Posted: Wednesday March 16, 2011 9:34AM ; Updated: Wednesday March 16, 2011 3:57PM
Steve Rushin
Steve Rushin>RUSHIN LIT

In sea of Armani-clad coaches, Huggins stands out with tracksuit

Story Highlights

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins no longer beholden to tyranny of fashion

Huggins is dressed for job: if W. Virginia's game turns into track meet he's ready

Like Belichick, Huggins has more important things to worry about than fashion

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West Virginia coach Bob Huggins has become known for wearing a tracksuit instead of a suit on the sideline.
Rich Barnes/Icon SMI

If clothes make the man, Bob Huggins must now be considered a made man. Not made like Paulie Walnuts, who also lived in a tracksuit, on The Sopranos, but made as in completed, a finished product, a man sufficiently evolved to be -- at long last -- comfortable in his own skin (plus a thin layer of nylon).

Whatever you choose to call his famous tracksuit -- the Morgantown Tuxedo, The Night Flight To Sydney, Poolside In Boca -- you must concede that the West Virginia basketball coach is no longer beholden to the tyranny of fashion.

He once was. Over the years on game days, Huggins tried the suit and tie, made a mockery of the mock turtleneck, went the full Jim Tressel in sweater, vest and shirt and even rocked the full Jim Furyk -- a golfer's rain-resistant V-neck pullover.

It was never clear why a man coaching an indoor sport felt the need to dress in a rain-resistant golf windbreaker, except to say that for many of us, dressing has never been easy. This might explain Huggy's famous mustard-yellow suit with matching mustard shoes, an outfit he has since returned to Colonel Mustard, who keeps it in the conservatory.

For those of us bereft of fashion sense, it can be a bewildering world of choices out there. "Is Bob Huggins wearing an ascot in the Backyard Brawl?" Jay Bilas asked on Twitter during the last West Virginia-Pitt game. "He is a sailor's hat away from being mistaken for Thurston Howell III."

True, a man opens himself up to a certain amount of second-guessing when the answer to the question "Who are you wearing?" is "Dick's Sporting Goods."

But who are most of us to judge? Let he without sin -- without synthetic fiber -- cast the first stone. I'll certainly abstain, as evidenced by the mug shot above, in which I -- in Kelly-green dress shirt -- look like the regional supervisor of the Lucky Charms leprechaun.

Stand Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, in his orange blazer, next to Louisville coach Rick Pitino, in his white suit, next to me, in my green shirt, and we are the Irish flag incarnate. Throw in recently fired North Carolina State coach Sidney Lowe, in his red blazer, and you have a Technicolor Mount Rushmore of fashion casualties.

So I've come to praise, not to bury, Huggy's tracksuit. It's not Roy Williams with his pocket squares who embodies coaching fashion. It's Huggins, whose leisure wear was once the universal uniform of the coach: A gray sweatshirt with COACH across the chest, set off by a whistle on a string and a pair of belt-less, polyester, dual-snap "coaches' shorts."

The sweatshirt is still Bill Belichick's game day get-up of choice, an outfit that confirms the Patriot coach's genius, in the way that Einstein's electrified hair said he had bigger things on his mind than conditioner.

When his wife asked him to change clothes before letting the German ambassador in, Einstein said: "If they want to see me, here I am. If they want to see my clothes, open my closet and show them my suits."

Beyond its sheer comfort, the tracksuit has plenty of practical advantages. Should West Virginia's opening-round game turn into a track meet on Thursday, Huggins will be dressed for it.

The tracksuit, too, has contributed to the lexicon of college basketball. A swish is the sound of a made basket. A swoosh is the ubiquitous Nike logo. And now swish-swoosh, swish-swoosh is universally recognized as the sound of Huggins entering a room in his tracksuit.

In his Devil's Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce defined a sweater as "a garment worn by a child when its mother is feeling chilly." Which is to say, we all want to project our dress sense onto other people. Courageous is the man who resists such conformity. The tracksuit is an act of defiance and independent thinking, even if Huggins never meant it as such. As the late SNL star Gilda Radner once said: "I base my fashion sense on what doesn't itch."

Intended or not, the tracksuit is a far more forceful statement of style than Pitino's white suit, which was worn before him -- and to better effect -- by Colonel Sanders, Fluff the Caddie and Mr. Roarke from Fantasy Island.

Anyone can buy a suit at Brooks Brothers. Brave is the man who walks into Marx Brothers and says: "Do you have this jacket in a three-quarter-sleeve, half-zip pullover?" I should know: As I write, I'm in my work uniform of powder-blue basketball shorts and T-shirt emblazoned VAUGHAN'S PUBLIC HOUSE/ST. PATRICK'S DAY 2007.

"Fashion fades, style is eternal," said Yves Saint Laurent, who wouldn't know coach Huggins from a Coach handbag. Whatever the Mountaineers do in this tournament, Huggins' signature style is already reaching toward eternity. His tracksuit has joined the pantheon of famous leisure wear, alongside the tracksuits of Run-DMC, Ali G and The Royal Tenenbaums.

And all because he had the foresight -- the fortitude -- to trade his belt for a drawstring, the noose of a necktie for a no-collar job.

Steve Rushin is the author of The Pint Man, a novel. Purchase it here. Also check out steverushin.com.

 
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