MORGANTOWN — Perhaps it wasn’t the optimal time to broach the subject. After all, Bob Huggins was sitting in one multi-million-dollar building that to date hasn’t paid big dividends and decided it was time to talk about investing even more.
Still, West Virginia’s basketball coach apparently figured that if the time wasn’t exactly perfect to discuss a wish list, well, when would it be? So he went full-speed ahead, as is pretty much his wont.
“The reality is the Coliseum is 44 years old and has never really had a makeover,’’ Huggins said. “I’m not one of those people who say we need a new arena. We don’t need a new arena. But we do need to do some things — and I think some significant things — in the Coliseum.”
The timing probably wasn’t the best because this was last Saturday. Huggins had just spent 40 minutes defending himself over the red-hot issues of transfers from his program, a topic that had reached the boiling point a day earlier when Terry Henderson’s decision to do so was announced.
Now let’s be brutally honest about this. Huggins held that impromptu press conference in a $24.1 million basketball practice facility that he and others insisted needed to be built in order to enhance recruiting and improve practice conditions.
It’s been open just a little over two years now and recruiting hasn’t improved markedly, if at all. How it has affected practice is, of course, terribly subjective, but if the gauge is performance then the answer is not good. In the two full seasons the facility has been available the team is a combined 30-35.
Perhaps most significantly, though, that building hasn’t even served to keep the players WVU had before it opened and some attracted since. At least nine players have left the program for one reason or another since the building opened.
Still, it is hard to argue with the facility’s necessity. All one has to do is look around the country at what is happening in what amounts to a facilities arms race. West Virginia is merely trying to keep pace and for the most part has managed to — or has plans to do so with $106 million in improvements budgeted — given its resources.
Huggins wants more, though, and that’s where he’s going to start running counter to public opinion. Coaches who are 30-35 in two years, have a higher-than-normal rate of attrition (yes, you can say transfers are happening everywhere, but WVU’s numbers are on the high side), have a practice facility still with that new-construction smell and are working under what amounts to a lifetime contract aren’t really in much of a position to demand even more.
At least until those prior investments start showing more of a return. In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately culture, few want to hear about the five straight NCAA tournaments Huggins engineered in his first five years. That’s not fair, of course, but it’s the reality. Not everyone is down on Huggins, but enough are that life out there in the fan base is uncomfortable, to say the least.
And that’s not when you want to go asking for the next big thing.
Still, poor timing or not, Huggins does make some good points about the Coliseum. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of either of West Virginia’s primary venues. Both Mountaineer Field and the Coliseum were built during the same era that produced cookie-cutter stadiums like Three Rivers in Pittsburgh and Veterans in Philadelphia — massive, gray, concrete structures with very little appeal. Hold those up against almost any facilities in the Big 12 — be they shiny new ones like Baylor’s soon-to-be-opened football stadium or Kansas’ ancient-but-classic Allen Fieldhouse, just to name two — and they are what they are: blah.
“We need to modernize because you’ve got guys going to different places and taking pictures and tweeting them,” Huggins said. “Don’t think that those things don’t play into [attracting talent].
“We need to do some things. In fact, we need to do a lot of things.”
Well, the athletic department already has that $106 million budgeted for improvements across the board. A huge chunk of that will go toward modernizing the football stadium. Some will be directed toward the Coliseum, primarily for modernizing restrooms and concessions and the concourse.
Perhaps Huggins just wanted to throw his two cents in before all of that $106 million is budgeted. He’s been a proponent of all the planned improvements at the Coliseum but now he’s talking about suites and the like.
“If we really want to move forward and if we really want to become a national presence on a yearly basis, that needs to happen,” Huggins said. “Otherwise we’re going to continue to be pretty much what we are. Can we be really good sometimes? Yeah. Can we do it on a consistent basis without [improving facilities]?’’
He didn’t bother answering his own question. His teams have been really good sometimes. They haven’t been on a consistent basis, namely the last two years. Improving the Coliseum will help address that, he maintains.
Now just might not be the right time to be pressing the issue.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.