MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–West Virginia University head coach Bob Huggins earned his 800th win on Saturday afternoon. It was a milestone reached by only nine other men but it was one that almost didn’t happen.
Back in September of 2002, Huggins suffered a near fatal heart attack on a sidewalk at the Pittsburgh Airport while on a recruiting trip. It was a day when the fiery then-Cincinnati coach saw his life flash before his eyes.
“I remember waking up and asking what’s the ETA and he’s patting me on the leg telling me I’m going to be alright,” he said. “And I’m like ‘hey man listen. I’m not a lady. I know what my body is telling me. I’m not going to make it much longer’. And he said what’s the ETA and I think they said 22 minutes. I said I ain’t making it 22 minutes and he said ‘Abort! Abort! Abort!’ and they took me to another hospital because they wanted to take me downtown.”
But by some chance, Huggins was given a second opportunity at life.
“I firmly believe this,” he said. “God has a plan for all of us and I think when God says it’s your time, it’s your time and you really don’t get a vote and you can’t change his decision one way or another. Obviously he had other things for me to do. I really believe that. It was nothing but God’s will. I should be dead. I was dead.”
That plan just may have been to win 800 games at his alma mater in his hometown in front of fans that adore the big ole lug. Or maybe it was to shape the lives of the young men that Huggins has coached. The plan may still be yet to be written with the Mountaineers’ aspirations of winning a National Championship.
One thing is for certain Huggins’ 800th win was one that will be etched in everyone’s memory forever.
As Huggins sat on a stool on the court with tears streaming down his cheeks while former players, family, friends and members of the WVU coaching staff congratulated the legend, it was apparent what he meant to everyone whose lives he touched.
“Just to show you how big of a moment this was, for him to get that 800th win is big,” sophomore forward Esa Ahmad said. “There’s only three coaches in Division I that’s active right now so that’s really huge.”
And the vision of Huggins crying is a rarity.
“I knew he was going to cry,” senior guard Teyvon Myers laughed. “That’s like me saying we’re going to go to the National Championship, we’re going to win and I ain’t going to cry. I am just going to be happy. Come on man you got to cry. I’m like come Huggs just let it out baby. We’re all here for you man.”
While Huggins has a rap for being tough or is often misunderstood because of the media portrayal, he possesses a true love for the game and his players.
“I’m honest with them,” he said. “I think everyone appreciates honesty. When they suck I tell them they suck. When they’re good I tell them they are good. When they are working I tell them how much I appreciate their hard work. When they’re not working I tell them it’s going to catch you. The game has a way of jumping up and biting you when you disrespect it. Honestly I think when it’s all said and done and I just spent time downstairs there with these four or five guys from Cincinnati. It’s the same thing it’s appreciation for being honest and a standup guy. You treat those guys like your family because they are and if they’re not then you’re not bought in.”
This is the man these student-athletes chose to play for. They know what it is before embarking on the journey.
“To me this is the guy I wanted to play for,” Myers said. “It’s the guy I will fit to play for. Because he’s not going to get somebody, he’s number one in the country. I’m going to go recruit him. He just builds his players and other than building players, he builds grown men. Playing for Huggs you face a lot of adversity. It’s just how you stick to it.”
Tough love makes his athletes better ball players but more importantly better human beings.
“That’s what it’s about, the relationships you develop and watching those guys grow into responsible adults and make a difference,” Huggins said. “The wins, that’s what I am supposed to do.”
If 800 wins and a 26 minute long video from former players like Da’Sean Butler, Gary Browne, Joe Mazulla, Juwan Staten and many more Mountaineer and Bearcat players isn’t enough to show just how much Huggins is appreciated and loved, then you need a reality check.
Huggins is more than the hard-nosed coach. He is a father figure, a mentor, a role model and a friend.
Now he joins an elite group.
Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight, Jim Boeheim, Dean Smith, Adolph Rupp, Jim Calhoun, Jim Phelan, Eddie Sutton and Rollie Massimino are the nine other coaches that have accomplished the feat of winning 800 games. Coach K and Boeheim are the only other two coaches still actively coaching.
“Those are big names,” Huggins said. “Those are guys when I first sat in the lobby at the Final Four I’d just watch them. I’d watch how they interacted with people and just sit there thinking one day I want to be like them. One day I want to be one of them.”
Much like each of those coaching legends Huggins changed the basketball culture at WVU and Cincinnati.
“I know I speak for Mountaineer Nation when I say I am glad Bob Huggins is our basketball coach,” Athletic Director Shane Lyons said.
The future hall of fame coach has just one accolade missing on his remarkable 35 year coaching resume, a National Championship.
And maybe, just maybe, this group of Mountaineers can give Huggins the one thing that eludes a marvelous career.
Cover Photo Credit: Kelsie LeRose, BGS