Michigan Basketball: West Virginia vs. Michigan — Bob Huggins
Huggy Bear-In His Element: A Semi-salute to a Common Guy- Ralph Kramden in the Huddle
The story of Bob Huggins can be said to be an American tale. His story is replete with some common virtues, flaws, misfortune, self-inflicted wounds, and a few controversies. In other words, Huggy has the elements that in this day and age create a good American story. He is the brute that many love. He shows real human emotion in lighting a kid up and then hugging him (later). He seems perplexed and a little like Ralph Kramden; at times in total cognitive conflict and resorting to “Do you want to go to the moon Alice tactics, but being for the most part harmless. Excepting his not laughable intoxication episode while at Cincinnati.
Perhaps because of his honesty, that he shows his clear emotions, that he has no hidden agendas, the common guy population, for the most part, considers Huggy to be among their fraternity, dodging the obstacles of life with passion and a little cursing.
The first time the author saw Bob Huggins, he was a player on a legendary team in Ohio, Gnadenhutten Indian Valley South. Huggy’s father, Charlie Huggins, one of the most successful and famous coaches in Ohio high school history, coached Indian Valley South. That team lost once in a green moon. Huggy was the star guard and helped secure his dad many, many victories.
Coach Huggins started his college career at Ohio University but transferred early to his hometown West Virginia Mountaineers. He was a successful collegiate guard averaging well into double figures in his career.
Huggy was born to coach, between dad Charlie’s genetics and his vast experience at an early age, it was a foregone ordination he would enter coaching early. He followed what was then the normal procedure: get a grad assistantship, get an assistant position, then get a head coaching position at a small school and keep working upward.
The author saw Coach Huggins up close and personal coach several games while he was at Walsh University (the author was a coach in that league in another sport at another school). There were about 300 in the stands, 150 more than normal. Even then the name of Bob Huggins was known to many and drew crowds. His 1982-83 team was pretty spectacular finishing 30-0 in the regular season.
Coach Huggy lit some fires at Walsh; including his players, the officials, and if someone ran their mouth in the stands, they got a piece of the Huggy action as well. Referees soon learned to draw the rotation on the far side of the court and do all they could to not be flipped directly in front of the bear. Coach was driven and little has changed.
The game to Coach Huggy is about competing, playing as hard as possible, playing crushing defense, and just being tough. The tough image of his teams over the years is no coincidence.Coach Huggins next went to Akron, a university that was just starting to build an athletic program, in fact, if memory serves correctly, Akron was not year Division 1 team until 1980, but soon Coach Higgins took the Zips to new heights, securing an NCAA bid.
The author remembers sitting in the first row of St. John Arena watching Huggy’s Akron team outplay a much more talented Ohio State team in the NIT tournament. The officials at the end hosed the Zips and Ohio State advanced, as the business-oriented NIT wished. The game ended up 11 points, but it really was a two or three point game either way. Huggy had steam coming out of every orifice visible; he knew what had happened.
After his five years at Akron, Coach Huggy took a position he will be forever linked to: the Head Coach at Cincinnati.
In the early 1960’s, the Cincinnati Bearcats of the Missouri Valley Conference took out one of the greatest teams in NCAA basketball history, the Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek led Ohio State Buckeyes, two years in a row. The formula was merciless defense and big physical players. Coach Jucker was ahead of his time.
Mentioning Cincinnati in a sentence that also contained the word basketball was unofficially banned from the Cowtown lexicon. And the idea of playing Cincinnati, a mere 110 miles away, was heresy.
Enter the Huggy Bear, when Cincinnati basketball was in a state of severe decline. The program obtained an almost instantaneous rebound and the status as a national top 25 power that lasted pretty much through his tenure.
Things were always a little on the head scratching side for the Cincinnati program: low grades, questionable admissions, a willingness to flush political correctness down the toilet, an occasional outburst on national TV, and some tense moments with all his good friends at Xavier in the crosstown shootout. Xavier was almost the antithesis of Cincinnati: private, well to do, high academic reputation, and a basketball team that won with brainpower versus brawn.
Enter Nancy Zimpher, the Queen of Hearts and darling of the elitist and politically correct academic crowd. Known around Ohio State as Aunt Nancy, she is a most interesting case study of ivory tower power. Coming out of Southern Ohio, she bragged about coming to Ohio State to marry a football player; that did not happen. She is considered by many adoring academics as the model that beat the good old boy system, although the truth is she stiffed people worse than the good old boy system. Academics either despised or worshipped her. And she knew both crowds. As she rose in power, those who did not worship her and instantly adapt her philosophies of what academia should be like were eliminated.
Several Deans bit the bullet quickly at UC. But with a chance to get rid of Bob Huggins, as a result of the intoxication charge, who was the type of common guy she had no use for, Aunt Nancy balked but much later brought the charge out of the woodwork citing poor scholarship out of the players. She threatened to take a lot of money away from Huggy if he did not fall on the sword, and he threw in the towel and left town. Aunt Nancy was very aware of the Ohio State method she grew up with: just buy what you need to get, or eliminate. So, Huggy left town, but the flak that followed never truly receded and Aunt Nancy, a person who always got what she wanted, left town.
Aunt Nancy is now the head of the famous SUNY university system, the biggest public university venture in the nation. Her message remains academic excellence and big time research dollars for the monster system. Aunt Nancy took apart the Binghamton athletic program a year or so ago on charges of poor academics.Huggy, after a short stint at Kansas State, received a chance to go back to his alma mater, West Virginia, and all parties are currently happy.
It has been stated that Huggy went into hyperspace the first year back at West Virginia due to the softness of the Beilein players and the inability to play defense and rebound, a necessity to play for Huggins. After a couple of years things evened out at Michigan and West Virginia.
And so, we are led to Saturday’s game in beautiful Brooklyn, a place some consider part of the United States and others are not as sure. Huggy will be ready, he will feel challenged to take out Coach Beilein, but he has been a coach in nearly a thousand games, winning over 700. And so, while Huggy will be motivated, things should not be THAT wild. Both of these coaches will use this game as a measuring stick for the future. Michigan needs to prove that the Maize and Blue will not fall apart when faced with severe pressure and physical play. West Virginia needs to show that the team has righted the ship since the Gonzaga debacle.
Much will depend on how the game is called. No doubt Huggy would like street rules to apply and Coach Beilein would prefer strict rules of play. We will see, but Michigan better be ready for more than forty minutes of hell, the Wolverines better adjust and adapt to what unfolds. Charmin soft will not work Saturday.
It would be interesting to know the exact nature of how and why this game was scheduled. Both coaches probably thought it would be a treat to see how things turned out in a match-up of near opposites. West Virginia is led by a tough guy who could give a crap about what he says and what others think of his statements, like Bob Knight. A measured and calm professor, who, like Bob Knight, loves to show that the system can make the difference, leads Michigan.
What might make the game really interesting is that the game is in Brooklyn, and Brooklyn is in New York. Aunt Nancy Zimpher is the academic queen of New York. Is it possible she would be in the crowd to observe her old friend Bob Huggins? That would be something.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff
Go Blue — Wear Maize!