Huggins has huge support from K-State admin, fans
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Have you ever seen a university president leap out of his seat upon the introduction of an English professor?
English professors don't get a laser light show, a deep-throated voice over a loudspeaker intro, or a video message board with their own slogan and community named after them. Nor do they have students painted purple, with letters spelling out "Welcome to Huggieville."
They don't generate the kind of funds that Bob Huggins already is putting into the school's pockets, either. According to Kansas State athletic director Tim Weiser, Huggs already has added "hundreds of thousands of dollars" to the athletic department with the increase in season tickets sold from 6,750 to 12,700, nearing the capacity of the 13,344-seat Bramlage Coliseum. Nor do they allow for 20 seats to be sold courtside for $4,400 a pop with 20 more on the waiting list.
They don't suddenly have the pull to demand the building of loge suites around the top of the arena, which will be done next season. Nor do they pour in 9,806 fans -- 2,200 more than the average per game last season -- for a scrimmage and dunk contest on Friday the 13th.
So maybe you can understand why Kansas State president Jon Wefald, himself a well-versed historian, especially concerning all things Gen. George Custer, didn't hesitate to proclaim this as a historic event and couldn't control his emotions when he suddenly jumped up out of his seat after Huggins was announced to a delirious crowd.
It made history. Not just here at Kansas State, but certainly in college basketball, as well. Rarely has a coach been as warmly received upon his first public appearance in a sweat suit the way former Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins was Friday night at Bramlage.
The buildup to his entrance was quite something. His face was in the background on the video board as his accomplishments flashed. He was shown cutting down the nets. His stats ended with "1 Final Four." And then Michael Jordan and Dick Vitale came on a video message board welcoming Huggins to Kansas State. When he was introduced, with the cat calls of "Huggieville," he didn't just waltz out. He ran.
The reception was eerily similar to Bob Knight's debut at Big 12 rival Texas Tech five years ago. Still, this had a different feel. This had more passion from a fan base that has more of a history with the sport. And the coach they were fawning over had much more of a rock-star aura.
No one would ever confuse Huggs with a pop star, especially in a purple sweat suit that was more Barney than Bono. Still, if only Cincinnati president Nancy Zimpher could have seen this type of response coming from a colleague. She may have been ill, considering the way her relationship with Huggins deteriorated in his final two years at Cincinnati.
Did Wefald feel the need to call Zimpher before hiring Huggins?
"No," he said. "We can make up our own minds."
Huggins wasn't kidding when he said earlier in the day, an hour before his first official practice with the Wildcats and some three hours before the beginning of the first-ever Madness in Manhattan, that "there are wonderful people here in Manhattan from the top of the administration on down. It's not like [at Cincinnati], when the president calls and wants to go to lunch you sit there and say, 'What did I do wrong this time?' It's not like that.
"I said I would come back if it were the right place," Huggins added, referencing a conversation with ESPN.com last year at this time after he had been essentially fired at Cincinnati prior to the season. "I could coach here [for a long time]. I don't know if I will. I've got no complaints. Is that hard for you to believe?"
Not at all, not when you listen to his two primary bosses, Wefald and Weiser. With superiors like these two, Huggins is set.
Wefald said that the once-NCAA Tournament-rich Wildcats, who have made four Final Fours, are about to come out of their drought (no NCAA berths since 1996).
"With Bob Huggins here, the magic has returned," Wefald said. "We had reservations about everything you read about in the paper -- the DUI, the graduation rates and all the things we've heard about for years. But when I met with him in Chicago, we went through the whole thing and Tim met with key people with the NCAA about five times, just to make sure everything was OK.
"Bob Huggins is a great coach, and the thing I found out now that he's a really good friend of mine is he's very humorous. He's got one of the best sense of humors I've ever seen."
What about the faculty? Did they have any reservations?
"Do you see my hand?" Wefald said as he held up his fingers in the shape of a zero.
Weiser did hear some negativity, but it was from his trusted colleague, Eddie Fogler, who also informed Huggins of the potential pitfalls of K-State.
Weiser said Huggins is more of a small-town guy, spending time growing up in rural Ohio and West Virginia. More important, Weiser said he was convinced that Huggins was the right guy when former coach Jim Wooldridge told him that the next coach has to get players. It sounds obvious, but he knew it was true and that Huggins could deliver and then, of course, coach them.
Wefald didn't hesitate to draw the Knight comparison, either, in his unabashed promotion of his new high-profile coach.
"Bob Knight left Indiana under a cloud supposedly and look what he's done at Texas Tech," said Wefald, who corresponds with Knight and sends him the history papers he writes. "Both of them had issues at Cincinnati and Indiana [respectively], and what this shows is that America is all about second chances. America is about hope. Bob Knight hasn't let down Texas Tech and I can assure you that Bob Huggins isn't going to let us down."
The predictions didn't stop with the school president. Huggins told the students, who literally ran down the aisles when the doors opened at 10:15 p.m. (CT), that, "We're going to play as hard as you did [Friday night] and care as much as you do, and if we do that, we're going to win."
He didn't stop there. Huggs, who actually coached for a season wearing a golf windbreaker, isn't a flashy dresser. Still, he loves black and doesn't mind being a trendsetter, so it was to no one's surprise that he got Nike to issue the program three uniforms, all with cat-like stripes down the side, in school colors purple and white, and now the Huggs' color -- black. The crowd, of course, gave the loudest ovation for the black uniforms that Huggins said would be brought out for something special, like "The Sweet 16!"
The scene late Friday night was nothing like the vibe in the gym earlier, when the Wildcats held their first workout. Huggins started his first official practice semi-calm. He worked on getting his players to make crisp cuts, set strong screens and constantly corrected their footwork. It didn't long for him to get worked up, though, really getting into senior Serge Afeli to ensure he understands how much effort Huggins requires.
"Do you have any idea how hard we have to work?" Huggins said to the team.
What's funny is, earlier in the day, the players said they knew.
"He set the expectations high and let us know he doesn't like losers," said juco transfer Blake Young, who was recruited by Wooldridge but didn't have any interest in K-State. Once Huggins got the job, though, he suddenly was keen on moving to Manhattan.
"I don't like losing, either," Young said. "He's going to get on you if you're not working hard."
So is strength and conditioning coach Scott Greenawalt. Let's just say that Greenawalt, who prances up and down the sidelines during practice, is about as intimidating a strength coach as there is in the country. He's bald. He's big. And he has a scowl that could melt the meek.
"I'm in the best shape I've ever been in," said returnee David Hoskins. "We thought we played hard last year. But it's a whole 'nother level with coach Huggins and our conditioning coach."
Added leading returning scorer Cartier Martin, reinstated Friday after a summer-long suspension for a violation of team rules: "We wanted to play hard and be tougher last year but it didn't show. We now believe that we're working harder than any other team."
The goal with this group -- a crew that has four starters returning off a team that finished 15-13 overall, 6-10 in the Big 12 -- is to make the NCAA Tournament. Check that. They all expect to be in the NCAAs. They did as soon as Huggins was named the coach. One man, one coach, makes that much of a difference with the attitude here.
Huggins also announced to the crowd that he expects "the streak to end on Feb. 19th." He didn't have to say the name "Kansas," since everyone knew what he was talking about. The Wildcats haven't beaten the Jayhawks at Bramlage since it opened in 1988. The last win over KU in Manhattan was in 1983.
"There's no rivalry," Huggins said. "We've got to beat them a few times and then there will be one."
Once again, bold statements from a bold man.
"I'm always energized at the start of practice," Huggins deadpanned. "We had wonderful people at Cincinnati, but it wasn't a college atmosphere. We had a pro crowd."
Has he changed?
"I change every year," Huggins said. "I don't know why sitting out a year makes you change. I hope you get smarter."
Huggins was pretty swift to pick this place. He really couldn't have found a better home.
"I know we made the right choice," Wefald said. "Period. Amen. Good night."
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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