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Monday, March 25
 
With West Virginia calling, Huggins had a dilemma

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said he had a hard two to three days wrestling with the decision to return to his alma mater of West Virginia or stay at the school he has turned into a national power.

By Monday morning, he decided he couldn't leave the place that has become his home.

"I've been here 13 years and the people have been fantastic, the community wonderful," Huggins said by telephone from Cincinnati Monday night. "I like it here. It's a good place. I work for a great athletic director (Bob Goin) who has a wealth of knowledge and a great understanding of athletics. He's what all athletic directors should strive to be. My oldest daughter started first grade here and my youngest daughter has spent her whole life here and it would be hard on anybody (moving now)."

How close was he to leaving for West Virginia?

"How close is close," Huggins said. "It's my alma mater. I love the place. I love West Virginia University and love the people there. It's a great university with better people. I think the president is doing an outstanding job and getting it in the right direction. There are so many positive things going on there."

Huggins said he had always envisioned coaching at West Virginia, "like any other player who played at a major institution who then got into coaching. I've always dreamed about coaching West Virginia."

Huggins said West Virginia was probably the only college job he would have considered leaving Cincinnati for. He said he doesn't think about NBA jobs, saying "I've had chances to go but you have to evaluate what's best for you."

Goin is thankful.

"I am very thrilled for the University of Cincinnati that, in my opinion, the best coach in the country has decided to remain and build upon the 13 years of excellence he has brought to the program," Goin said in a statement.

Huggins, who met with West Virginia's president David Hardesty and athletic director Ed Pastilong Sunday night in Cincinnati, said the decision had nothing to do with money. West Virginia reportedly was prepared to offer Huggins a contract over $1 million, which would have been close to his estimated $1.3 million package that Cincinnati officials said was bumped up by $250,000 within the past two seasons to compete with Memphis' John Calipari and Louisville's Rick Pitino in Conference USA.

"It has never been about the money," Huggins said. "I never asked for a raise and I didn't get a raise. I've never been into holding anybody up. That's not in my nature."

In a news release Monday, Hardesty agreed that Huggins never mentioned economics as a factor in his decision.

"Obviously, we are disappointed in Coach Huggins' decision," Hardesty said. "We want to thank Cincinnati officials for allowing us to speak with him. The search for a new men's basketball coach will continue, and we are confident we can find a person with the qualities necessary to lead a successful program at WVU."

Hardesty said Huggins agreed to help, if needed, with the search to replace longtime coach Gale Catlett (565-320 in 30 years). West Virginia set a school record for losses in two of the past four seasons amid discipline problems. The Mountaineers, who have a stud returning point guard in Jonathan Hargett, were 8-20 this season, including a 1-15 record and last-place finish in the Big East West Division. The Mountaineers failed to qualify for the Big East tournament.

West Virginia lost a backup candidate when Florida assistant John Pelphrey took the South Alabama job.

"There are many to be commended for their help in trying to bring Coach Huggins to WVU," said Hardesty. "We hope that commitment continues as we pursue other avenues."

Huggins, 48, said he wasn't afraid of starting over at West Virginia and said he actually saw that as exciting.

"It's a lot harder to keep where you're at then to build," Huggins said.

That's what makes his chore at Cincinnati so tough after winning his seventh straight Conference USA title and the school's first-ever No. 1 seed. The Bearcats lost to UCLA 105-101 in double overtime in the second round, the fifth time in six seasons the Bearcats have been bounced before the Sweet 16. Cincinnati has a star in line in forward Jason Maxiell but loses the two-time Conference USA player of the year and a first-team All-American in guard Steve Logan.

"He was the most valuable player in the country," said Huggins, who is 500-172 in 22 seasons overall as a head coach. "UCLA ran two guys at him the whole game and he still got 18 points."

Cincinnati wasn't ranked in the preseason but still finished 31-4.

"People were right to not rank us considering we lost our starting center (B.J. Grove) and our point guard (Kenny Satterfield) and everybody underestimated how good Logan was and didn't think we could move him back there," Huggins said. "And then Donald (Little) played better than before (at center). Our guys worked incredibly hard. This was a hard-working team that listened and did what we asked. Jason has a chance to be special but has a lot of hard work ahead of him."

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.




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