MIKE BURKE

Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

Wren Baker may be asking himself why he ever left his comfortable job as athletic director at the University of North Texas to take the same job at West Virginia University. Of course, those at West Virginia University may be asking themselves why they ever asked him to do it.

Ever since Baker arrived in Morgantown, it’s been one thing after another one. Amidst the usual Neal Brown angst, Baker has walked into making a number of key athletic department hires, the latest one being the promotion of assistant men’s basketball coach Josh Eilert to interim head coach following the June 17 resignation of Bob Huggins.

Huggins had previously been disciplined in May after using a homophobic slur to refer to Xavier fans while also denigrating Catholics during a radio interview with a Cincinnati station. He agreed to a three-game suspension, a $1 million salary reduction and sensitivity training. Never mind that any other employee at WVU, including President E. Gordon Gee, would have been gone for the same transgression, but not the Hall of Famer Huggins.

A month later, though, Huggins was gone, resigning after a drunken driving arrest in Pittsburgh.

Except now Huggins is saying he didn’t resign and, after a trip to rehab, has informed WVU that he is ready to assume what he says is his rightful position as the head basketball coach.

And if WVU doesn’t think so? Well, like Stanley Kowalski, Huggs has got a lawyer acquaintance and he’ll study this out – a.k.a. lawsuit.

Huggins is saying he never resigned and, legally speaking, he might be right because the school was so gleefully eager to accept what it considered to be his resignation that it failed to check if it met the legal standards put forth in Huggins’ contract, as his employment agreement states that his resignation must be in writing via registered or certified mail to the Director of Athletics and WVU’s general counsel.

Rather, what everybody on the planet other than Huggins and his lawyer acquaintance believed was his resignation came not in the form of a certified or registered letter with Huggins’ signature on it, but instead in an email not directed to the AD or general counsel, but instead to Steve Ursasz, the school’s deputy athletic director.

Nowhere did the email carry Huggins’ name and it came from an email account in the name of June Huggins, the coach’s wife.

Baker responded by saying, “Coach, we accept your resignation and wish you the best in retirement. We appreciate your many years of dedication to WVU and wish you the best in retirement.”

That is about as corner-cutting and unofficial as it gets for such an important transaction, as Huggins was not mentioned by name in Baker’s response, which was sent to the account under the name of June Huggins. So maybe it was June who actually resigned as the men’s basketball coach?

How did the WVU lawyers not catch this? How did President Gee not catch this? How did Baker not catch this? How is it that Bob Huggins is the only one who did catch this?

Huggins’ lawyer acquaintance David Campbell of the law firm of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP of Cleveland claims Huggins never resigned and that he never communicated his resignation to the appropriate parties. “To the contrary, we understand the purported ‘resignation’ is incredibly based on a text message from Coach Huggins’ wife.”

To which the university’s legal responded, “What is clear, however, is that on the evening of June 17, 2023, Mr. Huggins met with members of the men’s basketball staff and student-athletes to announce that he would no longer be coaching the team. The same evening at 9:38 p.m., following a series of written and verbal communications with Mr. Gianola, who was acting as his counsel, Mr. Huggins clearly communicated his resignation and retirement to the University in writing via email (not text message as asserted in your letter). Later that same night at 9:42 p.m., Wren Baker, the University’s Athletics Director, with a cc to me as General Counsel, wrote back via email, accepting Mr. Huggins’ resignation and retirement.”

Huggins also released a statement, “A Message from Bob Huggins to the WVU Community,” that read, “Today, I have submitted a letter to President Gordon Gee and Vice President and Director of Athletics Wren Baker informing them of my resignation and intention to retire as head men’s basketball coach at West Virginia University effective immediately.”

In the meantime, Huggins went into a rehabilitation program, and Baker and WVU named Eilert interim coach, while four of the players Huggins met with took him at his word and transferred out of the program.

What in the Wide World of Sports is going on over there? Well, Huggins’ lawyer acquaintance wrote in his letter that Huggins “does not desire litigation. Rather, he is simply looking for the correction of a clear breach of his employment agreement with WVU.”

As for WVU, they went dark on Sunday evening and, as of Monday evening, have not been heard from, which can lead us to assume they are gathering as many of their own lawyer acquaintances as well.

All of which is fine and dandy, but if they were so eager to seal the deal of getting rid of Bob Huggins when they wanted to and had the chance to do so, should not have WVU bothered to lawyer-up back in June, rather than simply send a “Thanks, it’s been real” response to an email on his wife’s account?

Huggins may be doing this for a money-grab, but it’s more likely he just wants his job back, à la George Costanza. Money is great (I’ve heard), but for a man who has thrived on having the ego Bob Huggins has, and has needed to have, being the coach is the most important thing of all, because it is his identity.

Perhaps, though, Huggins, as well as Gee and Baker should be more concerned with restoring their collective and respective reputations, because this is just absolutely nuts and is a horrible, horrible look for all parties involved — beginning with West Virginia University.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT