Column: The tumultuous tale of Bob Huggins and how we should handle his situation.

Former WVU head coach Bob Huggins.
Former WVU head coach Bob Huggins. / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

There’s a lot that can be said about former West Virginia University head coach Bob Huggins.

For certain, you can call him a Hall of Fame basketball coach. That honor was bestowed upon Huggins by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2022.

You can also acknowledge him as the third-winningest NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball coach of all-time -- with his 935 career victories, he trails only fellow legends Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim in that category. 

And while there is no statistic that defines it, you could also make the case that he’s the greatest basketball coach in West Virginia’s storied basketball history. There are quite a few who will make that argument, and I would likely be inclined to agree.

He’s also the man who used a homophobic slur to insult the fanbase of an old rival on a radio show last summer.

Then, after being punished for that action, he proceeded just one month later to be arrested for a DUI in downtown Pittsburgh while driving over twice the legal limit with a bag full of empty beer cans in the front of the car and another in the trunk. It wasn’t the first time during his public career he had faced such charges.

And you’d be remiss to not point out that he made the transition to an interim head coach tumultuous and made headlines when his lawyer sent a letter disputing Huggins’ resignation from the WVU job, weeks after it was initially announced he had agreed to step down in the wake of the aforementioned DUI.

So -- what exactly is one to make of the legendary basketball coach affectionately known as “Huggy Bear” and the duality of his career?

WVU alum and native son Ken Kendrick has one view.

Ken Kendrick
WVU donor Ken Kendrick. / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

Kendrick is the owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks of the MLB club and co-founder of WVU-focused NIL collective Country Roads Trust. He has a net worth of $1.1 billion, and was recently in the news this month for a generous donation to fund a new 8,200 square-foot indoor batting and pitching facility at newly-renamed Kendrick Family Ballpark, home of the WVU baseball program.

When Kendrick recently sat down with Hoppy Kercheval of West Virginia MetroNews for a radio interview, the topic of Huggins came up, as many fans have clamored for him to return to the helm of the WVU men’s program. Kendrick made it clear that he’s much less enchanted with Huggins than others.

“It’s the second time he lost his job because of drunkenness,” Kendrick noted. “It may not be remembered by many, but it is by me. He was let go by Cincinnati for exactly the same reason. So I think he has no place in the lives of young men who deserve quality leadership. So I would be one who would wonder about the mental capacity of any leader of any university who would consider hiring him for a coaching position.”

He also said he believes that Huggins had been given too long a leash by WVU in the first place following the initial homophobic slur incident last year.

“I think WVU, in their handling of the Bob Huggins debacle, probably were too lenient with him,” Kendrick said. “Had he worked for me, he would have not had a job after he engaged in this vituperative series of homophobic remarks back in the spring. And then was retained under very difficult circumstances and then lost his job as a result of a drunken stupor, I will call it.”

It's worth noting that Kendrick isn’t wrong in these assessments. In a ton of workplaces, especially those where an employee is seen as a public representative of a brand like a basketball coach often is, the first incident with the homophobic slur likely would have been cause for termination. Even if one harbors no homophobia of their own, using homophobic slurs such as the one Huggins spouted publicly helps spread hate and stigma and normalize behavior that should not be tolerated.

Then after receiving a second chance many would not be gifted, he proceeded to endanger the lives of those on the roads with him by driving drunk through a the heart of a city with a population of over 300,000 -- on the same night as a sold-out Taylor Swift concert took place less than a mile away from where he was detained.

These two actions combined show a distinct lack of consideration by Huggins for others, tarnish the WVU brand, and are distinctly good reasons to terminate a person from their position.

But that also doesn’t tell the full story. Because there is a lot more to Bob Huggins’ than a man that disregards those around him, and his poor behavior is a reflection of more than randomly reckless behavior.

Bob Huggins, deep down, is most likely a caring and kind man. We’re talking about the same man that vigorously raises money every year for the Norma Mae Huggins Cancer Endowment in honor of his mother who lost her battle with cancer. It's the same man who famously knelt crying with his head pressed to the forehead of an injured De’Sean Butler during the 2010 Final Four, embracing a player that was more like a son to him.

But sadly, Huggins also deals with a demon named addiction, and addiction will bring out the worst in humankind. And in a recent statement posted by Huggins online in response to Ken Kendrick’s comments, he addresses that dark elephant in the room.

“My home state of West Virginia gets kicked around a lot, but the truth is there’s a problem in this state and so many others, and a lot of people suffer from addiction,” the statement read. “If you’re struggling with addiction and recovery, do not let the shamers get to you.”

The last sentence of that statement feels pointed, because of a set of comments Kendrick made during his interview that many, myself included, feel may have taken the criticism of Huggins’ behavior from a healthy level to an unhealthy one.

“Instead of being in the hall of fame, he should be in the hall of shame, to be blunt,” Kendrick said. “Alcoholism is a disease, and he’s had that disease for a long time.”

And while Kendrick is not incorrect that alcoholism is a disease, that disease does not reflect weakness or moral failings -- it simply represents a chemical imbalance of the brain, and likely some mental health struggle to accompany it. 

And insinuating that anyone should be shamed for struggling with such a disease is reprehensible itself. We should not be afraid to reprimand or punish those who engage in poor or reckless behavior because of that disease. But we also shouldn’t make one feel like a lesser person because they face addiction.

You can endlessly criticize Huggins’ for his endangerment of fellow citizens while driving under the influence, or his seemingly bitter separation from the school that harmed both his and his alma mater’s image and the program he so loved. But the man should not be shamed for his disease, but encouraged to recover. And it does appear that Huggins himself wants to remind others of that fact.

“The only thing I’ll say is that I know my situation invites criticism, but I hope the strong opinions and judgements about me don’t make anyone else out there feel ashamed in their own struggles,” Huggins said. “I continue to learn from my mistakes. We all have our critics. Like me, you may be your own worst critic. But as we know well in West Virginia, pressure makes diamonds. Keep pressing.”