His comeback story is six years in the making and it begins with the grainy video shot from a police cruiser.
In 2004 Bob Huggins was returning from a visit with a recruit when police stopped him on suspicion of drunken driving. According to police, during a field sobriety test Huggins slurred his words and there was vomit on the driver's side door. Huggins was arrested. He later pled no contest to DUI.
|Joe Mazzulla and the Mountaineers adore their coach. (Getty Images)|
That video and arrest were almost the end of Huggins. He was soon gone from Cincinnati as a forced buyout sent him packing with $3 million. For a period Huggins was radioactive as that embarrassing video remained freshly embedded in the cerebrums of athletic directors.
Kansas State later hired Huggins and when his alma mater West Virginia called after just one season, he couldn't resist. Now, years after that arrest, when it seemed Huggins was a destined for juco, here he is, in the Final Four again.
"He won't say it but I think he feels a sense of redemption," said West Virginia guard John Flowers. "No one thought we'd be here and no one thought he'd be here."
What to make of Huggins: Is he a jerk who doesn't graduate his players and is still scarred by that horrid DUI arrest? Or is he a lovable rogue quietly becoming one of the historic leaders in the sport and, in the process, showing what can happen when sincerity and a chance at redemption meet?
Elements of both might be true but unlike other rogue coaches -- and there are quite a few -- there's something about Huggins that makes him extremely likeable. He's wealthy but wears tacky sweatshirts during games while other coaches sport Armani. He's smart but speaks in staccato sentences and one-word answers. He's gruff and foulmouthed but unapologetic and sincere.
He screams at his players like they hacked his e-mail account but there isn't a coach in the Final Four more adored by his players than Huggins is by the Mountaineers. Huggins makes them run on a treadmill at 15 mph for 44 seconds if they err in practice and still they worship him.
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Unlike other frequent committers of skullduggery and malfeasance, Huggins doesn't make excuses for his flaws. He doesn't hide behind fan bases, message boards or PR people.
He doesn't care what you think and maybe that's it. Maybe that's why so many of us in the media and elsewhere like him despite Grand Canyon-sized faults. Huggins is one of the few rogues comfortable with his rogue-licious-ness.
Huggins is far from perfect. The program he ran at Cincinnati was riddled with bad guys and Huggins was a massive enabler. One of the prototypical punks from that period was a player who was accused of taping his roommate to a lawn chair and burning him with a hot coat hanger and cigarette. The player spent 29 days behind bars for that offense.
Yet Huggins seems to have learned from that time. His temper is still trip-wired but it's not heated superluminal the way it once was. At his first college coaching job in Ohio he got 17 technical fouls in a season.
There also haven't been the arrest outbursts at West Virginia like there were at Cincinnati and it has been years since that DUI ugliness and no trace (so far) of any additional public issues with alcohol.
Huggins said recently he doesn't look back. He said something about not needing a rearview mirror. That may be true. Maybe not a rearview one. Maybe just a mirror, period, is what he needed. My guess is Huggins looked into one after that arrest. He probably didn't like what he saw.
Now, he should, and if you don't, Huggins doesn't care.
I like that.