By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
After University of Cincinnati basketball coach Bob Huggins survived a massive heart attack in September 2002, athletic director Bob Goin offered him the chance to take some time off.
Huggins, known as one of the hardest-working coaches in college basketball, declined because he said didn't want to let down his players and assistant coaches and because he wouldn't know what to do with himself.
"Everybody says slow down," Huggins said last fall. "You can't slow down. I could slow down and then we'd be 17-12 for the rest of the time I'm here, and I don't want to do that. If that's the case, then I need to quit.
"I believe if you've got a job, then you're supposed to go to work. There's a lot of people who have heart attacks and they still go back to work and they're expected to do what they were doing before, in the mine or the mill or the factory or whatever. They may not go back quite as fast, but my job's not as physically taxing."
Following the announcement Saturday that he has been suspended indefinitely with pay following his arrest on a drunk-driving charge, the 50-year-old Huggins will have no choice but to slow down and take some time off work.
Goin said the strain of 15 high-pressure seasons, a near-fatal heart attack and the death in May 2003 of Huggins' mother all placed a lot of stress on the UC coach. He said he had asked Huggins to "please take some time and spend some quality time away from the job."
Again Huggins declined.
"You know how much he loves every day at work," Goin said. "You can't expect him to do jumping jacks over this decision. But I also believe it's in the best interest of him, and I want to emphasize if it's in the best interest of him, it's in the best interest of his family and it's also in the best interest of this university and this athletic department."
Memphis coach John Calipari, one of Huggins' closest friends in the coaching profession, said he was glad to see the university standing by Huggins.
"This is a tough enough business," Calipari said. "Usually they're with you win or tie. It's kind of refreshing to see that we're all humans as coaches. We all make mistakes. We all lose our minds a time or two and do dumb things.
"We're just in an environment right now (in college athletics) where we're going to prove our point at the expense of somebody else's life. In this case, it appears as though Bob Goin is supporting Bob Huggins. There's so many situations where at the first sign of trouble, everybody runs."
Goin said he hopes the time away from work will benefit Huggins and his family in the long run. J.O. Stright, a Pittsburgh AAU coach who served as legal guardian to former UC All-American Danny Fortson and who remains one of Huggins' best friends, echoed that sentiment.
"I'm proud of the way he's handled this so far," Stright said. "I really hope this works out for everybody, including the university, his team, his family and himself."
That's exactly what Goin has in mind.
"I've often felt that he needed some time away," Goin said. "We have sabbaticals in education. He's had 15 hard seasons. This is not an easy job. It takes its toll. I have talked to him about that.
"I want to get this in position to where he can start enjoying a great quality of life and let coaching be part of that."
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