Huggins agrees to step down as coach

Updated: August 25, 2005, 5:36 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

CINCINNATI -- Bob Huggins agreed Wednesday to step down as Cincinnati's basketball coach, ousted by a school president determined to change the program's image.

Recruiting woes?
The buyout of Bob Huggins is already having an effect on the Bearcats recruiting. Jason Bennett, a 7-footer considered a top-10 center prospect, was going to attend UC because of Huggins. Those plans, however, ahev changed.

"They now have no interest in Cincinnati," Bennett's high school coach Rex Morgan told the Cincinnati Enquirer of Bennett and his family. "He was going there because of Huggins. Now, with the way Cincinnati handled everything, I hope no one goes there."

Even O.J. Mayo, considered the top junior prospect in all of high school basketball, said the move hurt the Bearcats' chances.

"I'll still consider them on the top five of my list," Mayo told the paper. "But it would make it a little more difficult for me to choose UC, because you'd have a new coach and new relationship, whereas me and Coach Huggins have had a relationship since seventh grade."

-- ESPN.com news services

One day after Huggins was given a choice of resigning or being fired, he agreed in principle to take a $3 million buyout of his contract.

"We are working on the details of the agreement, which may or may not be finalized in the next 24 hours," said Richard Katz, the coach's attorney.

The university's latest offer includes a chance to stay for three more months, giving advice on basketball recruits and related matters.

Huggins left Katz's office without comment, dressed in his black Cincinnati jacket, when no deal was reached on Wednesday.

The university sent Katz a letter earlier in the day outlining the $3 million buyout. The letter, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, offered Huggins $110,000 per month for the next three months to ease the coaching transition.

"His duties will include providing information about the current team, identifying and commenting upon potential recruits, and documenting his institutional memory of the basketball program during his 16-year coaching tenure," the letter said.

An interim coach has not been chosen. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that assistant Andy Kennedy will be asked to replace Huggins. The school doesn't anticipate hiring a permanent replacement until after the 2005-06 season, its first in the Big East. The school will have a difficult time attracting recruits in the meantime.

The volcanic coach who won more games than anyone else in Cincinnati history was forced out by an academically minded school president who doesn't like Huggins' history or philosophy.

President Nancy Zimpher sent Huggins an ultimatum on Tuesday, giving him 24 hours to either take the buyout, stay in a capacity other than basketball coach or get fired from the job. If Huggins chose to be terminated, he would have only received a buyout of $1.9 million, the Enquirer reported.

"It could happen to anyone when you get hired by a different president," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Wednesday. "There's a difference in philosophies. It happens. It's a change in CEOs. They have their own people, their own philosophies, and it's different than what Bob stands for."

Zimpher, hired in 2003, wants the program to recruit players with better grades and an aversion to trouble. She also wants her coaches to be better role models.

Huggins' arrest and conviction for drunken driving last year dismayed Zimpher, a strong-willed administrator who wound up in a power struggle with the strong-willed coach. She refused to extend his contract last May, setting the stage for his exit.

Still up for discussion are exactly when he will leave and how much he will get. The school has offered him a chance to stay in an advisory role for three months, helping with the immensely painful transition from big-name coach to lame-duck interim.

The Bearcats will have to slog through their first season in the Big East with no head coach and no chance of landing top-notch recruits. No player will commit to a school that doesn't even have a head coach.

The fallout could affect the program for years.

"They're going to have to get a coach as good as Bob Huggins, and that's not easy to find," said Louisville's Pitino. "But if they can attract someone of the caliber of Bob Huggins, they can certainly continue."

Zimpher will be looking for someone who is the antithesis of Huggins, who liked hard-edged recruits and overlooked his players' shortcomings as long as they won. The third-year president has her eye more on national academic rankings than the Top 25.

He may have been king of the hilltop campus, but it was Zimpher's hill. During a news conference on Tuesday evening, Zimpher -- hired in 2003 -- insisted that the basketball program had to live up to her standards.

"We expect to recruit very strong students, both on the court and in the classroom," Zimpher said. "We expect our coaches to be role models, and we expect our students to be role models. I will not apologize for setting high standards."

During Huggins' 16-year stay at Cincinnati, the Bearcats made the Final Four and were ranked No. 1 nationally for the first time in 34 years. They also developed a history of player arrests and violations that resulted in an NCAA probation in 1998 and a hoodlum image nationally. In the 1990s, the Bearcats had one of the lowest graduation rates in the nation.

After last season ended, a player was kicked off the team for having a gun on campus. An assistant coach was charged with drunken driving, but was acquitted at trial.

Pitino, who sent Huggins an encouraging message after his heart attack in 2003, was saddened by the ouster.

"Bob Huggins, a lot of times, is misunderstood," Pitino said. "He's someone who cares a great deal about his players. He wants to see them do well and he really goes the extra yard for players."

Huggins' ouster less than two months before the start of the season shocked fans and the small number of students who were on campus Wednesday. Fall quarter classes begin on Sept. 21.

The timing irked some students.

"If Zimpher was going to get rid of him, she should have done it after the DUI and not waited until now when it's so close to the start of the season," said junior Alan Gerken.

Cincinnati fans have readily forgiven players for suspensions and arrests because the program has been so successful.

"We knew what kind of player he recruited, but who cared?" Gerken said.

Several students stood in front of the administration building on Wednesday, holding signs supporting Huggins.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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