Thursday, February 08, 2001

Huggins now dresses for success

        Bob Huggins is the model coach. If you don't believe me, ask Angela Lento. She is the authority behind college basketball's Fashion Power Index. She is responsible for ranking the University of Cincinnati's clothes horse as the nation's nattiest coach.

        She must have missed that hideous shirt Huggins wore in Puerto Rico.

        “I think he looks very sharp when he gets dressed up,” Lento said Wednesday. “I know he bought two suits this year, and they were both three pieces. Now he's just got to burn those mock turtlenecks or not wear them to the games.”

Bob Huggins looks sharp for the Tulane game Jan. 30.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        If Internet culture has taught us anything, it is that too many people have too much time on their hands. The Fashion Power Index began four years ago as a fun little feature on — utterly arbitrary, inherently incomplete, extremely Eastern-biased — but its popularity clearly has intensified the already fierce competition in hoops haberdashery.

        It's no longer enough to wear a nice suit on the sideline. Lento is looking for three-fold handkerchiefs and state-of-the-art shoeshines.

        “I really don't like basketball,” Lento said. “I wouldn't know what was going on — what a zone defense was. Technically, I'm the business operations manager (for the Web site), but doing the FPI takes up a lot of my time. On Saturday, I sit down with my notepad and watch the games. A lot of coaches I'm
not familiar with, but I have to evaluate everybody.”

Good thing they didn't catch him at the Puerto Rico Holiday Classic in December.
(AP photo)
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        Lehigh's Sal Mentesana was designated America's Prettiest Coach last year, ending the two-year reign of Hofstra's Jay Wright. With Rick Pitino likely to return to the college ranks, this season may represent Huggins' best shot at sartorial supremacy.

        He moved into the No.1 spot Monday after a dazzling one-week rise from the No.10 ranking. Huggins displaced dapper Massachusetts coach Bruiser

        Flint as the nation's best-dressed coach thanks largely to the fine wool suit he wore in Saturday's victory over DePaul.

        Flint's wardrobe is expected to retaliate next Wednesday against Xavier.

        “Huggins is using intimidation to influence the process,” Flint charged on the Atlantic 10 coaches teleconference. “He complained so much about his ranking that they moved him to the top so he would quit whining.”

        This, of course, is poppycock. Huggins' concern for his clothes could be neatly summarized in a shrug. He reacted to his No.1 FPI ranking like a man preparing to paint the town beige.

        “I don't pay attention to that stuff,” he said Wednesday afternoon, casually attired in a sleek black warmup ensemble. “I dress how I feel. Recently, I've been dressing up a little bit more ... But I'm not one of these guys who iron their shirt at halftime.”

        Perhaps Huggins lets off so much steam in the course of his game that his shirts stay wrinkle-free. Probably, Huggins spends less time on appearances than some coaches spend choosing carnations.

        More than many of his peers, Huggins is consumed with substance and apathetic about style. He recognizes that his hypercritical sideline demeanor has created a caricature some observers mis take for a full portrait, and he regrets that not everyone knows, “that I care about our guys.”

        Such a man does not rejoice when his image improves. Huggins is too dubious of surface judgments to get much joy from a fashion statement. If there is any credit to be claimed for his clothes, he directs it toward his tailor.

        “We just got started with him,” said Ed Heimann of Hamilton Tailoring. “He bought two suits, and he did all the designing himself. He tells you what he wants, and we do it. Lately he should be looking a lot better.”

        If Huggins is to remain near the top of the raiment rankings, though, good garb goes only so far. He also must avoid Lento's “Fashion fouls.” He must keep his collar fastened, his jacket on and his mock turtlenecks in the drawer.

        “Last year he blew it,” Lento said. “He made it into the field of 64, but he went with the mock turtleneck and he blew it. He lost by 50.”

        Huggins is capable of repeating that mistake. Under pressure, he's more likely to wear a mock turtleneck than a tuxedo.

        Getting the No.1 ranking is a lot easier than keeping it.



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