YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Bob Huggins has been coaching so long that people he met as students are now head coaches of their own programs. Youngstown State’s Jerrod Calhoun is just one such example.
When the Penguins traveled to Morgantown last season and lost to the Mountaineers 106-72, it was not the first time Huggins faced off against one of his former assistants. But when Huggins returned the favor and the No. 25 Mountaineers traveled to Youngstown Saturday it was a special occasion.
A power five school like West Virginia rarely ever plays a non-conference road game against a mid-major school, but the relationship between Huggins and Calhoun helped to make it possible. The two agreed to a two and one deal where YSU would play in Morgantown in 2018 and 2020 and WVU would play in Youngstown in 2019.
Huggins was willing to do this because he and Calhoun go way, way back.
As a student-athlete, Calhoun played two seasons at Cleveland State University before transferring to Cincinnati. There he became a student assistant on the Cincinnati basketball team, coached by Huggins. Calhoun graduated in 2004 and Huggins advocated for Calhoun to be hired at one of his old stops, Walsh University.
“He came to Cincinnati as a student assistant for me and was terrific,” Huggins said Saturday. “When the assistant job at Walsh opened up I called and said ‘you’ve got to get this guy, he may be the next superstar to come out of Ohio as a coach’. Of course, he did a great job.”
When Huggins was hired to be WVU’s coach in 2007 he brought Calhoun on with him as director of basketball operations. Calhoun stayed in that role until he was elevated to be an assistant coach for one season before being hired as the head coach at Division-II Fairmont State.
Calhoun coached at Fairmont State for five seasons, taking the Falcons to the D-II national tournament four times. It was in 2017 when Calhoun went to Youngstown State and the three-game agreement with Huggins was made.
Calhoun said Saturday’s game was special for him not only because he had the opportunity to coach against his mentor, but also because Huggins was willing to give up a home game so that Calhoun and YSU could be the host.
The Penguins played tough Saturday, at one point leading the Mountaineers by seven points in the second half. Despite ultimately losing 75-64, YSU actually out-rebounded Huggins’ squad 39-33.
Calhoun said a lot of what his team does is derived from Huggins.
“That’s what coach Huggins taught me, moving up the coaching ranks. You don’t go into a game and not outwork your opponent. You don’t go into practice and don’t outwork your opponent.
“(Huggins) said if we play that hard we’ll be a tough out and I told the guys that after the game. Their team probably in the last 10 years, 15 years his teams are known for being one of the toughest teams. We try to replicate some of those things we do in practice…a lot of stuff that we do is directly from Coach Huggins. I’m not sitting up here today without him. It’s something that is very, very special to me, there’s a lot of good relationships.”
The hardest parts of coaching at a mid-major school can be non-basketball things such as funding or facilities, but Huggins said that Calhoun can make it work and that it will not be long before he is coaching in the Big Ten or SEC. Huggins has faith in Calhoun because of one thing, “he’s not afraid to work”.
West Virginia’s next game is a neutral site game against the No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes in Cleveland, Ohio on December 29th.