The other day Bob Huggins had a Homecoming event in Cincinnati.
No, he’s not going back to coaching the Bearcats, something we will get to momentarily. He was at a fundraising event for his Norma Rae Huggins Cancer Research Foundation and it proved to be a huge success, both monetarily for his signature charity that honors his mother, but also for Huggins, who got together with friends and former players for the kind of good time he’s known to provide at these kinds of events.
Now, about that coaching situation. While there, the question was broached to him about his future plans, being 67 and having reached 900 victories and on the verge of a time with his current contract with WVU that he could opt to retire from coaching and move into an emeritus position.
His answer was, as it usually is, non-ambiguous and enthusiastic.
“As long as I feel like I can do it the right way and I can contribute, I’m going to keep going,” Huggins said.
Huggins is entering his 15th year at WVU. In 2017 he received a four-year contract extension to coach through the 2021-22 season. He would then move into the emeritus status unless he works out a new deal with Shane Lyons.
In a conversation this week, Lyons admitted that talks toward retaining Huggins as a coach rather than as a public relations ambassador for the school are well underway.
“Last year, according to his contract, he had to indicate if he wanted to continue coaching or go into his emeritus status.” Lyons said. “We had that conversation. Obviously, he wanted to continue to coach, so we are in the process of working out the details to get that solidified.”
It was obvious that Huggins had fun coaching last year’s team, even though he went through the hell of COVID-19, had Oscar Tshiebwe defect to Kentucky in mid-season and had yet another disappointing post-season.
Huggins won game No. 900 in the opening game of the NCAA Tournament as the Mountaineers defeated Morehead State, and goes into this season third in career victories among active coaches behind Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim.
At WVU Huggins has 310 victories, making him one of only two coaches to win 300 or more games at two schools. He joined Roy Williams in that department last season. Williams announced his retirement at the end of last season after winning 300 games at both Kansas and North Carolina.
For the fourth year Huggins has appeared on the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame ballot but has yet to gain election.
The negative that keeps coming back to haunt Huggins is his lack of a National Championship on his resume. Twice in his career he has reached the Final Four but failed each time to reach the championship game.
He last reached the Final Four in 2010 at WVU with the team led by Da’Sean Butler, but since then has had tough times in March Madness.
That 2010 was also the last WVU team to win a conference tournament championship.
In the NCAAs, WVU has won more than one game only in 2015, 2017 and 2018 since 2010 and last reached the Elite Eight with the Final Four team of 2010.
In 2014 the Mountaineers were relegated to the NIT and lost to Georgetown in the opening game, and in 2019 they lost to Coastal Carolina in the second round of the CBI.
Huggins certainly is driven to improve upon the last decade of post-season play, but making plans on that these days is difficult.
The Mountaineers’ best player, Deuce McBride, is currently wowing scouts and front office personnel at the NBA Combine, and seems to have moved into position to be a late first-round selection, should he opt to turn professional. With that dangling out there in front of him, it makes it somewhat unlikely that he will return for his junior season at WVU.
If he leaves Huggins will have lost what could have been his two best players this season — McBride and Derek Culver — both all-Big 12 performers. At the same time, guard Sean McNeil also currently has his name in the NBA pool, although he could return to WVU if he should choose to.