by Jim Buzzerd
Last week was a busy one for Bob Huggins and West Virginia University Men’s basketball team. The Mountaineers dropped two more conference games 83-78 to Baylor last Wednesday at the Coliseum and 77-76 to Oklahoma Saturday in Norman. For those keeping track, that is five conference losses in a row and WVU is just 4-19 in their last 23 Big 12 games. Over the last five seasons Huggins’ team is 28-48 in conference games only one team, Iowa State, has been worse.
Huggins took his rightful place in the Hall of Fame last fall, but he did not earn that spot based on recent seasons. Huggins makes $4.2 million a year, which puts him just in/or out of the Top 10 highest paid coaches in the country. I’ve long resisted mentioning Huggins salary for any reason, because to a large degree, he’s earned the right to be one of the highest paid coaches. It’s just that when a steady decline becomes apparent, one might be justified to ask for change.
I’ve thought for several years that Huggins would be better served to revamp his coaching staff. He seems to need help getting better recruits, and Huggins’ offense is hard to watch, and he’ll be 69 in September. Well, I see it as a positive move that less than 24 hours after the Baylor game Huggins 24 year top assistant, Larry Harrison, was let go. Insiders have said this has been brewing for a while, but it is still shocking this happened mid-season.
No explanation has been offered yet. The news broke Thursday shortly before Huggins’ radio show. The coach commented when asked about the firing by Tony Caridi, “I don’t really have a lot to say about it,” Huggins mumbled. “I wasn’t involved as I’m portrayed to be.”
Fans had already been lighting up message boards with speculation as to who fired Harrison and what happened. Could new athletic director Wren Baker have been heavily involved in a matter this big one month into the job? Huggins’ comment would make that scenario at least somewhat plausible. Realistically, nobody is going to bully Huggins into anything at WVU, so Huggs had to make the final decision. Right?
At a Friday press conference Huggins stepped up to the plate, sort of. “The decision to make the change in the basketball staff was a difficult one. Larry and I have worked together for 24 years and shared many great moments. The decision was made in the best interest of Mountaineer basketball,” Huggins read from a prepared statement. He then said there would be no further comment on the matter. To my knowledge there has been no more comment.
It’s speculated that Harrison will eventually comment and that could be interesting.
Meanwhile, DeMarr Johnson was named as Harrison’s replacement on Monday. Johnson, a Washington DC native, played for Huggins at Cincinnati in 1999-2000. He was selected by the Atlanta Hawks with the No. 6 pick in the 2000 NBA Draft. He played in 344 games over seven seasons in the NBA with the Hawks, Knicks, Nuggets and Spurs. Johnson later played professionally for a decade overseas.
This hire checks a lot of boxes. “He is a guy who can really relate to young people. I think he can really relate to our guys,” Huggins said. “As they say he has been there and done that. I guess he is a lot closer to their age than I am.” The combination of he and Alex Ruoff, I mean how can you not get better? I think Alex is absolutely fantastic in what he does and DJ is equally as fantastic in what he does.”
Huggins expects that Johnson will recruit the Washington, D.C. metro area.