June 12, 2004
The college basketball coaching fraternity has been rocked by a couple of events in the state of Ohio in the span of a few days. First came the firing of Ohio State basketball coach Jim O'Brien, who was looked at as Mr. Integrity for 28 years before, bang, he admits to giving $6,000 to a prospective student-athlete.
Then came the arrest of Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins on drunken-driving charges in suburban Fairfax. That was a definite no-no, which led to Cincinnati's decision to suspend him indefinitely.
Wow, these are stunning developments. In the case of Huggins, let's hope this can become a situation where a negative is turned into a positive. Obviously he has a dilemma he must deal with, and his first priority should be to clean up this situation.
Huggins is a fierce competitor. Now he has to discipline himself.
He can't just worry about X's and O's, recruits or winning basketball games right now. Simply, he should think about himself and take care of this problem. The indefinite suspension was clearly in order, and athletic director Bob Goin did a good job handling this matter, saying he would decide the right time for Huggins to return when the coach is ready to handle his responsibilities properly.
Certainly the critics of Huggins will be out in full force. There have been problems with the Cincinnati program in the past, and the coach has faced his own personal adversity in the past two years with his heart attack and the death of his mother.
On the court, Huggins has compiled a 374-119 record in 15 seasons as head coach at Cincinnati. He has directed the Bearcats to 10 conference regular-season titles and eight league tournament crowns.
He has piloted Cincinnati to 13 straight NCAA Tournaments. His 1992 team reached the NCAA Final Four, and two other squads advanced to the Elite Eight. This past season, Huggins' squad went 25-7, won the Conference USA regular-season and tournament championships, and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tourney. As impressive as those numbers are, they don't seem as important right now.
Huggins has to get the necessary help to get his situation straightened out. Others have needed time to straighten out negative situations before, and Huggins is a fierce competitor. Now he has to discipline himself. He has to learn big-time from this scenario.
I agree with a column Paul Daugherty wrote in the Cincinnati Enquirer; Daugherty said he hopes this ends up working for Huggins in the long haul. Daugherty said this may have been a blessing in disguise.
I really hope Huggins can get his life in order and then return to the basketball court. The only priority at this point is correcting an error in judgment. He should only come back when things have been worked out and he is comfortable with the situation, and the school administration feels the same way.
Dick Vitale coached the Detroit Pistons and the University of Detroit in the 1970s before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979 (he has been an ESPN analyst ever since). Send a question for Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.