Thursday, March 22, 2001

Are Huggins' days at UC numbered?




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        ANAHEIM, Calif. — One more year? Two years? Five? Bob Huggins coached his 300th win at UC last week. Will he be around for 400?

        If Huggins knows, he isn't saying. That won't stop the speculation. Two people close to the program think Huggins is closer to leaving UC than most believe. “Next year,” said one. “The first time he sees a 15-15 season on the horizon, he's gone,” said another. “You know how much he hates losing.”

        Huggins says he'll coach until he doesn't want to. “As long as I still enjoy it,” he said Wednesday.

        He professes fatigue every year. He wants to go fishing, he wants to play golf, he wants to devote more time to charity projects. He
wants, really wants, to stop answering questions about graduation rates.

        Huggins wants to do what he wants to do. It's an annual sigh, brought on partly by the energy needed to keep the Bearcats in the Top 25 every year for a decade. What's remarkable about Huggins is not that he has won 300 games the past 12 seasons. It's that he has done it in Clifton.

        UC is not Duke or Kentucky. Cincinnati is not New York or L.A. Conference USA is not the Big Ten. UC is Huggins, mostly.

        As assistant coach Dan Peters said, “The kids don't come (to UC) because of the campus. When you think of Cincinnati basketball, what do you think of?”

        How much longer? Huggins needs to coach next year to cash in a “golden handcuff” annuity started in 1995. With interest, it will pay him well over $1 million. He also knows that if he can convince Kenny Satterfield to stay for his junior year, the Bearcats will have Final Four-quality players.

        He enjoys working for UC athletic director Bob Goin. He has had fun coaching this team, an overachieving group that will try it again tonight against Stanford. This team's March run has validated Huggins' status as a big-time coach as much as any he has had.

        “He's surprised at what they've accomplished,” Peters said.

        Huggins has been 12 seasons at UC, a remarkably long stay given the fragility of job security in his business. College basketball coaches are as temporary as fog. They roll in, they roll out. It's not a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. It's, what are you doing for me today?

        Tennessee just bought out the last five years of Jerry Green's contract, after he took the Volunteers to the NCAA Tournament in each of his four seasons. Good thing UCLA didn't flop in its first-round game against Hofstra, or Steve Lavin might have been packing. People said Denny Crum could coach at Louisville as long as he wanted.

        No wonder coaches load up on shoe contracts, TV shows and summer camps. The hot coaches job-hop. Can you blame them? Get rich today. Tomorrow you'll be pushing furniture.

        The only thing certain is Huggins will not be Crum, or Green. He will leave on his terms. The only question is when. People close to him say it will be sooner rather than later. Huggins isn't saying.

        “As long as I want to do it,” Huggins said. There's no reason to doubt him. Of course, Bob Knight said the same thing.

        E-mail: pdaugherty@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/daugherty.

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