Plenty of uncertainty surrounds Huggins, program

Updated: May 17, 2005, 3:50 PM ET
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

Cincinnati made a clear statement Monday night by effectively saying there will be a new men's basketball coach in 2007-08.

Or did it?

The release from the president's office said that the school would simply honor the final two years of Huggins' contract. If that's the case then wouldn't his Cincinnati stint end after the 2006-07 season?

Not quite.

There is still plenty of uncertainty surrounding the future of Huggins and the Cincinnati program.

And the most difficult aspect of Monday's decision will be felt in recruiting. Technically, Cincinnati's assistant coaches can only tell recruits in the class of 2006 that they would coach them as freshmen. And that's it. They can't assure them that they would be coaching them beyond since there is no deal in place for Huggins to do so.

According to multiple sources close to the program, there are effectively three scenarios that could unfold in the next two years:

1. Huggins finishes the final two years of his contract, somewhat akin to the way the final years of Tom Davis at Iowa and Gene Keady at Purdue were handled. Both wanted an extension but were denied and rode out the end of their respective contracts.

2. Huggins negotiates an extension sometime between August and June of next season, before the final year of his contract. The school will have a new athletic director once Bob Goin retires, although Goin has been a strong Huggins ally. A new AD might not be as tight with Huggins.

3. Huggins opts out of his final year of his contract to pursue another coaching opportunity or simply to retire.

Predicting any of the choices is premature. The only certainty is that Huggins will coach with the same passion, if not more, in the coming season.

Huggins made a strong statement Monday night that he would fulfill his contract. Those close to him say he will coach as hard as ever under this kind of duress. The Bearcats are moving into the Big East next season and Huggins would like nothing more than to make a splash in the league.

If that were to occur, then increased pressure could be put on Cincinnati president Nancy Zimpher to revisit Huggins' contract. Huggins has been to 14 straight NCAA Tournaments in his 16 seasons.

If Huggins was a hit in the Big East, the pressure on Zimpher to add years to Huggins' contract could turn in his favor. But Huggins can't afford another misstep by himself or, perhaps, by a player or assistant coach.

This mess started a year ago when the annual four-year rollover was suspended in Huggins' contract as punishment for his DUI. The school didn't offer him another rollover this year, either, and made an offer to exercise the buyout clause in his contract. That would have paid Huggins $1.4 million, but he declined the offer.

Zimpher hasn't said whether any of the incidents this spring -- assistant Keith LeGree's DUI or Roy Bright's dismissal from the team for possession of a firearm on campus -- had any bearings on these current contract talks.

The cloud over Cincinnati continues to hang. The coaching staff now knows they've still got a job. There aren't expected to be any defections from the players. But Huggins' fate beyond next season at Cincinnati is still unknown. He might have a contract for 2006-07, but whether it's his last is still up for debate.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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