Stability On Coaching Staff Key Component of WVU Hoops Success
MORGANTOWN — Bob Huggins has long sung the praises of Morgantown, his birth place, and West Virginia University, his alma mater, and is on record saying this will be the final stop on a career that seems headed toward the Hall of Fame.
Earlier this year, Huggins talked about how his team reflected all that the state stands for and it became something of mantra of theirs.
“We’re a microcosm of our state,” Huggins said following a tough win. “We’re just hard-working, grind-it-out, tough-it-out, be tougher than everybody else and be successful because we are tougher than everybody else. We’re equipped to endure more than everyone else. It’s West Virginia…. Everybody else plays for their school, their old alma mater. We play for an entire state.”
But on Friday he gave some insight into ways Morgantown, the school and state have helped his program that go unnoticed, beginning with his assistant coaches and going clear up through the president of the University, E. Gordon Gee.
“I’m blessed,” Huggins noted. “Until this year I had three former head coaches as assistants (Larry Harrison, Ron Everhart and Billy Hahn, who retired this year), I don’t think anyone else can say that. I have two now.”
So overwhelming is Huggins persona, that often the assists go unnoticed, but not by Huggins.
“Larry understands what I want because he’s been with me so long. Erik understands because he played for me,” Huggins said.
Harrison, who played at Pitt (“He’s really not a Pitt guy. He’s a West Virginia guy. He just happened to make a bad choice,” Huggins joked) , assisted Huggins from 1989 to 1997 at Cincinnati and was a head coach at Hartford before coming to WVU with Huggins in 2007.
Ron Everhart, a Fairmont native, was head coach at Duquesne, Northeastern and McNeese State, owning a 273-261 career record, joined Huggins in 2012 and has stayed.
Martin started his playing career at TCU but joined Huggins at Cincinnati in 1991 to 1993, playing on teams that went 56-10 and reached the Final Four. He wound up playing professionally for nine years before getting into coaching and rejoined Huggins when he took over at Kansas State in 2006, following him to WVU.
The job Martin, who coaches the big men, has done this year with Sagaba Konate has been nearly spectacular but there has also been much progress made by his backups Logan Routt and Majiec Bender, who are capable now of giving quality minutes while he rests.
“Erik is good,” Huggins said. “The best thing about Erik is he’s not afraid to ask. If he’s not sure about something, he’ll ask. A lot of people would bluff their way through because they have a pride issue.”
But here’s the real deal … stability. While the football team has had dramatic coaching turnover on Dana Holgorsen’s staff since he got here, Huggins has kept his staff intact and he believes that West Virginia — the school and the state — has had much to do with it.
“What I try to explain to people all the time is this is special place,” Huggins said. Larry Harrison had all kinds of other job offers. He choose to stay here. Erik is going to have other opportunities, but they like it here. They like the people. They like the atmosphere. That’s kind of true to a lot of people.
“Professors come here with the idea they will be here for a little while and they never leave. It’s a place you can truly call home.”
And E. Gordon Gee?
Gee is completing four years on his second tour as West Virginia president, a job he seems to relish and a job in which he has been administrator, educator and maybe as important public relations man.
“He’s been great,” said Huggins, offering a surprising look into another side of the man. “We ask him to see recruits, he does. If he’s not out of town, he’s at all the games. He’s had us over to dinner a couple of times. He’s a very down to earth guy.”
Known for his bow ties, Gee is a people person. He may have posed for more pictures than Giselle Bundchen, the fashion model, Gee has never met a camera he didn’t like.
“Someone who has done what he’s done and accomplished in his life you would think would be more aloof. He’s just a down to earth guy. He’s funny,” Huggins said. “He’s great with recruits. They go in there and some guy with horned rim glasses on that wants to talk about theorems, but he can relate to the recruits. He’s genuinely interested.”
The result has been a proud, stable program that has been ranked in the Coaches/USA Today Top 25 poll the last 69 weeks and in the AP poll for 66 of the last 69 weeks.