Huggins shows softer side with Butler embrace
INDIANAPOLIS -- My son turns 8 months old next week. Though it's early, if the height and weight charts are correct, he's less of an offensive tackle and more of a power forward. If that's what he grows into during the next 17 years, my kid can play for Bob Huggins.
I don't care what anyone else has said or written about Huggins. I don't care that he wears a track suit instead of a two-piece suit. I don't care that he never seems to alter his inflection except to yell at the officials. I saw all I needed to see during Saturday night's national semifinal loss to Duke.
His knee apparently in tatters, West Virginia star Da'Sean Butler lay on the floor at Lucas Oil Stadium, sobbing. Da'Sean is tough, Huggins thought. He wouldn't be so upset if this wasn't serious. So Huggins, completely oblivious to the 71,000 sets of eyes on him in the building and the millions more watching at home, followed his instincts.
Huggie hugged Butler. He whispered in his ear. He didn't care how it looked. He only cared about his player.
Butler was less concerned about the pain in his knee than he was about his teammates. He thought he'd let them down when he collided with Duke center Brian Zoubek while attacking the basket. "That's Da'Sean," Huggins said. "You know, that's the way he is. He's got such a great heart." Huggins assured his star he hadn't let down his teammates. He had done everything in his power to get West Virginia to the national title game, and that was enough.
If it were my son laying on the floor, his knee and his dream shredded, I would hope he had a coach like Huggins to tell him everything was OK.
We often criticize coaches for being selfish, for putting the dollar ahead of the kids. A few of them are. Huggins is not. No selfish man would have reacted the way Huggins did Saturday night. As he crouched over Butler, it was clear Huggins would pay to do this job if he had to.
Remember, Huggins' dream crumpled to the floor with Butler. A national title would mean more for Huggins' career -- and his checkbook -- than it would for Butler's. Huggins didn't care about any of that. He cared about his player.
Huggins is a man of few words, so it's telling that when someone asked him to put Butler's career in context Saturday night, Huggins spent 386 words explaining what Butler meant to the program. Included in those 386 words was a story about a West Virginia fan who suffered a heart attack during the second half of the Mountaineers' Elite Eight win against Kentucky. The woman wouldn't leave her house until after the final buzzer, and Butler found out about it Monday. Butler went to the hospital to thank the woman for her loyalty.
Huggins rarely shows emotion of any kind outside his usual referee-bound scowls, but those certainly looked like tears he was fighting back as he tended to Butler. "That's just Hugs," West Virginia forward Wellington Smith said. "He's just all about us."
Certainly, Huggins has had his share of issues. His players haven't always graduated, and he's signed some less-than-stellar people at some of his coaching stops. But if he treated those players with the respect and love he showed for Butler in those excruciating moments on the court Saturday night, Huggins deserves a better reputation than he has. All we can hope for when we send our children into the world is that they will encounter people who love them as unconditionally as we do. Huggins proved Saturday that he loves his players unconditionally.
As Huggins whispered into Butler's ear, I couldn't help but wonder if a sliver of the scene would wind up in Monday's One Shining Moment montage. It probably won't, because most would consider it tasteless to highlight a potentially serious injury. I doubt Butler would mind, though. He probably would want everyone to see that side of his coach.
Because in his One Shining Moment, Huggins showed the world what kind of coach he truly is.
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