Saturday, June 12, 2004

DUI is a blessing for Huggins

UC basketball coach has opportunity to solicit help

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UC's most public face now wears an omelet. Fairfax cops stopped Bob Huggins late Tuesday and charged him with driving under the influence. The arrest report isn't something you'd want your kid to read, especially if your kid were a big-time college basketball recruit:

Slurred speech. Watery eyes. Staggered from car. Didn't complete a Breathalyzer. Failed field sobriety tests. Vomit on the driver's side door. You could say it could have happened to anyone. You'd be right if Huggins were anyone. He isn't. He's a public figure with a well-known and enduring affection for barley malt.

We laughed two years ago, when the get-well regimen his doctors assigned him after his heart attack allowed for 12 ounces of wine a day. Only Huggins would have his wine served in a beer-sized portion.

View the police report

 Video icon Police in-cruiser video of Huggins being pulled over

 Video icon Raw video of Huggins' Friday news conference

We asked a few of his close friends last winter - when Huggins regained a lot of the weight he'd lost, and his face assumed the bloated pallor of a few years back - about his postgame habits. They'd sigh and shake their heads.

And now he has paid a price. He hadn't eaten for several hours. He mixed alcohol with medication he takes for his heart. "Don't do this to me" is what the coach reportedly said to the arresting officer. Actually, the officer just might have done something for Huggins, if Huggins takes it seriously.

It was a reckless act. What should UC do about it?

How far is the university willing to go to support a successful basketball coach who has been its athletic meal ticket for 15 years, but whose national image even before this was borderline Jesse James?

What matters most?

Big-time sports schools face this decision all the time. One of the dirty little open secrets of college sports is the soul-selling sometimes required to compete. Good conduct is nice, and fervently hoped for. As we've seen, over and over, it's not always essential.

Huggins apologized Friday night, which, if you know Huggins, was a huge step in the good direction. Now it's up to the university.

For UC president Nancy Zimpher to ask for Huggins' resignation would be hypocrisy. Does Huggins deserve a second chance? Not if you think the last 15 years of Bearcat basketball were a happy accident. Only if you see the move to the Big East, the national TV exposure and all that sweet TV money as, you know, coincidental.

Zimpher and Bob Goin will wheel out the damage control this morning at 10. Goin is very good at that sort of thing, so expect a polished performance. Also, expect a six-month suspension, minimum. Here's what Zimpher and Goin ought to do. Here's what UC should do for its basketball coach, who has done much for UC:

Suspend Huggins 60 days. Demand he get help, whether it's in town or at a nationally recognized facility. Counselors can tell the extent of Huggins' problem. Support him through the process. If all goes well, welcome him back.

Huggins has work to do. Admitting he has a problem will be a huge task for him. Slowing down long enough to address it will be another. Huggins is someone who believes we make our own breaks. We work hard; we don't ask favors. We don't admit weakness, or give in to it.

But this isn't something he can John-Wayne his way through. He needs to accept the judgments of the experts, slow down and change the way he lives. Huggins is hard on just about everyone. Himself most of all.

He was a terrible example Tuesday night. Allow him to be a good one over the next several months.



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