NCAA Tournament: Elder Huggins hard influence

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NEW PHILADELPHIA, Ohio -- Bob Huggins doesn't dwell on the past.

Instead, the West Virginia coach usually spins a yarn that many who cover the team have heard what seems like a million times.

"I grew up in Midvale [Ohio], 500 people, one stop light, nine bars," he said of the town his family moved to from Morgantown, W.Va., when he was 9. "I got in a truck with this guy one time and looked and he didn't have a rear-view mirror. I said, 'You don't have a rear-view mirror.'

"He said, 'I don't back up. We're going forward, son.' And that's kind of how I've lived my life."

But it would be impossible to comprehend all that makes Huggins successful without looking into one person who has been there through his entire past -- his father, Charlie Huggins.

What did the younger Huggins, the oldest of seven children, learn from his father? "Virtually everything."

And that goes for the lessons in basketball, too.

See, Charlie Huggins, who proudly exclaimed that he is "76-and-three-quarter-years-old" as he sat on the couch of his New Philadelphia, Ohio, home Wednesday, might just have been a better basketball coach than his son, who has guided West Virginia into college basketball's Final Four.

Charlie Huggins coached high school ball for 27 years in eastern Ohio before retiring in 1983. He won two state titles -- one with son Bob leading the way in 1972, when their Indian Valley South squad won every game by at least 15 points.

Charlie Huggins' defense-minded teams ripped through a 51-game winning streak at one point, playing a strangulating trap and a mix of man-to-man and zone.

"There are a lot of similarities with our coaching styles," the elder Huggins said, pausing to think for a moment before continuing. "Except I never cussed. I don't believe in that."

While Charlie Huggins is a deeply religious man who never believed in ripping into a player or official with a foul mouth, he steadfastly demanded hard work.

Van Henry, who was a teammate of Bob Huggins' on that '72 squad, remembers the three-hour practices.

He remembers the yelling.

He remembers the earsplitting commands.

He remembers how Charlie Huggins had total control -- and no one dared challenge it.

"His intensity and not accepting anything less than full effort is what I remember most, and also how hard he was on Bobby," Henry, a retired schoolteacher, said of Charlie Huggins. "I don't want to exaggerate, but there wasn't a week that went by where someone wasn't ready to quit. When it was your turn for him to get after you, he got after you, and it wasn't easy, but it made you better."

Bob Huggins has spoken about how that guidance propelled him through a career as a player and 28 seasons as a head coach with 670 wins.

How it pushed him into the Final Four a first time in 1992 when he was coaching at Cincinnati before the Bearcats ended the season with a loss in the semifinals to Michigan.

And how he still implements some of the defenses that his father and one of his father's closest friends, late Farrell coach Ed McCluskey, taught him.

When Bob Huggins walks onto the Lucas Oil Stadium floor tonight in Indianapolis to lead the Mountaineers against Duke in the national semifinals, he will glance over and give a little nod to his father -- a small gesture serving as a big thank you.

"I'm a humble person and I'm happy for Bobby. He's done a great job as a coach," Charlie Huggins said. "I feel good for Bobby because he's back to the Final Four. I don't know what he will be thinking about when he goes out there."

For certain, if even for a brief second, there will be a moment of reflection, and Norma Huggins will come into focus.

She died of cancer in May 2003, after a 51-year marriage to Charlie, bearing Bob in 1953 and then six more children.

Asked if he catches himself envisioning his mother riding along on this push to the Final Four the past few weeks, Bob Huggins' voice grew quiet, his tone soft:

"Yes, she'd just love it. And fortunately she was still alive for the first one. She had a big time at that first one. It was great because my four sisters and my two brothers -- everyone was together, the whole family was together. That was really a neat thing.

"She was, my mom was, the more vocal one at the games. My dad just kind of sits there."

Charlie Huggins just quietly takes it all in now when he watches his son coach. He admits that he has mellowed; he's a lot different now than when he screeched as loud as he could with every mistake Indian Valley South used to make.

"You probably couldn't do that today very effectively anyway," Henry said. "The way he coached us, you can't do it today, you can't be that tough on kids."

Or can you?

Before his team headed to Indianapolis for the Final Four, Bob Huggins spoke of his straightforward style, of his lay-it-out-there truthfulness and the demanding manner he has with the Mountaineers.

"They get a pair of sneakers and a hard time," he said.

Naturally, he learned that from his father.

Colin Dunlap: or 412-263-1459. First Published April 3, 2010 4:00 AM


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