Opinion: West Virginia University President and Leadership is Unlikely to Terminate Bob Huggins

That Bob Huggins had not been relieved of his duties after his comments aired on 700WLW speaks to his stature on the Morgantown campus and, presumably, to the defective moral compass of West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee.

May 9, 2023 at 3:35 pm
click to enlarge Bob Huggins - Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock
Bob Huggins

If it weren’t for the word “abhorrent,” it would be easy to believe Bob Huggins wrote his apology statement without legal aid.

Like the man himself, it was unflinching and a bit fatalistic. “As I have shared with my players over my 40 years of coaching, there are consequences for our words and actions,” he said, “and I will fully accept any coming my way.”

No excuses. No pleading. This time, the West Virginia’s Hall of Fame coach will refrain from working the officials, at least in public. This time, perhaps, he knows he’s gone too far.

That Huggins had not been relieved of his duties after his “Catholic f***” comments aired on 700WLW speaks to his stature on the Morgantown campus and, presumably, to the defective moral compass of West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee.

Gee, remember, is the same administrator who responded to a football scandal on Jim Tressel’s watch at Ohio State by saying, “I’m just hopeful the coach doesn’t dismiss me.” The same Gee who ultimately stepped down from his job at Ohio State after a recording surfaced of him joking Notre Dame was not invited to join the Big Ten because “you just can’t trust those damn Catholics.”

So for all of the media indignation registered in the wake of Huggins’ Monday appearance on Bill Cunningham’s recidivist radio show, it’s at least possible the coach keeps his job because his boss owns a similarly untrained tongue.

This is not to condone Huggins’ offensive and intolerant remarks. Far from it. But in disciplining celebrity college coaches, frequently the highest-paid public employee in a state, it’s painfully obvious a sliding scale is in play. 

The more you win, the more misconduct schools are willing to tolerate. If there’s a line in the sand, it is often washed away by the tide of events.

Indiana University endured repeated embarrassments by Bob Knight before he was finally dismissed because he brought the Hoosiers three NCAA Championships without provoking NCAA investigations. 

The University of Louisville looked the other way when Rick Pitino was extorted by a woman with whom he had sex in a restaurant and imposed no penalties on him after a member of his staff arranged for strippers and prostitutes to service players in the basketball dorm. 

With the retirement of Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, Huggins’ 934 victories are the most among college basketball’s active coaches and the third-highest in Division I history behind Mike Krzyzewski (1,202) and Boeheim (1,015). Though his best chance at an NCAA Championship evaporated when his top-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats lost Kenyon Martin with a broken leg in 2000, Huggins has taken his teams to 24 NCAA Tournaments and two different schools to the Final Four.

This makes for a lot of political capital, particularly in a place like West Virginia. Though the state lags most of the country economically, educationally and in life expectancy, Mountaineer basketball remains a renewable resource and a profound source of pride.

“Since returning to his alma mater after 16 years at Cincinnati. . .Huggins has become a cult figure and a community leader,” Bob Hertzel wrote Monday in Morgantown’s Herald-Standard

“His charitable work toward bringing a Cancer Research Hospital to Morgantown and the North Central West Virginia area has led to one of the year’s top social events – the Bob Huggins Fish Fry, which this year had Charles Barkley as its special guest – and raised millions of dollars toward that end.”

Whether the goodwill Huggins has generated is enough to absorb the blowback from his outrageous remarks on Monday was still unclear early Tuesday afternoon. 

Huggins’ contract allows the university to fire him with cause and without a buyout if his conduct is deemed “clearly contrary to the character and responsibilities of a person occupying coach’s position, offends the traditions of the University, brings discredit to the University or harms the University’s reputation.”

That the university has yet to invoke this clause suggests West Virginia may be waffling. That Gee is running the show suggests Bob Huggins could survive.

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