How Bob Huggins’ career at West Virginia ended and what’s next

How Bob Huggins' career at West Virginia ended and what's next

After a six-week stretch that saw his status thrown into jeopardy on two occasions, the Bob Huggins era at West Virginia officially ended Saturday night when he released a statement saying he intended to resign and retire as the head coach of the Mountaineers.

Huggins ends his career in Morgantown with a complicated legacy. He played two seasons of college ball for West Virginia, then spent one season as a graduate assistant before returning 29 years later as the head coach of his alma mater. Huggins proceeded to guide the Mountaineers to the NCAA tournament 11 times in 16 seasons, going to the Sweet 16 on five occasions — including a Final Four run in 2010.

But it ended with two controversies in less than two months. Six weeks ago, Huggins was suspended for three games and received a $1 million salary reduction after using an anti-gay slur in an interview on a Cincinnati radio station. And then, on Friday night, Huggins was arrested in Pittsburgh on a charge of driving under the influence. According to a police report, a breath test determined that Huggins’ blood alcohol content was 0.21%.

How Huggins — who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2022 and who led Cincinnati to 11 straight NCAA tournaments before resigning — is remembered will remain up for debate. But now West Virginia has to quickly move on at an inopportune time in the college basketball calendar.

Here are the biggest questions in the wake of Huggins’ resignation.

Why did West Virginia and Huggins decide to move on now?

When Huggins was suspended for using an anti-gay slur on the radio, the university amended his contract to make it easier to move on from him without owing a significant amount of money. Essentially, his contract became a year-to-year deal, which is extremely unusual at the highest levels of college basketball. Shortly after news of Huggins’ arrest early Saturday morning broke, it became clear it would be difficult for West Virginia to bring him back as its head coach.

Had the incident six weeks ago never happened, perhaps things would have been different. But a DUI less than two months after being suspended for a separate controversy left only one pathway forward.

What will happen to West Virginia’s roster?

Speculation had grown rampant over the past couple of seasons that Huggins was nearing retirement. In fact, there was a perception in the industry that the 2023-24 campaign might be his final season as a head coach. As a result, West Virginia went all-in this spring in the transfer portal, bringing in three impact players — Syracuse‘s Jesse Edwards, Arizona‘s Kerr Kriisa and Montana State‘s RaeQuan Battle — to go with two Manhattan transfers who sat out last season. Starter Tre Mitchell and sixth man Joe Toussaint were also returning, giving the Mountaineers a borderline preseason top-25 team.

That roster is now completely up in the air. NCAA rules provide student-athletes a 30-day extension to enter the transfer portal after a coaching change. So even though the transfer window has closed for undergraduates, several players on the roster can still leave. The two biggest names will likely be Edwards and Kriisa, neither of whom needs a waiver as a first-time transfer and both of whom could start at nearly any program in the country.

How good is the West Virginia job?

The perception has only improved over the past few months, mostly thanks to West Virginia’s NIL infrastructure. The Country Roads Trust has deep pockets, and the Mountaineers’ elite incoming transfer class is evidence of how effective it can be in the recruiting process. The program also has one of the best fan bases in the sport, is the biggest draw in the state and has had consistent success under multiple coaches. It’s also in a league that has prioritized basketball and seems to be on solid footing moving forward.

Morgantown is a unique location within the Big 12: West Virginia hasn’t typically recruited within the league’s footprint, and its recruiting base allows it to effectively monitor a number of areas. The program can recruit New Jersey and Philadelphia, can pull from Maryland and Washington, D.C., and can obviously go into Ohio and the Midwest and get players too.

What coach might the Mountaineers turn to next?

All indications are West Virginia athletic director Wren Baker wants a permanent replacement, not just an interim for the upcoming season.

The biggest question is whether he can pursue coaches from Huggins’ coaching tree — namely UAB‘s Andy Kennedy and Youngstown State‘s Jerrod Calhoun. Kennedy spent four seasons under Huggins at Cincinnati and then was the interim coach for the Bearcats after Huggins’ resignation in 2005. Calhoun meanwhile has burst onto the national radar after leading Youngstown State to a Horizon League regular-season title this past season. He was a student assistant under Huggins at Cincinnati and then was on his staff at West Virginia for five seasons. South Carolina State head coach Erik Martin, who spent 15 seasons as an assistant at West Virginia, also falls into this category.

Outside of the Huggins tree, it might be worth taking a shot at Wake Forest‘s Steve Forbes or Mississippi State‘s Chris Jans, two coaches very briefly linked to other jobs in the spring.

What would already have been a difficult pursuit is made even tougher by the timing, though.

More realistically, Baker could take a look at Charleston‘s Pat Kelsey, Ohio‘s Jeff Boals, Kent State‘s Rob Senderoff, Akron‘s John Groce, Toledo‘s Tod Kowalczyk, Furman‘s Bob Richey, Liberty‘s Ritchie McKay, UNC Asheville‘s Mike Morrell and UNC Wilmington‘s Takayo Siddle. Northwest Missouri State’s Ben McCollum, the most successful Division II coach, will also be linked to the job; Baker was his athletic director 2010-13.

In terms of coaches currently out of a job, Chris Mack could make sense, given his past success. LaVall Jordan has plenty of high-major experience. And then there’s John Beilein, who spent five seasons at West Virginia and led the Mountaineers to two Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight before leaving in 2007 for Michigan. Would Baker bring him back? It seems unlikely, but it’s worth mentioning.

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