Spend five minutes talking with new WVU assistant basketball coach Billy Hahn, and he'll have you ready to run through a brick wall. The 53-year old coach is full of passion, fire, and competitive spirit as he re-enters the coaching world following a three-year hiatus from collegiate coaching.
"That's how I am, man," said Hahn last week from his Coliseum office. "What you see is what you get with me. I'm emotional, I'm passionate. That's how I've been all my life. That's how I played high school basketball, and that's how I played college basketball. All the teams that I've been around, that's how they've played. That's how Huggs played too. You've got to play hard, a certain way. That's why I'm so glad that I'm here because I know we're going to play like that."
Hahn, a University of Maryland graduate, has spent more than 30 years in the collegiate coaching ranks. During that time, he's served as a head coach at Ohio University and the University of LaSalle. He also completed a 12-year stint as an assistant at his alma mater from 1989-2001. Throughout his years of coaching, Hahn has seen 19 of his former players make it to the NBA.
Ironically, he began his career as an assistant coach at Morris Harvey College (now the University of Charleston). Though that part of his coaching career was some 30 years ago, some of things he saw while at Morris Harvey played a big part in his decision to accept the assistant coaching position at WVU.
"I graduated from the University of Maryland in June of 1975," Hahn recalled. "I was hired by Rich Meckfessel in August of '75 to come to Morris Harvey College. I was Morris Harvey's first full-time assistant coach. Rich never had an assistant for all of those years. I went there as happy as could be.
"When I got to the state of West Virginia I could not believe the passion that the people had for West Virginia University," he continued. "Even though I was at Morris Harvey, all anybody ever wanted to talk about was the Mountaineers. I just couldn't believe the passion and excitement that the fans and the state had for WVU. It was amazing, just how everybody was all about the Mountaineers."
Having spent his playing career at Maryland, Hahn was sure that he had seen the most passionate fans in college sports. Upon arriving in the Mountain State, though, he was taken by surprise. In his brief time back in West Virginia, he's noticed the same passion for Mountaineer sports that stood out to him back in 1975.
"I came from Maryland, which I thought was a very big program from the ACC and all," he said. "But the state of West Virginia, man, those are some passionate fans. That was in 1975 and here I am in 2007. In the few days I've been here, nothing's changed. There's still that passion. Everywhere you go, people are wearing WVU stuff. It's great. It's exciting to be a part of."
"We go way back," Hahn said. "This is pretty funny: when I played for the University of Maryland, they had Huggs in for a visit. Huggs saw me play in an intrasquad game on his official visit to Maryland. After the game was over, Coach Driesell brought Huggs back to meet the team. That's how far we go back."
Now, Hahn and Huggins will team up with one ultimate goal in mind.
"I told Huggs that I was coming here for one reason: to win a national championship," Hahn said bluntly. "I know that a lot of people don't like to talk about that or they get nervous talking about it. I'm serious: I think you've got to talk about it and believe that it's going to happen. What else are you here for? To win it all! What else are you working for?"
The staff of Huggins, Hahn, and fellow assistant Erik Martin could prove to be a great combination when it comes to recruiting. With Martin, who played for Huggins at Cincinnati, you have a young coach who can relate very well to players. With Hahn, you have a coaching veteran with recruiting connections all over the East Coast who has seen his players go on to win national championships and compete in the NBA. And with Huggins, you have one of the winningest coaches in college basketball, and a man who is consistently regarded as one of the game's best. Add it all up, and it's a pretty solid group.
Of course if you were to ask anyone outside of the program whether or not you can bring the top players in the country to West Virginia, they would probably tell you "no way." Luckily for Mountaineer fans, Hahn completely disagrees with the assumption that it's hard to recruit the cream of the crop to Morgantown.
"You tell me why it's hard to recruit here," Hahn said, with sincerity ringing loud through his raspy voice. "I don't see why people say that it's hard to recruit here. I haven't seen any reasons yet. You've got a great school; you've got the state school. It is the state school in West Virginia. I bet you that on Christmas morning, everybody's got a WVU t-shirt underneath the tree, or something WVU under the tree. Heck, a lot of people probably have WVU ornaments on the tree. That's how passionate people are.
"You've got great facilities," he continued. You've got unbelievable educational opportunities. You can find just about any degree that you want. Educationally, it's a great institution. You've got a great campus, and you're going to come play for a great coach in Coach Huggins who is going to put players into the NBA. Tell me why it's hard to recruit here?
"I've only been here for a couple of weeks, so maybe I'll find it different when I get out there a little bit more, but I've got a lot of things to sell. I've always found that recruiting is very easy if you have a great product to sell, because then your heart can sell it. And let me tell you something: I'm pretty excited because I've got a lot of things to sell here. I could go on and on and on. It's great."
At first glance, maybe Hahn doesn't look like a Mountaineer quite yet. Outside of his office in the Coliseum, there is not yet a name plate. The black Air Jordan sweatshirt he wears during the interview has nary a logo other than that of the familiar Jordan insignia. The walls in the office are blank, and from the looks of things he is a man who is still transitioning into this new job. But once he opens his mouth and speaks, with passion and sincerity wrapped around every word, you know that he's thrilled to be back in the state where his coaching career began.
"I'm trying my hardest," he says. "I've got a little gas left in this tank. I've been doing this a long time, and I'm here for one reason: I'm here to help West Virginia University, Bob Huggins, and the basketball program win the national championship. That's all my passion, all my energy. That's all I'm thinking about. I don't have anything else to think about."