Suspension gives Huggins 2nd chance

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 12, 2004

CINCINNATI - Bob Huggins is getting a second chance.

Embarrassed by Huggins' arrest on a drunken driving charge, the University of Cincinnati put its head basketball coach on indefinite, paid suspension Saturday so he can get his life in order.

Athletic director Bob Goin declined to set a length for the suspension, and held out the possibility that Huggins could be back for next season, which would be his 16th at Cincinnati.

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''I'm not going to say it's 60 days, 90 days, one year,'' Goin said. ''When I feel comfortable that he's ready to resume his responsibilities, then I'll make that recommendation.''

For the second time in less than 24 hours, Huggins appeared at a news conference and, with teary eyes and a halting voice, accepted responsibility. He said he would do whatever the university asks so he can return as soon as possible.

''I made a terrible mistake that I will pay deeply for,'' Huggins said. ''My intention is to do the right things. My intention is to do everything in my power to meet whatever conditions, whatever I'm asked to do by my superiors. I have a great love for this university and a great love for this community.''

Huggins declined to take questions because his case is pending in mayors court in suburban Fairfax, where he was arrested Tuesday night. The arrest report said Huggins failed a sobriety test and had vomit on the inside of his car.

Goin equated Huggins' suspension to a sabbatical that will give him time to examine his life. Huggins had a massive heart attack while recruiting 21 months ago and his mother died from cancer last year, but he has not taken any significant time off from coaching.

Goin will meet with Huggins before deciding what he must do for reinstatement.

''This will permit him the opportunity to reflect, re-energize and update his life priorities,'' Goin said. ''It will also let him address any personal matters which he has ignored.''

Huggins' arrest was the latest black mark on a program with a history of players getting arrested or suspended for various infractions, ranging from domestic violence to punching a police horse. Several have been acquitted or had the charged dropped.

The NCAA put the basketball program on two years' probation in 1998 for various rules violations, and stripped the university of scholarships as part of its punishment.

The NCAA concluded that there was a lack of institutional control over the program. It found that basketball staff members gave improper favors to players and made misleading statements to investigators.

Huggins' arrest is likely to get the attention of NCAA investigators. In the arrest report, Sgt. Jeff Bronson said that Huggins told officers he had been talking to recruits and drank beer with a recruit's family on Tuesday.

Huggins informed Goin of his arrest two days later. He also told Goin that he wasn't recruiting. Goin plans to tell the NCAA that there were no recruiting violations.

''I think we'll probably be proactive on that and say it was erroneous,'' Goin said.

The arrest report said that when Huggins' car was stopped for drifting out of its lane, he told officers, ''Don't do this to me,'' but was cooperative.

Huggins had slurred speech, staggered out of his car and couldn't keep his balance during a field sobriety test, according to the arrest report. Officers said he couldn't complete a breath analyzer test.

Huggins was taken to the village's police station, where his wife picked him up. He could be fined and sentenced to three days in jail on the drunken driving charge.

Two players from Huggins' 1992 Final Four team attended the news conference Saturday and embraced him afterward. Huggins won't be allowed in his on-campus office during the suspension.

''He believes in this institution,'' former guard Tarrance Gibson said. ''He doesn't take days off. It's going to hurt him, just not being here.''

Corie Blount, a forward on the Final Four team, said the basketball program won't necessarily be hurt by Huggins' suspension.

''We founded a tradition here,'' Blount said. ''Everybody knows Cincinnati basketball is accustomed to winning. If we keep that tradition up, we'll be all right.''

Huggins won't be allowed to talk to recruits while he's suspended, leaving those matters to his staff.

''I think he's built a great staff,'' Goin said. ''I think he has a great foundation. I think we're going to have the ability to say (to recruits) he will have the opportunity to return energized.''