Huggins agrees to 5-year deal with Mountaineers

Updated: April 6, 2007, 2:13 PM ET
Associated Press

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Thirty years after playing his last game for West Virginia, Bob Huggins has come home to coach the Mountaineers.

Just two days after coach John Beilein left West Virginia for Michigan, WVU found a replacement in Huggins, a Morgantown-born alum who left Kansas State after one season to return to his roots.

Bob Huggins
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesBob Huggins can be an intimidating, imposing physical presence.

Huggins will have a five-year contract at WVU that guarantees him $800,000 in the first year, the same salary he was drawing at Kansas State.

A handful of students wearing blue and gold waited to greet him at the Morgantown airport Thursday night, one holding a poster with the words "Welcome home, Coach Huggins" scrawled in blue marker.

But Huggins' plane instead landed in Charleston, some 150 miles away. He got into a car and left without speaking to reporters. The school did issue a news release.

"I'm incredibly happy to be coming back to West Virginia," Huggins said in the statement. "I left a great situation at Kansas State with wonderful people who are as close to West Virginia people as you can get."

Huggins, who played from 1975-77 and was a graduate assistant at West Virginia, once turned down a chance to take the Mountaineers' job when he was at Cincinnati. He couldn't turn down his alma mater again.

"I am so happy to have Bob Huggins back at West Virginia," West Virginia athletic director Ed Pastilong said in the news release. "Bob's record speaks for itself."

Andy Underwood, a 23-year-old senior from Elkins, hopes some high-profile Kansas State recruits will follow Huggins to Morgantown.

"It was a tough blow losing coach Beilein ... but we're pretty excited now," he said.

Kansas State officials did not share their excitement.

"I asked him, 'Bob, do you think leaving now is the right thing to do?' And he said, 'No,'" athletic director Tim Weiser said Thursday at a news conference. "Then I said, 'How many times in your life have you known what the right thing is to do and not done it?' And he said, 'Never.'"

Huggins was the first choice to replace Gale Catlett at West Virginia in 2002, but negotiations broke down in the final hours and he wound up staying at Cincinnati.

WVU then turned to Dan Dakich, who returned to Bowling Green after less than a week in Morgantown, opening the door for Beilein's arrival from Richmond. In the end, it turned out great for West Virginia as Beilein took the Mountaineers to consecutive NCAA tournaments and an NIT championship his last three seasons.

"I am so happy to have Bob Huggins back at West Virginia. Bob's record speaks for itself."
-- West Virginia athletic director Ed Pastilong

Although the 53-year-old Huggins has established himself as one of the premier college basketball coaches in the nation over the past quarter-century, he's no stranger to controversy.

He spent 16 seasons at Cincinnati, leading the Bearcats to 14 consecutive NCAA tournaments and one Final Four. But critics targeted his program for low graduation rates, a series of player arrests and NCAA rules violations that ultimately led to probation and a reduction in scholarships.

Huggins has also had some health issues. He suffered a massive heart attack on the recruiting trail Sept. 28, 2002.

A DUI arrest in 2004 ultimately led to his dismissal from Cincinnati following the 2004-05 season.

Huggins sat out the 2005-06 season but returned to the sidelines after Kansas State hired him on March 23, 2006.

"You should know that we moved heaven and earth to keep Bob Huggins here," Kansas State President Jon Wefald said. "Tim in effect said, 'You tell us what your salary should be. Whatever West Virginia is offering, we will match it and then some. Same for the assistant coaches.' "

Financial terms for the deal with West Virginia were not revealed.

"If Bob had indicated to us about a year ago this time that he needed something in his contract about his alma mater, then we would have gone on," Wefald said. "We would have looked at somebody else."

Huggins had five years remaining on his contract at Kansas State. His salary was set to jump to $900,000 in 2009-10 and $1 million the following year.

He now must pay Kansas State $100,000 for breaking his contract early.

Huggins led the Wildcats to a 23-12 record and an NIT berth and signed what is thought by many to be the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation. And he stands just 10 wins shy of 600 career coaching victories.

It's unclear whether some -- or any -- of his recruits would follow him to Morgantown.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press