Sunday, September 29, 2002

Huggins needs to take timeout




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        Listen. Your body is talking to you. Ease off, Bob Huggins. Put your life in a lower gear. Do not try to be all things to all people. The civic clubs that want you to speak will survive if you don't. The clinics will go on without you. Tell Nike a contract is not a marriage. There will be camps you can't attend.

        Do not fly more than migratory birds. Do not babysit recruits. You are a coach with 500 wins. Your winning percentage among active Division I coaches is second only to Roy Williams'. You win more often than anyone else, your teams are televised more than Tony Soprano, your players graduate to the NBA. You play a style kids love.

        Let more kids come to you.

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Bob Huggins reacts to a call last season.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        You've always said when you retire, you want to go fishing. Why wait for retirement? UC basketball will survive a week or two if you want to hop in a bass boat and drop a line in a lake.

        You've said you enjoy hanging out with neighbors in the driveway late at night, around one of those portable fireplaces you can buy at Home Depot. “Driveway sits,” you called them. You said you didn't do that enough. It's time to start.

        Because here is the truth:

        You are in serious condition in the cardiac unit of a Pittsburgh- area hospital because you don't take care of yourself. You are 49 years old, and 49 is not 29. There are limits to what you can do. Outworking the rest of the world probably is no longer an option.

        “Back off,” Steve Moeller said. Moeller has known Huggins for 34 years. They went to the UC-Ohio State football game last week. Moeller was a Huggins assistant in the Final Four year of 1992.

        Moeller on Saturday was at his vacation home in Michigan. It would have been a good place for Huggins. I asked Moeller, “If you could say one thing to Huggins now, what would it be?”

        Back off, Moeller said. Backing off doesn't mean backing down. You can change your lifestyle without changing your life. Forty-nine isn't 29. The candle works at just one end. Back off.

        “He's a workaholic,” said Huggins' longtime friend Frank Jessie. “It's part of his competitiveness. As his stature has grown, so have the demands. He needs to take a look at the whole lifestyle. He has lots of friends. It's time for him to let us help him for a change, instead of the other way around.”

        We missed Renie Heroux on Saturday. Heroux is Huggins' personal assistant. She keeps his schedule, which is like keeping every clock in Switzerland synchronized. From the chaos of requests, demands, obligations and favors that tyrannize Bob Huggins' days, Renie makes the perfect sense.

        Renie could tell you Huggins was shooting a Kroger commercial in Cincinnati at 9:30, flying to Chicago for a noon luncheon, speaking at a clinic in Milwaukee at 4, then flying back to Cincinnati for a high school sports stag at 7. This is what he does, all the time. This is Huggins' life. Throw in the late nights, the early wakeup calls and the combustible courtside demeanor, and it's easy to see how a man might stress his body into rebellion.

        On Feb.20, 1992, Huggins had chest pains after a home game with DePaul. There is a family history, his father Charlie having experienced heart problems. This is nothing to shrug off. It's nothing you can beat by working harder than the next guy.

        Back off. With middle age comes a wisdom and a peace, to those who take the time to notice. Life is better when not lived at a dead run. Back off.

        All of us close to Huggins' age need to take an inventory. We all need to look at what we're doing, who we are and where we're going. If we're lucky, the look behind the mirror isn't prompted by a health crisis. Bob Huggins wasn't lucky.

        He doesn't need to change who he is, Steve Moeller said. He just needs to look at how he lives his life. Moeller said that not in judgment but out of concern. Back off.

        Will he? Can he?

        “It depends on how much it scares him,” Moeller said. For Huggins' sake, here's hoping the fear never leaves.

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

       



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