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Cincy soap opera leaves Huggins out in cold

SPECIAL TO ESPN.COM

Aug. 23, 2005
Wow, what a crazy scenario at the University of Cincinnati. Bob Huggins is out as head coach after 16 seasons, including 14 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament.

This is a shocking report, considering that there was a news conference in May saying he would finish the final two years of his contract at Cincinnati. The bottom line is that school president Nancy Zimpher was not happy with the perception of the program ever since she arrived at the school in 2003.

Bob Huggins
Bob Huggins was seeking a contract extension. Instead, he's out.
Zimpher would not extend Huggins' contract through a roll-over clause that would have given the coach a four-year arrangement; instead, she limited him to two years left on his contract.

Huggins was unhappy with that situation, and he was trying to get the president to agree to an extension. Huggins also inquired about a three-year extension, which Zimpher decided against.

I honestly believe Zimpher felt that if Huggins coached the next two seasons and had success in the Big East, there would have been tremendous pressure to extend his contract.

The talk shows will be heating up big-time in Cincinnati, you can bet on that.

Now Huggins reportedly has a $3 million offer to walk away, or he can take a $2.7 million deal to work in an administrative role, one that would include benefits, in fundraising for the school.

This whole Huggins controversy has led to turmoil in Cincinnati, especially on the radio talk shows. Huggins is a popular figure with a great résumé -- a .740 win percentage with the Bearcats (399-127), a Final Four appearance in 1992, three trips to the Elite Eight, and five players picked in the first round of the NBA draft.

Huggins has support from the fans. The coach is all about work ethic and discipline, yet he had problems with players struggling off the court, plus his own DUI incident last year. He sat out two months to straighten out his life, and he appeared back on the right track last season.

Recent problems with Bearcats player Roy Bright (admitted to bringing a firearm on campus) and recruit Tyree Evans (accused of statutory rape in Massachusetts) did not help the program's image.

Huggins saw his Bearcats turn the corner academically, as 11 players graduated over the past four seasons.

Also realize that Huggins was loyal to Cincinnati, turning down NBA coaching jobs as well as passing on other Division I openings.

With Cincinnati entering the Big East in two months, the timing is absolutely a disaster.
The Cincinnati program will move on after this stunning development. There are six newcomers scheduled to play this season, including Devan Downey, a guard who was Mr. Basketball in South Carolina last year, and talented swingman DeAndre Coleman.

With Cincinnati entering the Big East in two months, the timing is absolutely a disaster. The Bearcats have a talented returning nucleus with Eric Hicks, James White, Jihad Muhammad and Armein Kirkland back.

Look for athletics director Bob Goin, originally scheduled to retire in 2006, to move that date up. The Bearcats will look for a new athletics director to hire a full-time coach. For the moment, associate head coach Andy Kennedy, a former player at NC State and UAB, is the likely interim head coach.

Huggins has made some mistakes, and we all do. I think that's why he is loved in Cincinnati -- because he represents the blue-collar guy, fighting and scrapping to get ahead. There are bumps in the road, and he hurt nobody but himself with the DUI (thank God nobody was injured). He was remorseful over that situation.

Now it will be interesting to see the reaction around Cincinnati basketball as it heads into the Big East. It could be a tumultuous season ahead.

Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question to Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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