Puttin' Out the Bone

Bearcat Fans, You Can Do Better

May 25, 2005 at 2:06 pm

Can't someone help Bearcat fans believe in themselves, see they are worthy, conclude that they can have integrity and victory at the University of Cincinnati?

Look, UC men's basketball coach Bob Huggins should think about his future and the health of the school that's employed him for 16 years and resign. Events of the past month scream it, and the only people not hearing are Huggins and thousands of Bearcat basketball fans.

But this really is no longer about Huggins. It stopped being about him years ago, maybe after the fifth or sixth incident that involved a player's mug shot being shown on the evening news or another report of stars without degrees.

Let's start here: The UC basketball program has an undeniable renegade image around the country. It doesn't matter that current university President Nancy Zimpher's under-the-fingernail pressure has Huggins wearing a suit on the bench, swearing less before court-side television cameras, attending most of his post game radio obligations when he loses, berating his players less publicly and graduating some of them — the perception of the program around the country is dirtier than Kelly Osborne's mouth.

And so how could anyone be shocked that an assistant coach's driving drunk charge and a player-with-gun incident pushed buyout talk? And how could Huggins think he can escape it after so many preceding events? And how could any basketball fan believe that coaching with a shortened team in a good league with diminishing recruiting juice is a good way to live in the competitive world of costly entertainment?

But again, this isn't any longer about Huggins. It's about Cincinnati and local basketball fans. And maybe about psychology.

It happens all the time in abusive situations. It happens in severely dysfunctional families and relationships. The victim begins to feel like he or she isn't worthy of anything better than numbing pain.

In other words, though you might see others having peace and fun and prosperity, you no longer think those pictures can be of you. No, you must live with your plight, your predicament. You're not worthy.

It's the opposite construct than the one captured in the title of a 1970s self help book, I'm OK, You're OK, by Thomas Harris. With UC fans it's North Carolina's OK, but we're not. Illinois is OK, but we suck. Kentucky is OK, but we're less.

It's what Huggins has made UC into — a program that can win lots of games, recruit second-chance players, win occasional NCAA tournament games, get plenty of television revenue and entice reluctant fans to buy football tickets. But to expect Bearcat fans to put on a logo sweatshirt when they're traveling or to not cringe when an unpleasant basketball program headline greets them in the morning, that's too much to expect, too much to hope for.

This is the University of Cincinnati, not Michigan State, they think. We're Bearcats, not Cardinals. We win. That's enough. Also wanting respectability is more than we deserve. We're not worthy.

Sadly, that's Huggins' legacy. If he's responsible for hurting the program — and he is — and Zimpher gets that when her predecessor Joseph Steger didn't, it's because he somehow convinced Bearcat fans they deserve only wins and that pride in their school's national image is beyond their reach.

The irony is that a strong woman is Huggins' nemesis. And she is the one who now must treat her school's emotional ailment. She's the one left to show fans that they can in fact win with school pride.

Simply tune in to local sports radio shows where Huggins talk won't go away, and you'll hear a university's basketball neurosis laid bare. One caller and host after another says Zimpher doesn't know where she is.

"This isn't Swarthmore or Vasser. This is the University of Cincinnati," said one host. "You don't belong here."

In other words, the price of winning here is a parade of ugly media stories played out nationwide. You've got to understand that. This is UC. This is how we are.

We've accepted it with the help of Huggins, who showed us this way. Why can't you, you uppity bitch? And if you can't, get out of here. We're Cincinnati, you're not. You're not one of us. We're losers.

Yeah, Zimpher could just role her eyes and fire Huggins, not go to games where's she'll get booed and perfunctorily promote some rising assistant coach. But something tells me she has plans as big for the men's basketball program as she does for the rest of the university — to make the whole place Middle-American prestigious and winners.

And that's the point. Different from the Huggins-conditioned fans, Zimpher knows there are major-school head coaches out there who will come to UC to carry forward a winning tradition and simply add honor.

And contrary to what Huggins has led his fans to believe, there are coaches who don't fear fitting into his shoes or taking on the challenge of graduating all their players every year, something Xavier has done through four straight coaches over decades.

C'mon, Bearcat fans, the only way up is to admit how far down you are. Then seek treatment and find a better life.

You're lucky. The UC Board of Trustees has hired a doctor for you. They care about you.

But you have to do some work. You have to talk to your doctor, listen to her. Go to every counseling session. And you have to stay away from old friends who got you in the dark state where we found you.

So if Huggins comes around saying you can't get better, that you can't be winners with pride, that your doctor is a quack in a skirt, put a hand in front of his face and tell him you have new friends, new hope. You now have a basketball life.

Only then will you be truly OK.

PUTTIN' OUT THE BONE appears monthly.