K-State hires Huggins

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 3, 2006

The Associated Press

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — A decade removed from its last NCAA tournament appearance, Kansas State is putting its hopes for a basketball revival into the hands of a coach with a reputation for winning — and trouble off the court.

Wildcats fans, eager for a return to the glory days of the ’70s and ’80s when Kansas State regularly competed for the Big Eight championship, greeted Bob Huggins with standing ovations Thursday as he was introduced as the team’s new coach.

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The reception brought a wry smile to the face of the man who turned the Cincinnati Bearcats into a national powerhouse during his sometimes-tumultuous 16 seasons there.

‘‘I don’t think I’m a bad guy,’’ he said, prompting laughter and more applause from the several hundred who streamed into Bramlage Coliseum for Huggins’ introductory news conference.

Huggins, 52, signed a five-year contract with Kansas State in perhaps the most controversial hire in college basketball since Texas Tech hired Bob Knight five years ago.

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

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

Zimpher had made clear the DUI was only the culmination of a number of things, including low graduation rates and several off-the-court incidents involving players. The NCAA had also levied a two-year probation in 1998 for lack of institutional control.

But Huggins, wearing a necktie that was bright Kansas State purple, was offering 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 has not 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,’’ Huggins 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 is 567-199 in 24 seasons as head coach at Walsh, Akron and Cincinnati. In 16 seasons at Cincinnati, he was 399-127 and led 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.

Nevertheless, athletic director Tim Weiser admitted that Huggins’ reputation had given him pause for concern.

‘‘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 cross that fine line that separates winners and losers. They set a school record with nine losses of five points or fewer, including back-to-back 1-point setbacks to nationally ranked Texas and Oklahoma. They did beat Kansas in their first encounter to snap a 31-game losing streak to their archrivals.

Huggins promised to work his players and himself as hard as possible.

‘‘If I expect my guys to give everything they possibly can give every day that they’re out there, then I have to reciprocate that and I have to give to them every day,’’ he said.

Huggins suffered a heart attack in September 2002, and received a $3 million settlement from Cincinnati when his contract wasn’t renewed. But he said he never considered retiring during his year out of coaching.

‘‘I’m not ready to finish,’’ he said. ‘‘What bothered me was not having the dealings on a day-to-day basis with young people. That’s what I missed. I missed practice. I missed trying to help guys get better and grow up and become men. I missed the interaction I had with coaches.’’