MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Bob Huggins has been coaching basketball for as long as he can remember.
Before he was paid to be a head coach, he worked at basketball camps put on by his father, who is a legendary coach in his own right, in Ohio.
He later was an assistant at WVU and Ohio State before landing his first head coaching opportunity in 1980 at Walsh College. More than 40 years later, Huggins is still coaching.
“This is what I’ve done pretty much my whole life,” said the head coach on Wednesday.
Huggins will receive basketball’s highest honor on Saturday, when he is officially enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
The Bear is the proud owner of 916 victories as a head coach in the college ranks. That is the fourth-most wins all-time in NCAA Division I men’s basketball history. He surpassed Roy Williams on that list during the 2021-22 season. Huggins and Williams are the only coaches in NCAA men’s hoops history to win 300 games at two different schools.
“I’ve been blessed, man,” Huggins said. “I’ve been blessed to be places, and be around people who had a great grasp on our business.”
Huggins, 68, could be considered a basketball lifer. The Morgantown native played at WVU in the 70s, coached Cincinnati to national prominence in the 90s, and took over at his alma mater in 2007 after one season at Kansas State.
Along the way, he had offers to make the same move that many college coaches make – advance to the NBA. For Huggins, despite the increased salary and the other benefits that would have been afforded to him in the Association, he remained in the college ranks.
“The opportunity to stay here and coach at this level was very enticing,” said Huggins.
Two things kept him there, and ultimately led him back to West Virginia: relationships and the impact he can have on his student-athletes.
“I really thought I could make a much greater impact at the college level than I could in the NBA. I did, I had great opportunities,” said Huggins. “But it’s not the same. It’s not. I can walk out of practice and feel like we got something done today, and they got better today. I’m not sure that happens a whole lot in the NBA, and the schedule has a lot to do with that. … The opportunity to work with guys and spend time with guys, and just be part of their maturity is really kind of fun and exciting.”
Huggins spoke of the time he rubbed elbows with fellow Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2022 inductee George Carl when Carl was the head coach of the Seattle Supersonics in the 1990s. Carl brought his Seattle team to work out at Cincinnati and Huggins picked his brain.
By that point, Huggins was an established head coach. More than a decade earlier at Walsh, however, when he was getting started in the coaching business, he wasn’t rubbing elbows with future Hall of Famers. Instead, Huggins was getting pats on the head from opposing, more experienced coaches, as a way of saying “Your day’s going to come here real soon.”
That was motivation for The Bear.
“I couldn’t wait to go beat those people that are patting me on the head,” Huggins said.
He admits that, as the head coach at Walsh, he didn’t feel like he was part of the coaching fraternity. Now, he’s one of the lead members of the coaching fraternity.
Asked specifically if those pats on the head, and the motivation they brought him, kept him as a college coach any longer, Huggins said no.
“I think it was more about relationships than it was about anything,” Huggins said. “I realized how much I really enjoyed working with guys, and trying to help them get better, and have them be able to see the game in the light that you really ought to see it as.”
Turning a program around, the way he did at Walsh, and coaching players that want to be coached, like he has every step of the way, keeps him as a college coach. It’s what has kept him coaching college ball for more than four decades.
Those four-plus decades, the relationships, and the impact he’s had on his players have culminated in a trip to Springfield, Massachusetts, where he will join basketball’s most elite fraternity: Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer.