MORGANTOWN — It was a question that had to be asked, the one that came forward from the media during Bob Huggins’ post-game press conference on Thursday, moments after his West Virginia team had taken a dagger to the heart in the form of a 67-65 loss to Maryland in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
As important as it was to ask it, it was rhetorical for anyone who had watched Huggins coach through this season knew the answer and as Huggins only can, he offered it up in such a way as it had the internet buzzing for much of the evening.
“Might be early for this question, Coach,” the questioner began, which was a giveaway that he knew the question might be an honest one, the timing would be better served for later.
“But just with your length of time in this business, what have you thought about your future and how long you want to keep on doing this?”
I suspect you know what’s coming. I’m certain the questioner knew what was coming and Huggins didn’t disappoint.
“You know the only thing I’ve thought about in the last whatever month and a half was getting these guys to a point where they could come here,” Huggins said.
He wasn’t doing the Ali Shuffle here. He wasn’t buying time to think up an answer.
He was shooting straight. His goal was to go to the NCAAs in a year when it appeared they wouldn’t make it. Not for him, but for his players.
“Erik [Stevenson] for instance had never played in an NCAA Tournament. We want to get those guys to an NCAA Tournament and experience the NCAA Tournament,” he said.
He is, always has been a players coach.
“Unfortunately,” Huggins said. “Ours isn’t going to be very long, but at least he got to play in one.”
One and done. It wasn’t satisfying, but, as they say, it is what it is.
“I don’t know. It’s like anything else, you know. You probably got people who enjoy reading what you write, and there’s people who say I wouldn’t read a damn thing he writes,” Huggins said, bringing it down to a level even us writers can understand and feel.
“I got the same situation going on. I got people who think I should stay on for quite a while, and there’s people probably thinking I ought to pack it in and let some young kid come in and screw it up.”
Now that’s not a yes or a no, but anyone who knows Huggins knows his very existence is built upon being a coach.
Yes, he likes to fish, but he could pull all the bass out of a river that it has to give up and it wouldn’t satisfy him like one practice, like matching wits with a guy down on the other end of the court, like a day with his team.
He was a gym rat growing up. You might even call him a son of a well, coach, because that’s what he is.
His friends are fellow coaches. Spend one night with them listening to tales told and the fellowship shared and you know how it had to be when Sir Lancelot and the knights gathered around King Arthur’s Round Table.
Bob Huggins was a competitor as a player and today, at 69, he may have lost a step on the court, but he remains respected as a coach.
Yes, the question wasn’t really about his age, but about the results he has gotten lately and that’s legitimate to look at.
His Mountaineers have won 20 or more games only once in the last five years. His overall record over that time is 90-73 while his Big 12 record is 35-44. The previous five years before that he went 122-55 while in the Big 12 WVU went 56-39.
The question is Huggins slipping or is that a reflection on the improvement from the other conference teams.
I believe it is more the latter.
The strange part of talking about whether it’s time for Huggins to retire is that he just authored one of his best coaching jobs ever.
This was not as talented as his Final Four teams here or at Cincinnati. This was a project, a team purchased from IKEA that had to be put together.
Can Huggins still coach? Should Huggins keep on coaching?
Ask Kedrian Johnson, who saw him grow year by year under Huggins. A year ago, it’s forgotten now, Johnson averaged 5.3 points a game and had more turnovers than assists. This year he doubled his scoring average, had 102 assists to 74 turnovers and made it his team on the floor.
Ask Erik Stevenson, who grew throughout the season until he closed it out with the best play of his career, play where he didn’t act like he had “a screw loose,,as he has described himself throughout his career.
Yes, the last game was a difficult one with just nine points, but the credit for that has to go to the defense Maryland put forth.
And talk about coaching, you think it was easy for Huggins to bench his leading scorer and the player most likely to go off on a scoring binge in the second half, giving him time to try and pull himself together for one late run at Maryland.
It didn’t work but it took a man willing to face the music for making such a bold move.
The inference from the question was that maybe Huggins was losing it because he was aging.
That certainly is not the case.
Maybe it was Iona coach Rick Pitino, 70, and a Hall of Fame coach, who summed it up for Huggins when he said on Thursday:
“I’d like to coach another 10 years.”
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