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Lessons for Young Lawyers from the Bob Huggins Saga

Nearly a month ago, Bob Huggins (allegedly) resigned as the head coach of the men’s basketball team at West Virginia University. The (alleged) resignation came on the heels of Huggins’ arrest on a charge of driving under the influence where his blood alcohol content was, based on a breath test, determined to be 0.21% - the legal limit is 0.08%, for reference.[1] Compounded by the reprimand that Huggins had received from West Virginia University just a month before the arrest for using a gay slur while appearing on a Cincinnati radio show,[2] which resulted in a three-game suspension and salary reduction of $1,000,000.00, Huggins (allegedly) made the decision to resign as the head coach of the Mountaineers and retire. Given his tenure as a basketball coach at West Virginia University, it is likely that the resignation was encouraged by the university as a more favorable alternative to the university firing Huggins outright. In his (alleged) resignation letter, Huggins said the following:

Mountaineer Nation:

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.

My recent actions do not represent the values of the University or the leadership expected in this role. While I have always tried to represent our University with honor, I have let all of you – and myself – down. I am solely responsible for my conduct and sincerely apologize to the University community – particularly to the student-athletes, coaches and staff in our program. I must do better, and I plan to spend the next few months focused on my health and my family so that I can be the person they deserve.

It has been the honor of my professional career to lead the men's basketball program at my alma mater and I take great pride in our accomplishments. But I am most proud of the tremendous young men who chose to spend their formative years with us, and who have gone on to do great things with their lives.

I was born in Morgantown, graduated from West Virginia University and had the pleasure of coaching here for seventeen seasons as an assistant or head coach. It will always be my home, and I will always be a Mountaineer.

Thank you to everyone who has supported our program over the years. It has meant more to me and my family than you could ever know.

Reading this letter, whether as an attorney or as a casual fan, it would be fair to assume that Huggins had resigned. But not so fast! Huggins also (allegedly) informed his team that he would no longer be their coach. Apparently, Huggins’ (alleged) resignation was, well, not a resignation, at least according to one of his lawyers. On July 8th, just under a month after Huggins’ (alleged) resignation on June 17th, one of Huggins’ lawyers sent a letter to West Virginia University asserting that Huggins never officially resigned and that it was his intention to return to West Virginia University as the head coach of its men’s basketball team for the 2023-2024 season.[3] The basis for this assertion by Huggins’ lawyer? The formal, written resignation came not directly from Huggins himself, but from the email account of Huggins’ wife (Huggins apparently does not use email).

West Virginia University responded quickly and firmly through its Vice President and General Counsel.

The Bob Huggins “resignation” saga is only just beginning, but West Virginia University’s response to the claims made by Huggins’ lawyer illustrates numerous lessons that young lawyers would be wise to pay attention to. The ball is now in Huggins’ court (sorry) to respond, but in the meantime here are a few things that young lawyers should keep in mind from West Virginia University’s response letter:

  • Clearly lay out your position and do it in as simple a format as possible.

    • West Virginia University used bullet points to set out each of the ten instances that led the university to believe that Huggins had resigned. It is incredibly effective as a persuasive tool when a reader can easily see each major argument set apart from other arguments – this formatting allows the reader to separately review and consider each argument and also gives the reader a sense of completeness in the argument at the outset.

  • Keep detailed records.

    • As mentioned above, West Virginia University was able to pull out ten different instances in which, it alleges, Huggins indicated his intent to resign. Not all of these instances were written documents, but the university kept detailed records of the dates and times of these instances, as well as the people involved. Perhaps most damning for Huggins’ position, West Virginia University kept a record of Huggins’ attorney’s request to allow Huggins’ wife’s email to be used for the written resignation that the university would require (again, Huggins apparently does not use email). Whether in litigation or in the course of a transactional deal, it is always best to keep detailed email records, communication records, and timeline records so that, in the event an issue arises, the four corners of a pleading or a contract are not the only things that can be relied on to make an argument.

  • Be diligent.

    • At each stage where Huggins, through his attorney or otherwise, was alleged to have offered some form of a resignation, the university followed up separately to confirm receipt of the communications and to offer Huggins’ lawyer a chance to review and confirm the resignation announcement before it was released. It may be tedious, but it is always beneficial to be overly diligent in record keeping and in following any processes that a client or your firm may have in place.

  • Language matters.

    • Huggins’ lawyer’s primary contention as to why his resignation was not valid is that the notice language under Huggins’ employment agreement with the university required the notice to be provided by registered or certified mail. West Virginia University, however, clearly noted and explained that the notice provision provided that notice given in this manner “will be sufficient,” which implies, and which is supported by cited West Virginia case law, that while notice given in this manner is sufficient, it is not required for effectiveness.

Grant Williamson is a graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law - J.D., Class of 2019. He can be found on Twitter @GrantWilli33.

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