Saturday, March 09, 2002

Want Huggins to stay? Tell him today




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        If this is goodbye, Bob Huggins can go with no regrets.

        He has restored the University of Cincinnati to the ranks of college basketball's perennial powers. He has reduced Conference USA to a competition for second place. He has rewarded believers and confounded critics and come to personify the same brand of uncompromising toughness another generation associated with John Wayne.

        He has done his part, and then some. What he has not done, at this point, amounts to quibbling. If today's Conference USA Tournament championship proves to be the last game Huggins coaches in Cincinnati — if he should heed the call of alma mater or the almighty NBA dollar —
Bearcats fans owe him a bravo.

        “Personally, I don't think he's going to go,” UC guard Leonard Stokes said after Friday's 71-55 conquest of Charlotte. “I think he loves us too much.”

[img]
Bob Huggins confers with Steve Logan Friday night.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
Can fans make pitch?

        Maybe so. But after a decade of false alarms — the Miami Heat, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Ohio State — this year's departure scenarios seem to ring more true somehow.

        If Huggins has not already decided to bolt for West Virginia or the Denver Nuggets or some other hoops fixer-upper, perhaps it's time his constituents let him know how lousy they'd feel if he left. Perhaps a pre-emptive show of affection (and money) could overcome the anticipated offer to go home to (Almost Heaven) West Virginia as a god.

        If you love him, you might want to let him know. Before it's too late.

        Huggins has yet to publicly address the Mountaineer vacancy in any meaningful way. A straw poll of some of his close friends reveals no consensus on which way he is leaning. Yet Huggins' inner circle agrees the threat is serious and the outcome unclear.

        “I think it's real,” said Chuck Machock, Huggins' former assistant coach and long-running sounding board. “It's as real as can be.”

        Reason (and Machock) says it's hard to reconcile Huggins' national ambitions with the recruiting base of a Big East backwater.

        “What are his goals and ambitions?” Machock asked Friday night. “And how are they served at West Virginia?”

        Still, some of the coach's confidantes think conditions that have rankled Huggins in Cincinnati — a city of divided loyalties, professional sports and an unfawning media — might not be present in Morgantown.

        “If he goes to West Virginia,” one of Huggins' friends said Friday, “he'll be bigger than the governor.”

        There's a lot to be said for unconditional love. There's a lot to be said for returning home as a conquering hero. There's a lot to be said for being seen as a savior instead of some fire-breathing caricature whose players have appeared in too many police reports and too few graduation ceremonies.

Closing on 500

        There is also something to be said for staying put in a place where things work. Despite the arrival of such formidable coaches as Rick Pitino, John Calipari and Tom Crean, this is the seventh straight year UC has held the No. 1 seed in its conference tournament. Sunday, the Bearcats will likely be awarded no worse than a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

        Bob Huggins might choose to start over from scratch, but it ought to be easier to maintain his momentum.

        E-mail tsullivan@enquirer.com. Past columns at www.enquirer.com/columns/sullivan.

       



Bearcats Stories
UC wins C-USA tourney
UC meets Marquette in final
Stokes helps UC bury Charlotte
- SULLIVAN: Want Huggins to stay? Tell him today
Logan, Huggins win national praise
Marquette 85, Houston 73

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CovCath 58, Highlands 51
Ryle 53, Dixie Heights 50
Kentucky basketball scores
Today's Kentucky basketball schedule


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