West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins has never shown much affinity for the annual Capital City Classic against Marshall University in Charleston, but it's always something he's seemed willing to bear without much complaint. There's the wry comment sprinkled in here and there that let's you know he feels the game is beneath him and his program, but he's always accepted it as a necessary evil.
Most likely in response to Marshall coach Dan D'Antoni's postgame comments after WVU squeaked out an ugly 69-66 win in Charleston on Sunday (a game the Mountaineers trailed most of the way), Huggins let loose on the Thundering Herd coach and program with both barrels during his weekly radio show with Tony Caridi.
You can hear the whole segment HERE (just click on the December 15, 2014 Bob Huggins link inside...it's at the very beginning of the show).
Before we get to Huggs, here's what D'Antoni said:
"I heard suggestions for a home and home. Here's my suggestion: Morgantown, Charleston. Next year Charleston, Huntington and just keep it that way. It's good for the state. If they back out now they're afraid of us. We're coming back."
I add the emphasis on that last part because that's clearly what caught Huggins' ire. To provide a little context WVU holds a 19-5 lead in the series since it moved to Charleston in 1991. The Mountaineers have not played in the Thundering Herd's gym since 1990.
Now let's get to the meat of this bone. Huggs had a lot to say and I've tried to capture as much as I can here and with apologies to host and voice of the Mountaineers Tony Caridi I cut most of his part out, but he asked some good questions to focus Huggins' rant so I also included some quotes from he and co-host Jay Jacobs.
It starts out with a clearly ornery-feeling Huggs (and honestly, when isn't he) gratefully taking Tony's bait to elaborate on what the coach had earlier alluded to as "laughable."
I probably coached a thousand games. And now I'm scared. Scared to play Marshall. Scared to death...must have been when I turned 61 that the fear set in because I've never been afraid before. But that's what the word is. I guess I'm getting old....
The whole thing's comical. I happen to get the paper. We have a little column about what a rivalry we have. But really the headline is the University High girls. And above that Trickett's in limbo. And they think this is a rivalry.
Tony: You do not view this game as a rivalry?
Tony...how can it be a rivalry when they don't even write about it in the paper. I mean, those are the guys asking me the questions. 'Is this a rivalry?' Well obviously not you don't write about it. I mean, rivalries they put on the front page. They can't wait, you know what I mean? They get very excited. We obviously don't get very excited.
So Tony asked the big lingering question:
Tony: So would it bother you if the game went away?
Tony: It would not?
Huggs: No. Not at all. Not at all.
I wish I could convey how little he hesitated. Is there a unit of measurement less than a nanosecond? Tony barely had the question out. Huggins hates this game. I mean we've always known he hates this game, but man HE HATES THIS GAME.
I wonder why he hates this game? Well, luckily Huggs brought along some facts for us:
Let's be honest. I have all the RPIs of all the people we've played this year. Going into the game Marshall was 270. After playing us they jumped all the way up to 237. Now, you know what that would do for us if we happen not to win? We were I think 36 coming into the game.
You try not to play anybody below 200, you know that. And now they want to play twice in a year? Are you kidding me? Why don't we do what's best for West Virginia University and the state of West Virginia. I don't think it's my job to support them. I don't think that's part of my contract.
He can say I'm afraid all he wants. I've probably coached 1,116 more games than he has. It's ridiculous to say something like that. We're afraid. Yeah, we're really afraid. It's crazy, we've beaten Duke. Mike's a pretty good coach. Was I afraid? I wasn't afraid playing Duke. Played Boeheim. Used to play him every year. He's a pretty good coach, I wasn't afraid. Why would I be afraid?
Having snarkily dispatched the Herd team and coach, Huggs decided it might be fun to twist that knife a little bit:
And the thing that's most laughable and I'll get in trouble for saying it I know but I'm to the point in my life where I really don't care. How about this: "we're back." That was their sixth loss in a row. 'We're back' alright. Honestly it becomes laughable. It's laughable. So they lose by three, "we're back." It's their sixth loss in a row. Three of them at home.
But then Huggins got back down to business and what was clearly his intent with this entire rant - to minimize the damage he feels Marshall can do to his schedule.
My fear is that our people get caught up in this stuff and do something that's not in our best interest. It's not in our best interest to play a team who.......this is the fifth time in ten years that they've been 160 in the RPI or worse. How's that in our best interest? It's not in our best interest. It's not in the best interest of West Virginia basketball.
At this point he seemed to catch himself a little. He knows this is a game that a lot of WVU fans south of Morgantown enjoy. Heck the guy writing this went to the Capital Classic with his dad every year until college (and my freshman year I even drove back for a quick overnight trip to watch Lionel Armistead nail a buzzer-beater to win). As much as he may detest it, the game's a fixture among the fanbases and has a place in WVU sports.
But then he went ahead and kept the flamethrower ratcheted high:
Now (for us) to go to Charleston, I think it really is good for the kids that can't get here and that kind of thing. Now think of this if you're Marshall and no one's coming to your games why wouldn't you want someone that's going to fill the place up. They're not going to fill our place up. It's not equitable. He wants to sit here and act like it's equitable, it's not equitable. We play in the number 1 RPI league in America. And has been for quite awhile. Conference USA's RPI as of today they're the 15th ranked conference. How is that equitable? It's not equitable. It's laughable.
Huggins used a great word there that could really be used to describe both the basketball and football contests between the Mountaineers and Herd: equitable. The series is not and has never been equitable. It's a win that does nothing but hurt the WVU strength of schedule at best, and in the event of a loss could have an absolutely devastating affect to postseason hopes.
West Virginia University has never and will never gain anything by playing Marshall University on the field or basketball court. This is a fact and is the thing that Thundering Herd fans have never fully grasped. It's the core of Huggins' entire rant.
At this point Huggs and Tony talked for awhile about how great the Big 12 is. The high points are 6 of the 10 of the coaches have coached in a Final Four and the league is 2nd in the country in lottery picks (behind the ACC). Huggs summed it up at the end with "we're the best basketball league in America."
The he got back on task.
Huggs: And we're afraid. What a joke. What a joke. It's laughable Tony, it's laughable.
Jacobs: You mean to tell me he did not stir you up with his comments.
Huggs: Jay you of all people know I love this university and I take great pride in being able to represent this university. And for someone to say that West Virginia University is afraid....I mean, please. Please.
Jay: Well they say that they're going to be there next year.
Huggs: (again with a sub-nanosecond response) So will we.
Then it was time for Huggins to go back to his trusty newspaper to underscore his point about how meaningless the game is to WVU and Mountaineer fans:
Huggs: We got the headline for the womens' game...with uh....IUFW...
Tony: Ft. Wayne.
Huggs: That was the headline. The day before the game. It's a rivalry though, Tony by god. Here in Morgantown we don't even get their box scores. I tell you what it's a rivalry, we hang on everything that goes on down there in Marshall. We don't get their box scores here. You gotta look at..I don't even know where that is (meaning where in the paper's national list of box scores they list Marshall games), wherever they are the east or south or whatever to look and see if they won or lost but I doubt that anyone here really does that.
And then it was back to the primary point for Huggins: protecting his team's schedule.
Tony: So basically as you beat around the bush here you're saying you're not going to play them twice.
Huggins: It would be a travesty. It would be a travesty.
Then Huggins expanded a little and expressed what seemed to be the sentiment that Marshall views the WVU game as a shortcut to respectability.
It bothers me because...maybe it was a shot at me, I don't know. But I took it as a shot to our university and that's not right. I mean, come on. I could go on and on and on.
You try to tell your players "this is where I am in life, and if I wanna aspire to be higher, then I gotta work my butt off." But it doesn't come with..."why don't we play four times.....ten maybe." It just....come on, man. I try really, really hard not to schedule people below 200. Really hard. If you look Lafayette's in the top 100. We try to research that. Now it's not a science but you try. You really try.
VMI's RPI is better than Marshall's. Come on. It doesn't help us. From a pure basketball standpoint of where we want to go it does not help us. Now it helps them. I understand his standpoint, it helps them. Oh, to get us to come in, fill their place with 7,000 people that's a big thing for them. It's not my job to do that. That's his job.
Then a final parting shot with a little warning tossed in just to be sure the coach and athletic director down the road get the point:
Tony: Will you make any move not to play them in the future?
Huggs: I think if this kind of thing continues why would we? Why we want to sit here and hear we're afraid. Go find somebody else to play.
So there you have it. I'm not going to get into much editorializing because Huggs didn't really leave much room for interpretation. We now 100% without a doubt know how Bob Huggins REALLY feels about dragging his happy ass down I-79 once a year to play Marshall in the Charleston Civic Center. I wouldn't worry that the 'eers will be looking to purge the schedule of the Thundering Herd anytime soon, but it's without a doubt that Huggins does not appreciate the tweaking he took from Dan D'Antoni - a tweaking that's pretty consistent with how Marshall coaches have acted for the last couple decades.
Huggins wants Marshall to stay quiet over there at the kiddie table, lest he stop making the trip to bring them a few slices of turkey once a year.