West Virginia University developed a reputation in the past as being a party school full of kids that do not know how to respond when their athletic teams experience success. This reputation continued to follow them last season, with a win over Baylor being the primary example in conversations.
“It’s only a party school” seems to be the ongoing argument compared to other fan bases. That would appear to hurt the school’s chances at top recruits, but two head coaches are trying to change that perception and it seems to be working.
WVU football coach Dana Holgorsen and basketball coach Bob Huggins have seen their respective programs struggle since the school’s move to the Big 12 conference and have been forced to make changes in their recruiting process due to the different style of play.
While it would seem that those changes would hurt recruiting along with the reputation that WVU has to the outside world, the two coaches have developed a new persona and are enjoying some of the best classes that the university has seen in a long time.
When recruits are asked what stood out to them during visits to the campus, they continually point out the family atmosphere they felt during the visit. They acknowledge the current players as brothers instead of teammates which shows the bond these two coaches are building with their players but it doesn’t stop there.
Bob Huggins can be seen at every Mountaineer home football game and Holgorsen supports the basketball team every chance he gets. Both of these men also spend time with their players, explaining what they mean to the people of West Virginia and what it means to be a Mountaineer.
“Everyone just made me feel like a part of the family.” said current 2016 commit Jacob Long when asked about his first visit to the WVU campus. “It means a lot to me that coach Huggins wants me to be part of his family” said another recruit after visiting WVU and walking away with an offer. “Each time that I have visited I feel like I am at home” was the response 2016 commit Steven Smothers gave about the atmosphere at WVU.
Neither coach wants the players to lose that feeling once they step foot on campus. Both coaches have been involved in team events this off season trying to continue that family atmosphere. Coach Holgorsen took the players and staff on a paintball excursion to allow the incoming players a chance to get to know their new teammates.
Huggins’ players have participated in local basketball camps at the United Way and will visit local hospitals to spend time with sick children. He also hosted a charity softball game this off season to raise money for the Norma Mae Huggins fund at WVU.
The basketball players were also part of Make-A-Wish last season to Nicholas Wince who spent the day on campus meeting his favorite player Devin Williams and the rest of the team. Huggins will also host his team and staff to events at his house throughout the year to show them that they are a part of his family.
We all remember Huggins touching response during the 2010 Final Four loss to Duke when Da’Sean Butler went down with an injury. Although Huggins’ love for his players is not as well known outside of Morgantown as it should be, many former players have stated how much Huggins mentored them during their time at WVU.
It doesn’t stop at simply making these athletes feel like family or teaching them about what is important in their lives. West Virginia had one of the top graduation rates for student athletes not only in the Big 12, but in the entire NCAA . Both coaching staffs have developed strict guidelines for their players when it comes to academics.
While the rest of the NCAA as well as other fan bases have pinned West Virginia University as a ‘party school full of crazy fans’, coaches Holgorsen and Huggins are changing that perspective each day. Their selfless acts of generosity may not be well known outside of Mountaineer Nation, but they are clearly standing out to prospective recruits and their families.
photo courtesy USA Today Sports