Bob Huggins always liked to say that he grew up in a small Ohio town with “500 people, one stop light and nine bars.”
It was an explanation of his old-school coaching style. Port Washington was where he learned his no-nonsense values, his hardcore sensibilities, his unwavering intensity and, yes, his proclivity for winding down the day over some bourbon or beers.
This was what drove him to lead his farm town high school basketball team, coached by his father, to a 26-0 season. It’s what got him as a player all the way to West Virginia. It’s what fueled him up the coaching ladder into multiple men’s Final Fours and a Hall of Fame career.
Huggins was a throwback, perfect for Cincinnati and West Virginia where he connected with alums and fans like few others.
Huggins coached like Norman Dale from “Hoosiers” and carried himself like this was still the 1970s. Nearly every day ended in one of those dive bars back home — or whatever more fancy establishment he found as his career and bank account grew.
He was a basketball coach. He probably could have been a coal miner.
Times change though. The world changes, and for the better.
Huggins, 69 years old now, apparently can’t change and it is likely going to cost him his career.
Huggins was arrested Friday in Pittsburgh and charged with driving under the influence. Police said they discovered him outside his SUV with a flat and shredded tire. They told him to move the car out of traffic and “observed him having difficulty maneuvering the SUV.” Per the police report, Huggins was unaware he was even in Pittsburgh, had no explanation why he would be in Pittsburgh, failed repeated field sobriety tests and later registered a .210 blood alcohol level.
The only positive news here is that no one was injured. Clearly they could have been. It’s unlikely the tire just happened to get shredded on its own.
This is Huggins’ second DUI arrest. He was previously arrested in 2004 when he coached Cincinnati, with dashboard footage showing him vomiting out the driver’s side door.
Friday’s arrest follows an incident earlier this offseason when he appeared on a Cincinnati radio show and made anti-gay, anti-transgender, anti-Catholic and other comments in a completely absurd “interview.”
None of it would have been acceptable just kicking back over late-night drinks, but to do so on a 50,000-watt radio station suggested he had lost all perspective on proper decorum.
“Insensitive and abhorrent,” Huggins described his comments in a predictably admirable statement. He was correct. It was ugly.
West Virginia held off on firing Huggins and instead suspended him for three games for the upcoming season, turned his contract into a year-by-year agreement and set up sensitivity and educational training.
Huggins has many admirers and many supporters. His relentless coaching style wasn’t for every player, but for so many it helped change lives and build character. He took many of the toughest recruits in the country and never backed down while challenging them.
Across nearly four decades of coaching and over 900 career victories, rival coaches always said it wasn’t anything innovative that Huggins’ teams did to win, it’s just they did the simple, yet hard stuff — defense, rebounding, etc. — better and with more consistency.
His willingness to accept all responsibility for his actions in the radio debacle spoke to those small-town values of accountability. It was actually Huggins at his best.
There was hope he could put all of it behind him and finish out his career with some grace. He was more than capable of doing it.
Yet now this.
There is never any excuse for anyone to drive drunk. Full stop.
When you’ve already been caught once though, when you have a high-powered career and reputation on the line, when you are known professionally for thinking through potential problems yet apparently had no plan on how to get from wherever he was drinking to wherever he was going is simply mind-numbingly dumb. No Uber? No taxi? No nothing?
Huggins is undoubtedly embarrassed again by his actions. This shouldn’t be him. This can’t be him. Again, he’s lucky he didn’t injure or kill someone.
The question for Huggins, even more than for West Virginia which must be out of patience with him, is what is causing these repeated and different incidents of reckless behavior.
Bob Huggins is a very smart and very proud man. He doesn’t want to be known for this, yet something keeps sending him into these incidents.
Whether he ever coaches another college basketball game or not, he needs to decide what kind of person he wants to be.
Maybe once these things were laughed off or brushed aside, but those days are decades gone and for the better. They never should have been allowed.
There are no excuses. There are no explanations. There is just Huggins finally looking in the mirror and channeling what he learned in that little hometown he has always expressed such pride in and finally making a big change.