CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Huggy Bear is the king of West Virginia’s sports world.
The latest MetroNews West Virginia Poll shows that West Virginia University basketball coach Bob Huggins has an 84 percent approval rating among state sports fans. Only 3.8 percent say they disapprove of Huggins.
If he were a political figure with that kind of rating, Huggins could feel very confident of electoral victory.
“From the first day Huggs got here he was accepted for a bunch of different reasons,” said Tony Caridi, host of MetroNews “Sportsline” and play-by-play announcer for West Virginia University’s Mountaineer Sports Network.
One was Huggins’ prior success as the basketball coach at Cincinnati and elsewhere. But more than that was his history as a state native, as a former player for the Mountaineers and as someone whose teams are admired for their dive-for-the-ball approach.
“He’s a West Virginian. That opened everyone’s arms to him,” Caridi said. “You take a look at his body of work over the last 10 years and he has delivered as everyone hoped he would. It’s a blue-collar, hardworking unit — that’s what he’s created on the basketball floor, and I think that’s why he’s got such a high rating.”
The West Virginia Poll asked 400 West Virginians if they consider themselves to be sports fans during an interviewing period of August 11-20.
Of all of those, nearly 3 in 4 — 72 percent — said they do consider themselves to be sports fans.
And then, of those, the survey asked whether the interviewees have favorable or unfavorable perceptions of West Virginia’s top college coaches — Huggins, West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen, Marshall University football coach Doc Holliday and Marshall basketball coach Dan D’Antoni.
Huggins’ rating was the highest of all of those.
Huggins’ record at West Virginia is 227-117. The Mountaineers made the Final Four in 2010. They’ve made the Sweet Sixteen three times, including last year.
His lifetime coaching record is 813-328.
Like Caridi, pollster Rex Repass wasn’t surprised by Huggins’ popularity. Repass formulates the questions for the West Virginia Poll.
“I watched Bob Huggins play basketball in college and I lived in Cincinnati for a number of years,” Repass said. “He’s a big personality who is an extremely successful basketball coach.
He’s taken WVU to a Final Four, they’ve had great success, he’s involved in the state, and I’m not surprised he has tremendous popularity in the state relative to the other coaches.”
Next in terms of popularity was Holgorsen, who guides arguably the highest profile team in West Virginia. Seventy-three percent say they approve of Holgorsen, while 11.5 percent say they disapprove.
The season starts for the WVU football team at 7:30 p.m. this Sunday with the resumption of a traditional rivalry game against Virginia Tech at FedEx Field in Maryland.
West Virginia is coming off a 10-3 season.
Holgorsen’s overall record as head coach at WVU since 2011 is 46-31.
“I think Dana has grown on the fanbase as much as anything,” Caridi said. “The easy out would be to say because he won a lot of games last year, 10, that’s the only reason why his rating has popped up.”
But Caridi’s assessment is that Holgorsen’s growth into the job has included better understanding of the Mountaineers’ loyal fanbase. West Virginia was the first head coaching job for Holgorsen, who grew up in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.
“I do think Dana has done a nice job of maturing to the position. I think it took him time to understand and to get West Virginia,” Caridi said. “I think he has done a nice job of being willing to accept and learn what makes West Virginia tick.
“He didn’t have the same advantage as Huggins, who understood the state and knew the state and had gone to WVU. But certainly winning was able to give him the big pop in his numbers.”
At Marshall, football coach Doc Holliday retains an approval rating of 69 percent, despite coming off a down season. Only 9.7 percent say they disapprove of Holliday.
Marshall’s season starts at 6:30 p.m. Saturday with its own resumption of a rivalry against Miami University in Huntington.
Marshall went 3-9 last year. Prior to that, the Thundering Herd had three winning seasons in a row, including three bowl wins and a conference title in 2014.
Holliday’s overall record as head coach since 2010 is 53-37.
“He had a tough year last year, but being a Marshall graduate myself and a former athlete, I know there’s a lot of support for Doc,” said Repass, who was a member of the Young Thundering Herd football team in the early 1970s following the airplane crash that claimed the lives of 75 players, coaches, athletic administrators and team boosters.
Like Huggins, Holliday has long-term West Virginia roots. He is a native of Hurricane, Putnam County, and served two stints as an assistant at West Virginia University. He played linebacker at WVU from 1976 to 1978.
“In Doc Holliday’s case, he’s done a wonderful job there with what he has to work with,” Caridi said. “He’s in a difficult conference situation that geography puts a lot of demands on you. He has shown his ability to be a really good head coach.
“For many years, I think people thought Doc was a recruiter and that’s what he was all about. I think he has shown everybody he can be an extremely good head football coach. I think when he has his guys and everyone’s healthy they’re a really good football team.”
D’Antoni, Marshall’s basketball coach, also has longtime ties to West Virginia but has some ground to make up in terms of name recognition.
Fifty-two percent of those responding say they approve of D’Antoni. And only 5.9 percent say they disapprove of him.
But there’s a big group — 41.7 percent — that says it’s “not sure” about D’Antoni.
That’s probably because D’Antoni has only completed three seasons so far at Marshall. He has a 48-52 overall record.
D’Antoni grew up in Mullens, Wyoming County and is one of the sons of Lewis D’Antoni, a hall of fame high school basketball coach in West Virginia. D’Antoni was the starting point guard for Marshall from 1968 to 1970.
After that, though, he moved away for his career, becoming a highly successful high school basketball coach at Socastee in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for 30 years.
In 2005, he joined the bench of his brother Mike, who had become head coach of the freewheeling Phoenix Suns in the National Basketball Association. Mike D’Antoni is currently the head coach of the Houston Rockets.
“Dan D’antoni is also a native but didn’t live in the state for a long time and is building a resume of success with the Thundering Herd but just isn’t as well known,” Repass said.
“But he has developed a new and exciting brand of basketball and the people who are aware of him approve.”
Results of this edition of MetroNews West Virginia Poll are based on interviews conducted between August 11-20, 2017 with a sample of 400 likely voters in West Virginia including registered Democrats, Republicans, Libertarian, Mountain Party, and unaffiliated or independent voters. Data collection methods used included landline phone, cell phone, and opt-in Internet panel. Each data collection method has inherent strengths and weakness.
Likely voters in all 55 West Virginia counties were represented in the survey modeled to the number of registered voters based on data from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office.
When using multiple data collection methods, it is not appropriate to apply a probability-based margin of error to interviews completed. However, applying statistical tests of significance to each question asked at the 95 percent confidence interval yields an overall statistical error of +/- 4.9 percentage points based on the 400 interviews. The 95 percent confidence interval varies by question.
The purpose of the MetroNews West Virginia Poll is to provide a snapshot of opinion and timely voter views in the Mountain State. The media sponsor of the West Virginia Poll is MetroNews, the statewide radio network owned by West Virginia Radio Corporation.
Rex Repass is director of the West Virginia Poll and president of Research America Inc. Repass is responsible for questionnaire design, the respondent screening and selection process, data tabulation, statistical analysis, and reporting of results.
The MetroNews West Virginia Poll is a non-partisan survey of public opinion conducted by the Repass and Research America Inc. The West Virginia Poll has been directed by Mr. Repass and conducted periodically since January 21, 1980. The name The West Virginia Poll is a registered trademark Research America Inc., all rights reserved. For more information, see www.wvpoll.com.