|West Virginia coach Bob Huggins is now tied with Norm Stewart and Jerry Tarkanian for 16th place on the NCAA all-time victory list with 729 career wins.
|All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Bob Huggins is fond of telling everyone how he always looks ahead. There’s no sense in looking backward because something might be gaining on you, I suppose.
But every once in a while it is necessary to take a quick look behind, if for no other reason than as a reminder of where it is your headed. Huggins did so briefly on Monday night following his team’s impressive 96-47 victory over Loyola that gave him career win No. 729 to move him into a tie with Jerry Tarkanian and Norm Stewart for 16th place on the NCAA all-time victory list.
He spoke of his long-standing friendship with the towel-chewing Tarkanian.
“Tark has been like a grandfather or an uncle to me,” said Huggins in a soft, monotone voice that has been become his postgame trademark. “When I was just a young kid he kind of took me under his wing. He’s been phenomenal to me and has given me a lot of advice, both Xs and Os wise and just about our business in general so I have incredible respect for Tark.”
And then he spoke of his father.
“I don’t ever remember not being in the gym,” Huggins recalled. “I was old enough to know what was going on when my dad was still playing at Alderson-Broaddus. I’d be lying if I told you I actually remember watching him playing games, but I remember being at the games and wadding up empty coke cups like they used to do back then and using it as a ball.”
Huggins grew up in a basketball gym, learned many of life’s lessons in the gym and spent most of his time around guys who also wanted to grow up in the gym and learn about life.
“My dad always took me to practice on the weekends so I’ve always been around it and I’ve always been around coaches,” Huggins explained. “My dad started that basketball camp and I was around those eight weeks, nine weeks or whatever we had around coaches. I’ve always been around the X and O part of it, so my dad has been a great influence on me.”
Of course Huggins’ dad, Charlie, is a high school basketball coaching legend in the state of Ohio. Anybody who is anybody in the Buckeye State knows the name Charlie Huggins. And anybody who is anybody in college basketball knows the name Bob Huggins.
For Huggins, those experiences learning on his father’s knee and then playing for him have helped mold him into the coach he is today – the good experiences and the not-so-good experiences.
“The things that you didn’t like you probably made a tremendous effort to make sure that you didn’t treat your kids that way. That happens,” said Huggins.
“I played for my dad and if I said why, No. 1, I had to duck and, two, I knew what the answer was. It was because I said so,” said Huggins, only half jokingly. “I didn’t want to be like that. I wanted them to understand why I tried to have them do what it was I wanted them to do.”
The biggest testament to Huggins’ great success as a college basketball coach is the legion of devoted players that always show up on a regular basis – the guys from his days at Walsh, Akron, Cincinnati and Kansas State come around here just like his current players from WVU do. That has always been a given with Huggs.
“I think I’ve always had good communications and those guys have been incredibly loyal, and I think that’s a two-way street,” said Huggins. “If you expect players to be loyal to you then you need to be loyal to them.”
Huggins recalled the many hours he spent with forward Joe Alexander during his first season coaching at WVU before his wife sold their house in Manhattan, Kan., and moved to Morgantown.
“I don’t think I have talked to anybody as much as I talked to Joe Alexander. Thank god my wife wasn’t here because I was with him for all kind of hours to get him to understand what I wanted him to do. And not just what, but why,” Huggins said.
Of course Huggins can coach. Of course he knows the game inside and out. Of course he demands perfection, not only from himself, but also from those around him. Of course there are things to pick apart in a 49-point victory, which he proceeded to do after he was done allowing himself a brief moment of introspection.
And, of course, there is that next game, which happens to be Thursday night at Missouri.
For a guy always looking ahead, perhaps it was a little ironic that one of the coaches Huggins is now tied with on the all-time wins list also happens to be a Missouri guy. That gave him an opportunity to bring things full circle and get back on task.
“I have great respect for Coach Stewart and what he did at Missouri – just a phenomenal job and they have everything they have there to a large degree because of Norm Stewart,” he began. “Their arena is absolutely state of the art. It’s one heck of a place and they have a great following. They’ll have 14, 15, 16,000 people there I’m sure for Thursday.”
There you have it, a quick look in the rearview mirror before once again looking ahead.
After all John Chaney is up next, just 12 wins down the pike.