Cincinnati’s Huggins receives career ultimatum

CHICAGO – Bob Huggins led Cincinnati to 399 victories, more than any coach in its history. He took the Bearcats to the 1992 Final Four, guided them to 14 consecutive NCAA appearances and five times was named national coach of the year by at least one organization. But Huggins, 51, is out after 16 seasons at Cincinnati, the loser in an apparent power struggle with university President Nancy Zimpher. Huggins reportedly was traveling Tuesday, and attempts to reach him at his home and office were unsuccessful. But in a letter to Richard Katz, his attorney, the university gave Huggins the choice of resigning by Wednesday with a compensation package worth $3 million or of being fired with lesser compensation. “It’s time for the university to move on,” said athletic director Bob Goin, who has long supported Huggins. “We’ve reached an impasse.” The Associated Press quoted Katz as saying: “We’ve been discussing with them for the last six or eight weeks an extension of (Huggins’) contract. It appeared he wasn’t going to be able to fulfill the remaining two years of the contract because he couldn’t recruit; he was running into obstacles at the university. It would not have been appropriate for that to continue.” The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Tuesday that associate head coach Andy Kennedy would be asked to replace Huggins on an interim basis and prepare the Bearcats for their first season in the Big East. These stunning developments brought a sudden end to Huggins’ stay at Cincinnati, which hired him from Akron in March 1989. Just three years later he had the Bearcats in the Final Four, where they lost in the semifinals to Michigan’s Fab Five freshmen. Yet tumult regularly accompanied him even as he continued to roll up victories. Huggins’ often-bombastic courtside demeanor was questioned regularly, as was the low graduation rate of his players. His recruiting methods, which often culled junior colleges, also was questioned, and in 1998 the school was given a two-year NCAA probation for lack of institutional control of his program. Still, Huggins flourished, turning down offers to jump to the Miami Heat in 1995, the Los Angeles Clippers in 2000 and West Virginia in 2002. But then, in June 2004, he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, and the unraveling of his career began. He did not come close to being fired then. “It never entered my mind, quite frankly,” Goin later said in an interview. But Huggins was forced to serve a 76-day unpaid suspension, and when he returned, he no longer had the four-year rollover provision that had been in his contract. “Character counts,” Zimpher said Tuesday. “Our coaches must be exemplary role models on the court and off.” That left Huggins with three years on his contract. When last season ended, Zimpher informed him his deal would not be extended, leaving him with two years. That would certainly hurt him with recruits, who would have no guarantee that he would remain their coach, yet Huggins accepted even this limitation and rejected a buyout. “I plan on fulfilling my contract,” he said in May. “I love the players. I think I have an obligation to them, certainly to their families and the fans in the city of Cincinnati. “People here have been unbelievable. They’ve supported me, certainly, when I needed support. They’ve always been there. I believe in fulfilling my obligations, so I fully intend on doing that. “I have full confidence in and belief in this university. I have every confidence that everything will work out fine.” But Tuesday, the university made it clear that this would not be the case, that Huggins faced the choice of resigning or being fired. That letter was signed by Zimpher, Goins and Monica Rimai, the school’s legal counsel, and its meaning was clear. “Recall … that the university accepted, without argument, that Mr. Huggins was unwilling to continue coaching without a contract extension,” the letter said. “Given the events of the past and plan for the future, the university also believes that continuing the contract would be inadvisable.” Clearly auguring the end for Huggins, the letter also said: “I think we would both agree that these negotiations have gone on far too long. Mr. Huggins has clearly expressed … his desire to move in another direction. The university, too, wishes to move to the future in its men’s basketball program.”