Huggins returns to college basketball

By Doug Tucker The associated press

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Bob Huggins is apologizing to no one.

“I don’t think I’m a bad guy,” he deadpanned.

Several hundred people who streamed into Bramlage Coliseum for Huggins’ introductory news conference Thursday laughed, then stood and applauded, bringing a wry smile to the face of Kansas State’s new basketball coach.

The 52-year-old Huggins, who turned the Cincinnati Bearcats into a national power during 16 sometimes-stormy years, signed a five-year contract with the Wildcats. It’s the most controversial hire in college basketball since Texas Tech took in Bob Knight five years ago.

Knight was one of several people Kansas State consulted before offering Huggins the job.

Although one of the winningest active coaches, Huggins was out of work for a year after Cincinnati president Nancy Zimpher refused to extend his four-year contract rollover following his arrest and conviction for drunken driving in 2004.

Cincinnati cited the arrest as the culmination of many problems. He also had been criticized for a low graduation rate and for several off-court problems involving players.

But Huggins, wearing a necktie that was bright Kansas State purple, offered no apologies.

“I don’t know many people who got to know me who want me to change a bunch,” he said. “I’m not perfect. I don’t think anybody is. I try to fix it. When you’ve got something you need to fix, you try to fix it.”

Huggins replaces Jim Wooldridge, who was 15-13 this past season. He takes over a once-proud program that hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1996 and has struggled to escape mediocrity since Bramlage opened in 1988-89.

“I am really excited about this. I am excited about this opportunity,” he said. “I do not know that I have ever been around nicer people, people more committed to doing things the right way. The more we talked, the more excited I got.”

Huggins was 399-127 at Cincinnati, leading the Bearcats to 14 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, including the 1992 Final Four. He won 10 regular-season Conference USA titles and was honored as the league’s coach of the decade. He also coached at Walsh and Akron and has a record of 567-199 during a 24-year career.

Nevertheless, athletic director Tim Weiser said Huggins’ reputation gave him pause.

“It certainly required us to do more in terms of discussing him with other coaches and with the NCAA,” Weiser said. “It also required us to talk to Bob and ask him some tough questions. His response showed he was eager for this opportunity.”

By no means is Huggins inheriting a program that is devoid of talent. Led by second-team all-Big 12 swingman Cartier Martin, the Wildcats proved highly competitive in Wooldridge’s sixth season.

But they were never able to win consistently. They set a school record with nine losses of five points or fewer, including back-to-back one-point setbacks to nationally ranked Texas and Oklahoma.