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

COLUMN: Bob Huggins’ errors loom large, but WVU added to the list of mistakes by pushing for a rapid resignation

MORGANTOWN — It has become crystal clear — through two rounds of letters between Bob Huggins’ attorney David Campbell and WVU — that on June 17, university officials were in hurry-up mode.

As to why WVU was in a sprint rather than a marathon to get Bob Huggins’ resignation done and over with is only an educated guess from here.

Put simply, the university had a public relations nightmare on their hands following Huggins’ DUI arrest in Pittsburgh and WVU wanted it to go away.

From a PR standpoint, WVU had already taken a big hit in May, after Huggins went on a Cincinnati radio station and twice used anti-gay and anti-Catholic slurs.

It stood by Huggins at that point, choosing a rather harsh slap on the wrist rather than a termination, and that came with a hit to its national perception.

Six weeks later came Huggins’ DUI, in which his blood-alcohol content was measured at 0.21%, and the proverbial camel’s back had officially been broken.

There is no judgment here on WVU officials wanting to act promptly that day, yet there is something to be said about the poor decisions that were made by said officials in those moments.

We digress for a moment only to point out that this current Huggins vs. WVU battle is truly about what’s said and what isn’t said in his contract.

For those who have never seen Huggins’ contract — or any current WVU coach’s contract for that matter — let me tell you it is overly and unnecessarily complicated.

You have to be a third-year law student just to make heads or tails of it.

Parts of it, one could swear, is written in the Queen’s English. If WVU could just find a way to get “hitherto” and “gedwyld” in these deals, it would basically score a bingo from a 1700s Oxford Dictionary.

The key point to Campbell’s argument as to why Huggins should be reinstated is found in Section XIV, which reads, “Any and all notices required or permitted to be given under this Agreement will be sufficient if furnished in writing and sent by registered or certified mail.”

Campbell is taking the stance that Huggins’ email to WVU announcing his resignation — sent from his wife’s email account — was not officially registered or certified.

WVU, according to WVU Vice President and General Counsel Stephanie Taylor’s response to Campbell, is taking the stance that any type of notice is sufficient if agreed upon by both parties and is not void simply because it wasn’t sent in by registered or certified mail.

If you really want to have some fun with this, I would argue what exactly is a “writing”?

A textbook or novel, one could argue, is a writing. Official documents with signatures are a writing. This column is a writing, although probably not a very good one.

Is an email a writing or simple correspondence? I don’t have that answer and it’s time to move on.

Let’s get to the email itself, which wasn’t even sent to WVU President E. Gordon Gee or athletic director Wren Baker, the two guys making the ultimate decisions that day.

Rather it was directed to Steve Uryasz, an assistant athletic director, who then forwarded it to Gee and Baker.

The emailed resignation, according to Taylor, was given the thumbs-up after discussions with James “Rocky” Gianola, a Morgantown attorney who has represented Huggins in past negotiations with the school.

Taylor’s letter read, “After Mr. Gianola informed the University that Mr. Huggins decided to resign and retire, the University told Mr. Gianola that it needed a writing from Mr. Huggins to that effect.

“Mr. Gianola specifically asked the University if it would accept Mr. Huggins’ resignation via an email sent by his wife, June Huggins, because (1) Mr. Huggins does not use email, and (2) Mr. Gianola was having IT issues at his firm and could not access his email reliably.”

It’s at this exact moment Gee and Baker made a mistake by simply not saying no.

They should have said, “No, we want a handwritten or typed letter with his signature.”

Yet they were in a hurry to get it done, which is likely what caused them to give the OK to the email. It should have never happened.

As to Huggins not using email, that’s a real thing. Over his 16 years as WVU’s head coach, he’s stated publicly numerous times that he is not a friend of email, that he didn’t use it and that he simply hated it.

Which is all the more reason for WVU officials NOT to accept an email from him.

If someone out there absolutely hates math, you’re not going to hire that person to do your taxes, at least that’s the hope. Yet that’s kind of what WVU did in this instance.

The other point of interest here is in the statement the school released on June 17 that the school said came from Huggins.

You’ve read it. I’m not going to copy and paste it here, but it basically states Huggins’ intention to resign and retire from WVU effective immediately.

In a statement from Huggins on Monday, he claims he never saw or certainly didn’t write or approve that statement. In Campbell’s letter to Taylor dated July 9, he, too, claims WVU’s statement was false.

Taylor responds by saying that letter was approved by Gianola, who is unfairly being thrown under the bus in all of this.

So basically, WVU is admitting to, at the very least, putting words into Huggins’ mouth he never said. We’re not calling that the textbook definition of libel, but it’s got to be in the same neighborhood.

If I were to write a feature on Baker and simply made up his quotes out of thin air, but then got the OK from his lawyer or agent to use those quotes, I would be fired immediately.

WVU got the approval of Gianola without knowing for certain if Huggins approved the statement or even saw it.

Again, WVU was in a hurry. It never should have happened.

Now, there is a practice at WVU — and probably all major schools — to sort of speak for the coach in a press release when it comes to things such as a recruit signing or other minor newsworthy events.

Huggins’ resignation was no minor newsworthy event, not by a long shot.

If I haven’t lost you yet, I applaud you. By now, you want to know what ultimately is going to happen?

Here’s my take: No way will WVU let Huggins be reinstated. Josh Eilert will be the coach next season.

And I took a vow long ago to never publicly ask for someone’s removal, but Gee is seriously testing that vow today.

He’s nearly — and we stress nearly — as much of a public relations nightmare to WVU at the moment as Huggins.

In the end, obvious mistakes were made by both parties. No question Huggins’ errors were larger, but WVU did itself no favors by trying to beat the two-minute warning.

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