Kennedy to tap Huggins' coaching knowledge
Bob Huggins is out as coach at Cincinnati but his influence on this season's team is far from over.
Cincinnati named Andy Kennedy, associate head coach under Huggins, interim head coach for the 2005-06 season Friday. But they didn't say anything about Kennedy conferring with Huggins about practice, personnel and game strategy.
Huggins, whom Kennedy said endorsed his hiring, will be paid for the next three months as part of his buyout settlement and is being allowed to be part of the transition. But he could be called upon, at least on the phone or off campus, to discuss the best approach with this team.
"There were no parameters set," Kennedy told ESPN.com Friday afternoon, a few hours after the 37-year old former UAB player was named to his first head coaching position. "Coach would never [cross the line]. He understands that there are some boundaries and he respects that. But it would be foolish of me not to tap his knowledge on basketball. And he's a close friend of mine. I'm going to talk to him about a lot of issues."
The university has made it clear that they're not going to force Huggins to vacate the premises. They don't want the divorce to be that rude and abrupt. Instead, they have left it open and up to Huggins as to when he would officially be out. Kennedy said Huggins came in Thursday to remove some belongings from his office but he's not leaving town anytime soon.
The Huggins-Kennedy relationship is quite different than some previous ones where an assistant was moved up to the head coach position in a stunning late-summer or early-fall move. At UCLA, Jim Harrick wasn't about to be used as a mentor for Steve Lavin when he took over. That certainly wouldn't have occurred when Mike Davis took over for Bob Knight. Neither were close friends with their boss.
"This is a totally different situation because Hugs has been my boss, my mentor and a good friend and the lines of communication will stay as strong as ever," Kennedy said.
Kennedy said he was told by outgoing Cincinnati athletic director Bob Goin that he would have a chance for the fulltime job. The university released a similar statement Friday. Goin is expected to be out by Jan. 1 when a new AD should be in place.
Kennedy said Cincinnati president Dr. Nancy Zimpher called him Friday morning. The two had a brief exchange in which she told Kennedy that she supported him and wanted the program to move forward.
"I've been told the next stage is to conduct an athletic director search and then after that I will be given equal consideration of any viable candidate," Kennedy said.
For Kennedy to have a chance at the job, he would need to prove that he could handle the pressure of being a big-time coach in the Big East. Kennedy said his first time out would be the first one he has called.
Huggins let his assistants be active members of practice, game preparation and game decisions. Kennedy said he has been and can be the heavy at times. But he said he would need help from his four seniors -- Armein Kirkland, Eric Hicks, James White and Jihad Muhammad.
"I need them to take ownership of the team," Kennedy said. "They have to lead by example."
Kennedy said he has raised his voice a bit and practice sometimes resembles a "mosh pit," with everybody involved. He said he's not going to change the intensity level, but he's not Bob Huggins.
The six newcomers came to Cincinnati likely to play for Huggins. Whether they all still arrive is up for debate. Cincinnati starts school Sept. 21. The university is on the quarter system, making it one of the latest-starting Division I schools in the country. Kennedy said he has spoken to all six newcomers but he can't confirm that all six would honor their commitments to attend. He said no one has said they aren't coming, but he'll continue to recruit them.
But an NCAA rule could work in the Bearcats' favor to keep at least four of the six. If an incoming freshman receives summer school aid and then transfers he would have to sit out the season, even though he never made it to September for a fall class. Dan Coleman had to do this when he went to Boston College for a summer two years ago but then went back home and transferred to Minnesota. He sat out his freshman season.
Kennedy said the four freshmen signees -- point guard Dominic Tilford, small forward DeAndre Coleman, center Abdul Herrera and point guard Devan Downey -- were all on campus this summer and received aid. If any of the freshmen wanted to leave they would have to go through an appeal process with the National Letter of Intent committee to avoid losing a year of eligibility.
The two junior college forwards, Ivan Johnson and Cedric McGowan, haven't said they won't attend Cincinnati either, according to Kennedy. They could still opt to go elsewhere, but it is getting later to make a decision with most semester schools starting this month.
Kennedy said he wouldn't fight anyone leaving if they didn't want to be at Cincinnati.
Kennedy, who will go with the three other staff members -- assistants Keith LeGree, Frank Martin and director of basketball operations Andy Assaley -- for now isn't worried about coaching unfamiliar teams in the Big East.
"Because of the television exposure, I'm pretty familiar, like a basic fan, of what teams do," Kennedy said. "I won't be shocked to see Syracuse play a 2-3 zone. I have a general understanding of style of play and when the time comes I'll contact friends in the coaching fraternity to shed some light and offer insight into each program."
One of those friends will also be Huggins. He won't be on the Cincinnati sideline, but his presence will certainly be all over this team.
"This has been a whirlwind but the only thing I'm lacking is head coaching experience," Kennedy said. "I've always been in the trenches and coach has been very, very good to allow me and the other assistants to give input into running the program. I don't feel insecure in any areas."
Cincinnati basketball has been about intimidation instead of insecurity under Huggins. If Kennedy wants to continue down a similar path in what could be his only season on the bench, then he can't let anyone see him sweat. So far, at least on day one, he's apparently not showing any signs that he's perspiring. And now, it appears, Kennedy has a shot to succeed as long as he has Huggins on his side.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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