MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – When Bob Huggins was looking to transfer out of Ohio University in 1973, Pitt was one of the schools interested in acquiring the future head coach.
This was the first time that Huggins and Pitt had ever crossed paths.
The coach at Pitt at the time was Buzz Ridl. Ridl coached the Panthers for seven seasons, taking them to the NCAA Tournament once in 1974.
“They recruited me hard,” Huggins said. “I knew the staff, that was coach Ridl, Franny Webster, so I knew those guys.”
Huggins’ father, Charlie, hosted a camp during the summer. Ridl and his staff went to the camp and talked about Pitt’s program to Huggins’ mother and father.
In the eight matchups against Pitt from 1974-77, Huggins went 6-2 during his time as a forward for the Mountaineers.
For 30 years from 1978 to 2008, Huggins was away from the Backyard Brawl rivalry. Since his return to coach his alma mater, Huggins is 7-7 against the Panthers. The two schools have only played each other three times since 2012; Friday will make it No. 4.
Does Huggins think the Backyard Brawl should take place annually?
“I think it should, but I haven’t been right here much of late so…” Huggins said.
When coaching at Cincinnati, Huggins participated in 15 editions of the Crosstown Shootout, a rivalry between Cincinnati and Xavier. The two schools are three miles apart, which would make the game that much important for city street cred. The players from both schools hate each other, which showed when Cincinnati F Yancy Gates punched Xavier F Kenny Frease back in 2011.
Huggins mentioned on Thursday that the UC-Xavier rivalry is like nothing else, but how was the WVU-Pitt rivalry back in its prime?
“People get surprised when there’s a fight,” Huggins said. “There was a fight at West Virginia-Pitt, just about every time. If it wasn’t the players fighting with each other, it was in the stands. [Pitt] had some fans that were over the top but we had some fans that were over the top too.”
Because the Backyard Brawl wasn’t played from 2012-18, the rivalry lost its spark and passion. Players today don’t understand what West Virginia vs. Pitt really means to the older generations of fans.
“It’s changed,” Huggins said of the rivalry’s pop culture impact.
On Friday, West Virginia and Pitt look to renew their old rivalry, as the Backyard Brawl is set to continue at least until the 2023-24 season.