Bob Huggins: The ‘Realest’ Coach in College Basketball


I haven’t been in involved in sports journalism for that long. I’m only graduating college in May, but one thing I’ll take away from my time covering West Virginia University athletics is that head basketball coach Bob Huggins may be the most honest, direct and “real” coach any sport has to offer.

Every time he speaks he’s either good for a one-liner, telling an old war story, truthfully speaking about someone, including his own players or all of the above.

Huggins has been coaching for 30 plus year and has racked up a Hall of Fame worthy resume. In fact he was voted Big 12 coach of the year. His experience has allowed him to become what he is today.

When most people think of Huggins, they think of the lively character on the sidelines, yelling, screaming, swearing and arguing with the referee every other possession.

And not every player can get behind a coach who yells and shouts. Some can’t handle it. The fear of messing up and having to answer to a boiling hot-head coach like Huggins is intimidating. For Juwan Staten, West Virginia’s standout point guard, it took some getting used to, but he’s adapted to Huggins’ boisterous ways.

“Personally I like it,” Staten said. “It’s something that I had to get used to, because when I first got here, it was kind of throwing me off. I never been around a coach so animated. But as I’ve gotten to know him and as I’ve played for him, it kind of gets me going more.”

“When I first got here I wasn’t a player that was really animated. But if you watch me play, I’m always excited. I’m kind of turned into a replica of my coach. So it’s something that’s grown on me. And I appreciate it.”

For someone who is so rowdy on the sidelines — he speaks so softly during interviews and press conferences. But, while his tone is subtle, his statements are loud.

He’s a straight-shooter. Almost to the point where it’s kind of scary to ask him a question as a young, aspiring journalist the fear of asking a stupid one or being reamed a new one.

To put into perspective just how straight Huggins shoots, after his team’s win against Buffalo in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, one members of the press asked if he paid attention to all the hype surround the possible No. 12 seed upset of a No. 5 seed (Buffalo was a 12 seed).

Huggins responded the only way Huggins knows how.

“I’m really going to have lost my mind when I start paying attention to what Jay Bilas and those people say,” said Huggins. “Jay always does those tweets, gotta go to work, I’m trying to wonder what that is. But I don’t pay any attention to those guys.”

“I mean really, honestly, if they knew everything they probably would have a pretty good coaching job making a lot more money than they’re making sitting there in the studio. So we don’t pay any attention to that.”

Those are the kind of answers you always get with Huggins and it’s not a bad thing. It’s not even close to a bad thing. He’ll probably take heat for that because other members of the media will stir the pot with that kind of comment, but I’ll be damned if that isn’t an honest to God response.

Huggins, to some, like me, is hysterical. His “I don’t care” attitude is refreshing in a day and age where coaches sugar coat a whole lot of nonsense or talk circles around whatever it may be.

Another thing that fascinates me is how people raise a brow over the fact that Huggins wears a West Virginia pullover rather than a suit and tie when he coaches.

I don’t know what it is, but people seriously love to comment on the fashion of West Virginia coaches. Even football coach Dana Holgorsen takes flack for wearing black rather than gold and blue on the sidelines.

But, the pullover has become synonymous with Huggins and his explanation for wearing it is priceless.

Oct 15, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; West Virginia coach Bob Huggins answers questions from media during the Big 12 Media Day at Sprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

“Well, why (do I wear it?), because I’m not a banker,” said Huggins. “I used to dress really nice, by the way. If you all dig up some old pictures, pretty good-looking guy.”

Huggins said that the pullover originated when he was coaching at Cincinnati. At the half of one game in particular he went into the locker room and was sweating profusely. His suit was drench, so he changed into a pullover.

“I think that’s what coaches should wear,” he added. “I got the green light now. So I started wearing a pullover and that worked out pretty well until I got a new president. And then I found out my athletic director told the president he told me I should wear a suit.

“I did wear a suit for a little while this year, just because I don’t like people to think they have me figured out. But that’s the only reason. But I didn’t wear a tie. But I wore a bow tie to the Big 12 press conference. If you come to the Big 12 press conference you never know what’s going to happen out there.”

“That’s up to him. I like it,” said Staten in regard to Huggins’ pullover. “Why follow the same tradition as everybody else? Create your own. I like it. Especially the way he coaches. He’s going to do a lot of sweating. Why mess up a good suit?”

Are you convinced yet that Huggins is the too legit?

If I haven’t reeled you in just yet, how about another side of Huggins. Believe it or not, he has a soft side. I mean if the thought of the animated coach on the sidelines doesn’t come to mind, maybe the image of Huggins caressing the head of De’Sean Butler in the 2010 Final Four comes to mind.

To some this moment was awkward and uncomfortable and a bit creepy. But, the reality of this moment is that some players have come through West Virginia and have made a lasting impression on the program, the university and Huggins.

De’Sean Butler was a catalyst in that historic run for WVU in 2010 and he’s a player Huggins has held close to his heart for seasons after. Countless times I’ve been sitting in the press conference or at interviews and question leads to a story about Butler or another well-known West Virginia player.

Huggins cares about his players. He cares about the state of West Virginia and he cares about West Virginia basketball’s success.

I have little doubt that players like Staten and Gary Browne will fall into that category as well.

Huggins is in the point of his career where he says what he wants, but that’s all neither here nor there. No matter what comes out of his mouth, it’s the results that are produced on the court that matter.

Huggins is producing this season and he’ll continue to do so as long as he coaches. West Virginia is lucky to have a coach and person like Huggins.