Brad Underwood has known Bob Huggins for years, and the Oklahoma State head coach says the gruff, scowling coach that most people see on the sideline for the West Virginia Mountaineers is not the person he knows. Underwood describes Huggins as caring, passionate and funny.
And that’s why it’s going to be so hard when the two long-time friends teams meet Friday afternoon when Oklahoma State (10-2) goes up against Huggins’ 11th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers (11-1).
Huggins hired Underwood was the director of operations at Kansas State prior to the 2006-07 basketball season. Although Huggins left after that season to go to West Virginia, it was the beginning of Underwood’s major college coaching career.
“I think the one thing with Huggs, everybody talks about the wins and everybody has portrayed him as this one way,” Underwood says, “but when I think of Huggs I think of the opportunity he gave me. When he left (Kansas State), I look over and I see my wife watching him on the newscast get on a plane to go to West Virginia and she’s in tears, and says, ‘I love that guy.’
“He impacts so many people that nobody knows about and nobody hears about. I think of him laying over the top of one of his players who has torn a knee up in the Final Four. He’s that passionate, he’s that caring.”
Underwood will pick up the 100th win of his major college coaching career if the Cowboys upset the Mountaineers on Friday afternoon. In comparison, Huggins, who is in his 35th year as a head coach, is going for the 803rd win of his career.
“Everybody else thinks the other side; I know him and I know what he stands for and what he’s about. I know how good of a coach he is,” Underwood said. “Every time I think about Huggs, I think about laughter. He loves to laugh, and that’s why he’s fun to be around. He was fun to work for, and he was easy to work for. He’s a guy that has kept coaching in the right perspective; it’s never miserable. It’s kept in the right frame of mind. We’re going to have fun going to work, we’re going to work our tails off and that’s what Huggs does.”
Underwood’s Stephen F. Austin team upset third-seeded West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament last March, but that’s doesn’t mean it gets any easier coaching against Huggins.
“I’m really competitive, and I won’t say it’s harder to compete against friends, but we’re going to fight, and I’m going to fight for our guys because that’s my job,” he said. “And yet every single night that West Virginia’s playing or South Carolina with Frank Martin or whoever else I worked for (as an assistant coach) is playing, there’s nobody cheering louder than me.
“Now you go against them and it’s a different feeling, a different emotion. It’s not every night you go hug the guy that you’re competing against. I value that friendship, I value that relationship but for those 40 minutes or however long it takes, we’re going to fight like heck and that’s the competitive nature of what we do.”