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Bad timing

Ultimately, Huggins firing will hurt Cincinnati hoops

Posted: Wednesday August 24, 2005 7:11PM; Updated: Thursday August 25, 2005 12:00AM
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UC fans and banner
A restaurant near the University of Cincinnati displays a banner supporting Bob Huggins, who resigned Tuesday as Bearcats basketball coach.
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The first thing I can tell you is that Bob Huggins will coach again. Yes, he brings with him a certain amount of baggage, but plenty of guys with more troubled pasts than his have found gainful employment again -- Eddie Sutton, Jerry Tarkanian and Jim Harrick, to name a few. I'm sure Huggins is disappointed to be let go by Cincinnati after 16 years there (though he sounded surprisingly chipper when I spoke to him Wednesday afternoon). But in the long run, Huggins is a good coach who wins games. He'll be fine.

I'm not sure the same can be said for Cincinnati basketball, however. Since taking over as head coach in 1989, Huggins has been the face of the university, for better or worse (and there's been plenty of both). He has been the singular force behind a program that has won 74 percent of its games and played in 14 consecutive NCAA tournaments. It would be difficult to replace Huggins under the best of circumstances. The timing of his dismissal makes that endeavor even harder.

To begin with, UC now must go through an entire season before it can install a permanent coach. Associate coach Andy Kennedy appears ready to assume the reins for now, but does anyone really think that someone so closely linked to Huggins has a chance at winning the job fulltime? (Kennedy, by the way, is a bona fide stud who will also find himself in demand next spring.) Athletic director Bob Goin is retiring at the end of the school year. That means everything must be put on hold during the very time of year when schools are trying to lock up their recruiting commitments for the November signing period.

Because high school players often pick their colleges before they begin their senior year of high school, college coaches have to begin recruiting them much earlier than they used to. Thus, by firing Huggins now instead of at the end of last season, the university has set UC's recruiting efforts back a full two years. This must be especially grating to Bearcats fans given that the state of Ohio is absolutely flush with talent these days, led by the incandescent guard O.J. Mayo. Cincinnati has long been rumored to be the leader in the Mayo sweepstakes (and remember, Mayo comes in a package with two of his high school teammates who are elite prospects themselves). At the very least, Huggins' dismissal puts Cincy's hopes to land him in jeopardy. I wonder if Ohio State coach Thad Matta has Mayo's cell number?

Throw in the added challenge of joining the Big East this season -- which would not have happened had Huggins not won so many games for so long -- and it's easy to see why Cincinnati basketball could be headed for some truly hard times.