When the University of Cincinnati plays West Virginia on Saturday in a second-round NCAA tournament game, it will pit Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins against an old rival, West Virginia coach Gale Catlett.
Twenty years ago, Catlett declined to keep Huggins on the West Virginia coaching staff even though Huggins was a graduate assistant, had played for West Virginia and wanted to stay there. Ironically, West Virginia had hired Catlett from Cincinnati, where he was head coach for six seasons in the 1970s."He's there, and I'm here," Huggins said Thursday of Catlett, after Cincinnati defeated Northern Arizona 65-62 to advance to Saturday's round. "I'm close to some coaches, and I talk to them the majority of the time. There's no reason for us to talk. We don't play the same people."
West Virginia defeated Temple on Thursday to advance to the game with Cincinnati. Catlett declined to discuss the matchup with Huggins and the Cincinnati Bearcats.
But the history of their encounter remains. After Joedy Gardner was fired as the West Virginia coach after the 1977-78 season, school athletic director Leland Byrd asked Huggins, then a graduate assistant coach, to stay and help recruit until a new coach was hired.
"I loved the university and I loved living there and all my family is there," Huggins said. "Both my mother and father grew up in Morgantown. I was born in Morgantown."
Even though Huggins helped Catlett recruit after Catlett was hired away from Cincinnati, Catlett opted not to keep Huggins.
Huggins was hired by Eldon Miller to be an assistant coach at Ohio State about a week after being released. But, Huggins wrote in his autobiography, "Bob Huggins: Pressed for Success," that he was hurt by Catlett's decision.
"After the signing date, Gale called me in and told me he didn't think it was in either of our best interests for me to stay," Huggins wrote. "He said I should probably go somewhere else where I could grow and get out of Morgantown.