Columns/Opinion, Men's Basketball, Opinion, WVU Sports

COLUMN: Bob Huggins resigned, but E. Gordon Gee and Wren Baker are responsible for messing up the finer details

MORGANTOWN — Bob Huggins resigned from his position as WVU head men’s basketball coach on June 17, 2023.

That is the university’s official stance, one that it can prove easier than you can prove what you had for breakfast this morning.

It is not the position of Ohio-based attorney David A. Campbell, who is threatening the school, on Huggins’ behalf, with a lawsuit asking for Huggins’ reinstatement.

However long this plays out isn’t clear, but it doesn’t take Perry Mason to figure out what’s ultimately going to happen.

There will be a settlement. Josh Eilert will continue to be the WVU interim head coach and Huggins will earn a little bit of cash to add to his checkbook.

The ultimate question that will be asked: When is a resignation a true resignation?

And this is where WVU athletic director Wren Baker and president E. Gordon Gee dropped the ball … big time.

Huggins did resign, there really is no refuting that statement. He told his players he wouldn’t be their coach. He told his assistants he wasn’t going to be the head coach.

Huggins made a public statement saying he was resigning and retiring.

Yet, when it came down to the nitty-gritty of Huggins’ resignation, it simply wasn’t handled by the letter of the law that was laid out in his contract.

And that’s a big deal. It’s essentially Campbell’s case, and Gee and Baker should have known better than to not be more thorough.

Huggins’ contract is 13 pages long. It was amended in May — following his anti-gay slurs on a Cincinnati radio station — but those amendments basically covered his tenure and salary with the rest of the contract remaining intact, minus his buyout.

That document basically states that any changes made by Huggins (i.e, his resignation) in the contract will be sufficient if provided in writing and sent by certified or registered mail to the school’s athletic department.

Except Huggins didn’t do that. He apparently sent an email to the school — using his wife’s account, as if this story couldn’t get any better — stating he was resigning.

“Please accept this correspondence as my formal notice of resignation as WVU Head Basketball Coach and as notice of my retirement from West Virginia University, effective immediately,” the email read.

There was no official signature from Huggins on the email. It certainly wasn’t notarized by an attorney. It wasn’t even sent originally to Gee or Baker. Rather it was directed to Steve Uryasz, WVU’s Deputy Athletics Director for all things involving men’s hoops.

And WVU accepted it, no questions asked. In the legal world, Gee and Baker fumbled big time right there. Baker event sent a reply — to June Huggins’ account — congratulating Huggins on his retirement.

Now, you can argue what Huggins told his players, coaches and attorneys — of which Huggins seems to have an army of them at the moment — as further evidence of his intentions to resign.

It’s hard to argue any of that, but then why bother getting all legal when writing up a contract in the first place?

Why make everything sound so official and unnecessarily fancy by using words such as “hereunder,” “whereas” and “thereby” in school contracts if you’re simply going to ignore the details those words represent?

Like accepting an email sent by June Huggins’ account as official documentation.

There are 14 different sections in Huggins’ contract, covering all things from buyouts to free golf club memberships, health insurance and sick leave.

June Huggins’ email account is not mentioned once.

“He resigned, so his employment was over effective that day,” Baker said of Huggins on June 24. “There was no severance or anything like that.”

There was also no separation agreement, which could have avoided all this mess to begin with. Gee and Baker really dropped the ball on this one, too.

Most people think of separation agreements as a document spelling out the money owed to a person leaving a job.

While that’s true, the agreement also basically says, “Hey, we won’t sue you and you can’t sue us.” That seems rather important today.

Former WVU assistant basketball coach Larry Harrison signed a separation agreement with the school in February.

Harrison was let go for simply doing his job and not embarrassing the university, but WVU felt a need to get his signature on the document.

Why WVU didn’t feel the need to do the same for a guy who had publicly shamed the university and would seemingly have much more to lose through resigning is beyond comprehension.

And we’re kind of late in this column to even mention this, but Gee and Baker’s fumble on Huggins’ resignation could open up further litigation from the athletes.

Let’s say hypothetically Huggins does get reinstated, could it not be possible for Tre Mitchell to then sue the school for personal damages?

Mitchell — one of five WVU players to enter the transfer portal since June 17 — transferred to Kentucky after Huggins resigned, but if the school misplayed the resignation to begin with, then does it not seem right for Mitchell to say the school wronged him, too?

I don’t really have that answer, but it seems to a layman there’s basis to such a case.

In the case of Gee and Baker and how they handled the finer details of Huggins’ resignation, there was nothing fine about it.

They should have known better.

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