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An RCR History Lesson: Bob Huggins and Andy Kennedy

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Think of what's going to happen tonight as almost a "Darth Vader vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi in a   battle at the end of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" type of situation.  Bob Huggins is Obi-Wan and Andy Kennedy is Darth Vader who, in a much different episode of his life, was once Anakin Skywalker--Obiwan's padawan learner.  Of course, Andy Kennedy isn't so much the most frightening incarnation of evil, just as Bob Huggins isn't the gentle couterpa...

Holy shit this is getting really nerdy.  Umm, quick, javelin rocket launchers

Kaboom, baby.


Alright, now that we're back and firmly affixed into something which would air on either Spike TV or Versus, allow me to explain the allegory.

Bob Huggins, the head coach of the West Virginia University Mountaineers basketball team, was born to play the part.  Literally.  He was born in Morgantownand played point guard for the Mountaineers during the mid-1970's.  Cut after only a brief tryout run in with the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, Huggins returned to West Virginia to join the basketball staff as a Graduate Assistant.  Shortly thereafter, he would leave West Virginia only to return after a long, varied, and tumultuous career elsewhere throughout the collegiate ranks.

First, he worked as an assistant at Ohio State for two years.  It was thereafter that he, at 27, would be offered his first head coaching gig at Walsh University (I had to look it up too, it's ok).  Three seasons and two NAIA District Coach of the Year awards later, he spent one year in Orlando as an assistant at the University of Central Florida, only to move to Akron for his first head coaching gig at a division one school.  Going to three postseasons in five years with one bid to the big dance as the head man for the Zips was enough to earn Huggins the gig at Cincinnati.  The Bearcats, while being able to boast multiple final four appearances and two national titles, were in the throes of a painful 12-year NCAA tournament drought.

Three seasons later, Bob Huggins took his Cincinnati Bearcatsto the Final Four.  Thirteen more seasons would come with Huggins leading Cincinnati.  During this span, his teams would win ten conference regular season titles, eight conference tournament titles, and two more deep NCAA tournament runs--each ending in the Elite Eight.  Bob Huggins had turned Cincinnati into a powerhouse in the Metro Conference and C-USA (remember, Cincy didn't join the Big East until mid-2005), but things very quickly turned very sour for a man who seemed to have as much job security as any in NCAA basketball.

Y'see, Bob Huggins likes booze.  A lot.  Naturally, I, a bloggeur whose blog title makes a not-subtle-whatsoever reference to clandestine imbibery, cannot fault him for such.  I can however, and very much will, fault him for his 2004 DUI arrest.

After a night out in Cincinnati during which Huggins was reportedly visiting a recruit, he was pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence.  He was hammered.  In the report, Huggins is quoted as saying "do you know who I can't do this to me" before blowing chunks all over the door of his car like a freshman girl being driven home from penny pitchers at Billiards or Illusions or whatever that damn place is called nowadays. 

The University administration did not feel that this incident fit well with their goals to bolster the school's academic reputation and offered Huggins an ultimatum: take a buyout or be fired.  He took the buyout.

After one relatively successful and much celebrated season as the head coach of the Kansas State Wildcats--a season after which star forward Michael Beasley would commit to K State--Bob Huggins finally answered the call to return to his Alma Mater.  Now, he has his Mountaineers in the top-10 as a legitimate contender to win the Big East.

But, a few years prior to all of the controversy which tarnished his reputation and saw him ushered out of the program he re-built, Bob Huggins would hire a young assistant coach out of UAB--a coach who would eventually become Huggins' protege both on and off of the court: Andy Kennedy. 

From Huggins himself:

Let me tell you how I hired Andy...I’m sitting in Augusta, Ga., at the Peach Jam and I’m going to hire this one guy as an assistant who had a reputation as a great recruiter but he had family issues and he couldn’t come when I wanted him to come.

So I’m an assistant short and I know Andy and he comes over and sits down and we start talking. He tells me no one would work harder than him, no one would be more loyal than him, no one would have a better relationship with the players than him...We left it at that. Then I called him, asked him if he wanted to visit and he said, ‘No, just send me the gear.’ He never came to campus.

I have the utmost respect for Andy Kennedy...He’s what coaches are all about. He’s loyal, hard working, loves his kids and works his heart out.

As with Huggins, Kennedy's basketball resume was fairly impressive for someone so young.  He was a Parade All-American out of Louisville, MS.  He was coached by the heralded Jim Valvano at North Carolina State before transferring to UAB.  He even spent some time in the league as a Charlotte Bobcat.  After several knee injuries, Kennedy gave the game up to become a coach.  He was an assistant at South Alabama for one season and his alma mater for five before being hired into the Cincinnati program.

After four years as Bob Huggins' assistant, he was promoted to serve as the Bearcats' interim head coach after the aforementioned controversy cost Huggins his job.  As an interim coach, Kennedy showed his knack for recruiting and his ability to coach a winning team.  During that season (2005-6), the Bearcats posted a 21-13 record and an NIT berth, surpassing the expectations of many.  After their NIT appearance, many folks in the UC community were even clamoring for the university athletics administration from dropping the "interim" tag from Coach Kennedy's title.

That wouldn't happen, as AK returned home to the Magnolia State to build our then-moribund Ole Miss basketball program.  Few would argue that Coach Kennedy hasn't brought an intensity, basketball knowledge, and recruiting prowess to Ole Miss that doesn't at least loosely echo what Huggins brought to Cincinnati.  Unfortunately, but rather appropriately, he has also brought controversy.

I mean, shit Andy, in Cincinnati no less!

You all know what happened.  I won't waste your time.  Let's just be thankful the charges were reduced and any potential international altercations were avoided. 

Despite all controversies and diverging paths, though, both men have a mutual respect for one another as coaches and people.  Knowing this, it really is no surprise that the two would schedule their teams to play one another as a part of their respective out of conference slates. 

Now, to bring this back to the original allegory, let'sall hope that Andy Kennedy can, just this once, defeat the person who made him everything he is (in basketball though; light sabers aren't real).  It is time for the mentee to defeat the mentor.