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Bob Huggins

Bob Huggins

West Virginia University Head Basketball Coach comes home

By Hoy Murphy

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It’s a long trip from Morgantown to Morgantown to Morgantown again, at least when you travel the road taken by West Virginia University’s head men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins. Like both of his parents, he was born in Morgantown, and both sets of his grandparents also lived in the area. His family lived in Philippi until he reached the age of nine, and then things changed when his father took a series of jobs coaching high school football in other states.

“When you’re nine and your mom and dad leave, you don’t have much choice,” Huggins said. “We moved around the country until I had the opportunity to come back in 1973.”

Bob HugginsThat’s when Huggins returned to Morgantown to attend West Virginia University, where he graduated magna cum laude and earned two undergraduate degrees in education and physical therapy, as well as a master’s degree in health administration. It’s perhaps better known that Huggins played on the University’s basketball team from 1975-1977, served as captain for two years, and was a two-time academic All-American. He also began his coaching career there for one year as a graduate assistant.

“When I lived in Ohio, we always came back to see my grandparents. I’ve got cousins and aunts and uncles here, and virtually everyone I’m related to is either in Morgantown or Marion County, so it was a great opportunity to come back,” Huggins says.

However, coaching opportunities outside the state soon drew him away again, this time for nearly 30 years, including successful stints as head basketball coach at the University of Cincinnati and Kansas State University. Still, he always kept one eye on his home of West Virginia with the hope of coming back. In April 2007, he got that opportunity when WVU head basketball coach John Beilein left for the University of Michigan.

“This was my dream job, but you can’t pursue it until the job’s open. (WVU Athletic Director) Eddie Pastilong called and asked if I was ready to come home and I said ‘yes.’ That’s the end of it. I’ve known Eddie since I was 18 years old, and he was in the athletic department when I played here.”

That paid off for Huggins and the WVU Mountaineers, as the team finished his first year with a 26-11 record and a spot in the NCAA Sweet Sixteen tournament. West Virginia basketball fans embraced Huggins, and he knew he was truly home to stay.

“I love the people of West Virginia, the family atmosphere that’s here. It’s amazing. I’ve traveled all over the country in my coaching career, and virtually everywhere I went, from California to Florida, there are West Virginia people who went to school, or have relatives, or they grew up here. I don’t know that there are any stronger ties anywhere. “

Huggins is an avid hunter, angler, and golfer, and enjoys traveling all around the state. “There’s no place I don’t like. I just spent some time at the Greenbrier and it doesn’t get any better than that. Glade Springs is a great place. The whole state is just breathtaking.”

Huggins encourages other expatriate Mountaineers to consider coming home.

“There are opportunities here. Everyone looks for opportunities to better themselves and their families financially. It’s a great place to raise a family. I know how hard Gov. Joe Manchin and the University are working to bring back the best and the brightest. There’s so much pride in this state, so much pride in being a West Virginian. I don’t know a whole lot of people who, given the opportunity, wouldn’t want to come back. Once you’re one of us, I think you remain one of us.”

Huggins will remain “one of us” for the foreseeable future. After leading the Mountaineers to their Sweet 16 appearance in 2007, he signed an 11-year contract extension that will keep him coaching at WVU until he reaches age 65.

“I want to stay here as long as I can do what I’m supposed to do and as long as the people will have me,” Huggins said when he returned in 2007. “Thanks for letting me come home.”

(Photos courtesy of WVU.)