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Cincinnati packs Huggins’ bags

Skip Myslenski Chicago Tribune

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 today 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 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 were 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.

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