Bob Huggins doubles down on claim he never officially resigned; WVU and Huggins’ lawyer at odds on legalities

ATTORNEY

Former West Virginia coach Bob Huggins is doubling down on his claim that he never technically resigned from the school, stating in a public letter on Monday that West Virginia University “did not handle the situation appropriately.” Huggins also wrote, “I have a strong desire to conclude my career” at WVU.   

West Virginia’s general counsel responded with a definitive letter of rebuttal to Huggins’ lawyer.

It’s a continuation of a bizarre saga that bubbled up over the weekend, when a lawyer from Ohio who recently retained Huggins as a client sent a letter to WVU president E. Gordon Gee. The letter attempted to clarify Huggins’ employment status at WVU and requested he eventually be reinstated after undergoing rehabilitation counseling for alcohol abuse. There was threat of legal action otherwise, to which the school’s attorney responded that Huggins would not be re-hired.  

It has made for a spectacle after a disastrous fall for Huggins, 69, who was the active Division I leader in wins at the time of his resignation. The Hall of Fame coach who spent 16 seasons coaching his alma mater is leaning on in the notion that he never technically resigned from his post after being arrested for drunk driving, with one of his tires destroyed, and registering a .210 blood alcohol level in Pittsburgh on June 16. Huggins and WVU split the next day.  

On Monday, Huggins wrote this letter and publicized it via his new lawyer, David Campbell. In the letter, he claims WVU falsely published a resignation statement under his name on June 17.

“The press has now seen the letter sent by my counsel setting forth my position that I never resigned from my employment as Head Basketball Coach for West Virginia University. My attorney will address the legal issues relating to my purported resignation. I wanted to respond to WVU’s statements and set the record straight on the past two weeks.

“Initially, let me say that I am truly sorry for the mistake that I made in Pittsburgh. I have taken responsibility for the mistake and have taken a course to verify that such a mistake will not occur in the future. I voluntarily checked into a world-class rehabilitation center and I intend to remain in the center until I am cleared to return to my active coaching duties.

“Due to my focus on the rehabilitation, I have not been in the media or responding to WVU’s statements regarding the incident. I now understand that WVU published a statement purportedly written by me at 10:30 p.m. on June 17, 2023. The WVU statement provides: ‘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.’ I did not draft or review WVU’s statement. This false statement was sent under my name, but no signature is included. In addition, the false, unsigned statement, was accompanied by a joint statement from the President and Athletics Director that clearly implied that they had received this purported resignation letter from me: ‘Coach Huggins informed us of his intent to retire and has submitted his letter of resignation, and we have accepted it in light of recent events. We support his decision so that he can focus on his health and family.’

“I am employed by WVU pursuant to an Employment Agreement. I never submitted the notice required under the Employment Agreement to voluntarily resign. I let WVU know that I was seeking rehabilitation. However, WVU was not willing to speak with me about the Pittsburgh event nor to provide me time to obtain counsel to review my Employment Agreement. I met with my players on June 17, 2023 and let them know the truth — that I did not know what would happen to me, but that if I was not their coach, I was hoping that I would be replaced by a coach that I recommended to WVU. Most importantly, whether I was staying or not, I was encouraging the players to stay at WVU. My players come first and they needed to hear my support for WVU directly from me.

“Now that I have obtained counsel to review the Employment Agreement and have seen WVU’s comments about my current status, it is clear that WVU did not handle the situation appropriately. More importantly, the basketball program is in need and I have a strong desire to conclude my career as the Head Basketball Coach for the program that I love. I hope to meet with WVU in the near future to resolve this situation.”

Sources told CBS Sports that Huggins has no chance at coaching at West Virginia again. Nevertheless, Campbell wrote a second letter to WVU on Sunday, addressing it to Stephanie Taylor, the attorney who drafted the school’s initial refutation correspondence. In Campbell’s letter, he further emphasizes the central point of dispute: the nature of Huggins’ resignation, and whether he truly signaled to WVU leaders that he agreed to resign. 

Because Huggins resigned, according to WVU, it is not required to pay him the remainder of his salary on his one-year contract, which was set to expire in April 2024.

After Campbell sent his letter, Taylor (WVU’s general counsel representative) sent one more written message, this one even more forceful than the first. In it, she states:

  • Huggins’ longtime lawyer, Rocky Gianola, was in constant communication on June 16-17, “leading up to, and following the moment, when Mr. Huggins decided to resign”
  • Communication with Gianola about Huggins sending a resignation notice through his wife’s email account was agreed upon by the university and Gianola, who was in constant contact with Huggins
  • Huggins “specifically told the team he was resigning” when he met with them June 17
  • On an eight-minute phone call on June 17, after meeting with the team, Huggins told a WVU associate athletic director he was resigning
  • To WVU’s knowledge, at no point did Huggins indicate to WVU, Gianola or his wife he was changing his mind about a resignation
  • Huggins cleaned out his own office on June 18, under the conditions and impression he was done coaching West Virginia

Taylor’s letter can be read in full below.

“There is no support in the law or on these facts to suggest that Mr. Huggins may now ignore his resignation and his actions upon which all have relied, undo his voluntary separation, and return to work as if none of this ever occurred,” Taylor’s letter states.

A public PR battle with the threat of legal action has put an even bigger stain on a calamitous end to Huggins’ career at West Virginia. What’s more, even in the event Huggins could win a legal battle over the technicality of whether he resigned under his own volition, West Virginia would still hold the power to fire him, almost certainly with cause. 

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