggins and how he might look like Jacobs, who is a couple of months on the far side of 70 himself. It was a thought Huggins could not bear to stand, jabbing away with, “I’ll never look like you, Jay.”
But he did not back away from the thought of coaching into his 70s.
“You recruit me four McDonald’s All-Americans a year and I might coach until I’m 70. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to do that,” he said.
And as he said that you could sense that he was joking, yes, but also quite serious, for Bob Huggins’ coaching career, which has had a little of everything from lying on the floor in the Pittsburgh Airport with what seemed certain to be a fatal heart attack, to battles with media and a college president who would run him out of town at the expense of her basketball program, has a huge void in it.
Over and over you ask yourself, what drives Huggins? Why would he return to such a high-pressure profession after nearly dying from a heart attack? Why go through the agony that comes with every game, even those that end in ecstasy, and go through the challenge of a rebuilding year like the one he faces here at West Virginia University?
Well, Huggins was about to let you in on his motivation.
“I want to win on Monday night and cut down the nets. That’s what I want to do,” he said. “I’ve played on Saturday a couple of times. I want to play Monday night and cut down the nets.”
For those who don’t follow college basketball that closely, the NCAA Tournament semifinals are always on Saturday with the finals on Monday, and the team that wins gets to cut down the nets in an emotional and joy-filled tradition.
The top six coaches by victories all own NCAA championships — Knight, Krzyzewski, Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp, Boeheim and Jim Calhoun. Jim Phelan is seventh, and he really had no chance to win an NCAA crown coaching at Mount St. Mary’s for his whole career.
Other than Phalen, the coach with the most victories never to win an NCAA title is Eddie Sutton, while some others like Lefty Driesell, Lou Henson, Norm Stewart and John Chaney also failed to take down the net.
All of them, of course, are great coaches and great competitors, but other than Chaney and Stewart, they may not be quite so consumed with winning and competing the way Huggins is. To Huggins, until he wins the very last game of the college basketball season, his life will seem incomplete.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.