Huggins must work on changing lifestyle

Originally Published: June 16, 2004
By Jeff Shelman | Special to ESPN.com

The story is one of Bob Huggins' favorites. And, in many ways, it gets to the core of who the University of Cincinnati coach really is.

When his Bearcat players complain that practice is too long (UC generally goes for three hours every afternoon) or too hard (there's nothing done at half-speed) or that the coach is too demanding (the volume can be loud and the words not suitable for network television), the guy everyone calls Huggs will talk about Midvale Mine No. 9.

It's a story that goes something like this: When the snow would blow in Huggins' hometown, of Midvale, Ohio, he'd turn on the radio and -- like most kids -- hope for a day off from school. But before the radio station in the tiny town 30 miles south of Canton would get to school closings, the status of the coal mines would be announced.

And if you ask anyone who played for Huggins, or anyone who has covered his team on a regular basis, they can tell you the words that came out of the radio some 40 years ago.

Bob Huggins
Bob Huggins was ordered Tuesday to attend an alcohol education course and received a suspended six-month jail sentence.

Midvale No. 9 will work. It was never Midvale No. 9 will not work.

Hard work, in Huggins' eyes, translates into success. It's a theory that is one of Huggins' biggest strengths and one of his biggest weaknesses all at the same time. His ability to outwork his competition on the recruiting trail is part of the reason the Bearcats have been a top 25 fixture for more than a decade. Many of his former players in the NBA credit Huggins' hard-headedness for why they've been as successful as they've been. The way he pushes his players in practice makes games seem easy.

But Huggins can also be stubborn to a fault. His inability to adjust -- whether it's with the amount of practice time for a player coming off an injury, or in matching his style of play to his personnel, or in how second chances for players who fall out of favor are rare -- is a factor in why the Bearcats haven't had as much NCAA Tournament success as Huggins would have hoped.

He's also been stubborn when it comes to his lifestyle. This time it caught up with him.

That's part of the reason why, as someone who spent two seasons covering Huggins and the Bearcats for The Cincinnati Post, I wasn't surprised when another college basketball writer called me Friday to tell me the news that he had been arrested for drunk driving. I also, unfortunately, wasn't surprised to read reports that this wasn't the first time Huggins had been stopped in the Cincinnati suburb of Fairfax.

It's also why Bearcats athletic director Bob Goin did the right thing to suspend Huggins indefinitely after the arrest. Because Huggins needs to learn that there is more than one speed to life, something that should've happened nearly two years ago.

It was September 2002 and Huggins was returning a rental car on a Saturday morning at the Pittsburgh airport. He felt chest pains that turned out to be a heart attack. When Huggins talked about it after his radio show one night a few months later, he acknowledged that he could have died. If the attack had happened an hour earlier when he was alone in a hotel room, or an hour later when the plane was in the air, he probably would have died.

So what did the guy from Midvale do? He returned to work 13 days later. A month later, he was back putting in 12 hour days.

And while Huggins did exercise and did lose some weight, he always contended that his heart attack was the result of genetics rather than lifestyle. He pointed to the fact that there was a history of heart problems in his family rather than to the fact that he didn't exercise enough, ate poorly, drank regularly and rarely slept more than a few hours a night.

In the 20 months since the heart attack, Huggins' lifestyle has reverted to what it had been in the past. His weight is up. He did quit smoking cigars, but he has gone from drinking wine with dinner to drinking beer. And he again doesn't sleep as much as he should.

Maybe it's the stress of being a college basketball coach. Maybe it's the stress of losing his mother to cancer. Maybe it's Huggins' feelings of invincibility.

But as damning as the words were in the police report from Huggins' arrest -- the inability to count backwards or recite the alphabet correctly, and the vomit on the inside of the driver's side door are far from pretty -- the fact that he said he slept only four hours the previous evening was just as troubling.

Huggins admittedly is a night owl, but the fact that he again isn't taking care of his body, especially at a time when little is going on in college basketball, means he needs to again get his life in order. That's more important than wins and losses. It's more important than the July recruiting period. It's more important than anything.

Huggins certainly was in the wrong when he got behind the wheel of his SUV after having too much to drink. He put others in danger. He embarrassed himself and the University of Cincinnati in the process.

Forced to be away from his team, Huggins hopefully will realize that a little moderation in his life -- in terms of both work and alcohol -- might not be a bad thing. He got a second chance in 2002 after the heart attack. This reporter hopes Huggins takes advantage of his third chance in 2004 and beyond.

Jeff Shelman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune (www.startribune.com) is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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