MORGANTOWN — It wasn’t supposed to end this way, not for Larry Harrison, not after putting 16 years in at West Virginia alongside Hall of Fame coach Bob Huggins on the WVU bench, through the ups and the downs, the cheers, the tears and the beers.
Thanks and goodbye.
Not so much as a goodbye kiss.
A week has gone by, a replacement has been hired, everyone has moved forward, but the fans of West Virginia basketball are owed an explanation.
The relationship between the two ended before last weekend’s Oklahoma loss with nothing more than a statement from Huggins.
“A decision made to change within our basketball staff was a difficult one,” Huggins said. “Larry and I have worked together for 24 years and shared many great moments. [The] decision was made in the best interest of Mountaineer basketball. I’m not going to take any further questions on the matter and will now move along to your questions about the upcoming Oklahoma game.”
That came less than 24 hours after Huggins, on his Thursday night radio show, threw out a cryptic message when asked about the decision.
“I don’t really have a lot to say about it because I wasn’t as involved as I’ve been portrayed to be,” Huggins said. “How’s that?”
Not very good.
If you weren’t the driving force behind it, who was and why won’t they speak out?
Strange that with a furor building around the firing on a program that was 0-5 in conference play at the time, the new athletic director Wren Baker hasn’t spoken out, hasn’t taken responsibility or denied responsibility or shown any sign that he was or wasn’t involved in the decision.
WVU’s football and basketball programs should belong to the people of the state that the university represents and who deserve insight into a program, be it when it is going good or bad, hiring or firing a coach.
The quiet surrounding this decision was broken on Tuesday when Harrison finally took to social media with a statement, one that may have left more questions than it answered.
Somehow, he managed to put out his first public statement without mentioning Huggins’ name.
This is very strange, considering the relationship the two had built up over the years, one in which they shared not only a run to the Final Four but so many other highs and lows that can only bring two men in such a close working situation closer together.
Let’s look at the text of Harrison’s first comment on his dismissal:
“Thank you to the numerous players, boosters, media, alumni, coaches, friends and fans that have reached out to me over these past days. I wish I had an explanation to share with you in regards to my unforeseen dismissal but I do not. However, I can assure that I am not the subject of any NCAA, criminal or other investigation or violation. I read the university’s statement that the decision was made in the best interest of Mountaineer basketball. I can only assume that some important people believe that to be true.”
That opening paragraph is where much more was written between the lines than on them.
First off, Harrison made it clear that he was blindsided, saying he was blindsided by the “unforeseen” dismissal. He denied that he was under any criminal or NCAA investigations to lay the groundwork for his firing.
Second, note that while Huggins was the public face of the firing, Harrison referred to the statement that Huggins read to open his press conference was not written by Huggins, calling it “the university’s statement” that it was made “in the best interest of Mountaineer basketball.”
So, who — or what — really was behind the firing.
Harrison says he doesn’t know, stating “I can only assume that some important people believe that this is being done ‘in the best interest’ of Mountaineer basketball.”
That would suggest it came either with a push from the administration of President Gordon Gee or from powerful boosters.
It certainly didn’t grow out of fan pressure, that being aimed far more at Huggins as the face of the program, or former players, many of whom put forth an outpouring of support for Harrison on social media.
If this was Huggins’ decision, as head coach he certainly had the right to do so, although it should have been accompanied with a transparent explanation of what went on behind the scenes.
And if it wasn’t Huggins’ decision, the university ought to explain fully what went into it so we all can move on.
Meanwhile, Harrison’s statement included nothing but love for the fans and his former players.
“To Mountaineer Nation. Thank you for your loyalty, support and friendship over the last 15½ years. We had some great times! Remember our first year, 2007, when we advanced to the Sweet Sixteen with wins over Arizona and Duke; taking over the city of Indianapolis at the Final Four or my personal favorite, winning the Big East Tournament! I will always cherish the years of “Press Virginia.” Thank you for the cheers and being the loudest house in the conference!
“To the players, both past and present, remember I’m a phone call away and like always, ‘Coach Harry got your back.’ You have my continued love, loyalty and support. Once a Mountaineer, Always a Mountaineer.”
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