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John Fay: Bob Huggins was a larger-than-life character at UC and he just keeps winning

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Posted at 3:41 PM, Dec 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-19 19:49:36-05

CINCINNATI — It was good to see Bob Huggins get this 800th win the other day. Like almost everyone who covered Huggins, I couldn’t help but like the guy.

I thought of him Sunday after the Bengals lost. Marvin Lewis did not rip a single player after his team blew a 15-point lead in a 24-20 loss.

Huggins would have gone up and down the roster questioning the players' intelligence, fire and toughness.

That was and is his style.

Yet, his players love him. That’s probably because while Huggins takes free rein on ripping his players, he takes exception when anyone else does.

Huggins has been gone from Cincinnati for 11 years, but he’ll always be identified with the city, even more than with West Virginia, I’d say. He spent 16 years here. He resurrected the Bearcat program.

And he was one of the most colorful characters ever on the Cincinnati scene. 

I covered UC for four years immediately following Huggins’ best two UC years -- the Final Four appearance followed by the Elite Eight appearance. My first year was the year they brought in Dontonio Wingfield, Damon Flint, Darnell Burton and Co. There were growing pains.

Huggins was great to cover in one way -- great access, he spoke his mind, and he was generally fun to be around. Huggins was tough to cover in another way -- you always knew that something you wrote was going to tick him off.

I had my share of battles with him. One of the first stories I wrote on the beat was about his conflict with then-athletic director Rick Taylor. Huggins wasn’t happy about the article before I wrote it, i.e., he took exceptions to the questions.

The maddest he got at me was over a story that said he and Keith Gregor got into a “confrontation” at practice. I used another word. An editor changed it to confrontation. It was the wrong word to use. Gregor didn’t “confront” Huggins. Gregor silently took it as Huggins lambasted him at practice. Players got screamed on a daily basis at practice and practices were open. Some did give it back. Gregor didn’t.

“He’s the nicest kid in the world,” Huggins said.

That’s why Huggins was so mad. It made one of his kids look bad.

We were on the road in Wyoming when this happened. I dug out my old TRS-200 and showed Huggins the unedited version. We made peace.

But it was always an uneasy peace for beat writers covering Huggins.

We get along fine now. Universal rule of beat writing: The folks you cover will like you a lot better after you’re off the beat.

The best times on the beat were late nights in the hotel bars with Huggins holding court and buying beers. He’s funny, irreverent and endlessly entertaining. Whenever two former beat guys get together, they’ll quote Huggins lines not fit for a family website. There are a lot of them.

I got off the beat about the time the first bit of NCAA trouble started for Huggins. It was sad to see that ended like it did at UC. The city could have used a character like Huggs for a few years. 

Huggins always talked about retiring and going fishing on Lake Erie even in his UC days. My guess? He gets to at least 900 and I wouldn’t bet against 1,000.  

John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at johnfayman@aol.com.