West Virginia Governor Jim Justice appeared at Sunday night’s NCAA Tournament game between West Virginia and Marshall wearing a suit that was both deeply and intentionally unfortunate. Justice is a Marshall University graduate—his wife and daughter are, as well—and, if you’re just joining us, a West Virginia native. The state’s two largest universities playing each other in the NCAA Tournament—Marshall after a hot-shit upset of Wichita State in the first round, West Virginia after spanking Murray State—is a big deal, and the sort of thing that rightfully would compel a sitting governor to show up and at least spend a few minutes drawling blithely into a microphone on TBS.
The noteworthy part of all this was that Justice wore a blazer that was half Marshall green and half WVU blue, which he complemented with a psychotic rep tie that appeared to have been taped together out of dueling green-and-black and blue-and-yellow colorways. It’s not always quite this homemade and seldom so sartorially dubious, but this is the sort of thing that politicians tend to do as part of their jobs—consider it the menswear version of gleefully devouring various questionable meat-on-stick offerings at state fairs. What was really notable about this, though, was that, at a game where two of the state’s highest-paid public employees were present as head coaches, Justice was quite possibly the best-dressed West Virginia authority figure in the building.
And honestly had Justice attended the game in a pair of JNCOs and one of those Taz And Bugs Bunny Are Dressed Like ‘90s Rappers t-shirts, he might still have had that one locked up. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins is one of the most avant-garde sartorial stylists in college basketball and has been for decades, a man whose sideline looks are either A Double-Breasted Suit That Makes Him Look Like A Bottle Of French’s Mustard, which is reserved for special occasions, or an assortment of extremely comfort-forward outfits based around his signature long-but-also-short-sleeved zip-up windbreaker and a rotating assortment of what can only be called “coaching pants.”
For a frequently incredulous and generally dyspeptic man who is shaped like a bowling pin, this makes a notably strong impression. In just about every game he coaches, Huggins is if not quite the best at least reliably the most distinctively dressed man on either sideline.
But while Huggins’s Mountaineers overwhelmed Marshall in most every way on Sunday night, he was denied a similarly lopsided fashion win by Marshall’s Dan D’Antoni—architect of a fun and effective offensive scheme, brother of Mike, like Huggins a West Virginian by birth, and the author of a truly radical new approach to college basketball coach fashion. It’s not just that D’Antoni out-dressed Huggins on Sunday—on the merits, just given that everything Huggins wears is flame-retardant and could most effectively be cleaned by running it through a car wash, more or less everyone at home did as well. It’s that D’Antoni presented a new vision of how college basketball coaches could express themselves through fashion.
For years, Huggins set the pace with outfits that dared to ask the question “could you comfortably smuggle at least dozen spaniels in these clothes?” D’Antoni dares to ask a different question. On Sunday night, and throughout the tournament, his outfits have asked, “how would a basketball coach dress if an airline lost his luggage on the way to the game?”
The thing that most bears mentioning about the photo above is that D’Antoni did not decide to dress this way just for the NCAA Tournament. Throughout March, he has coached in khakis or what might be workplace-appropriate jeans, a long-sleeved t-shirt with the Marshall logo on it, and whatever sport coat he felt went with a long-sleeved t-shirt and khakis that day. On Sunday night, that look meant that he was dressed like a casual weekend dad who had unexpectedly been gifted a “good luck blazer” by Roy Williams.
On Sunday night, Huggins’s team was the winner—his guys had more depth and more talent and more energy, the windbreaker was sitting just right, and everything was working. D’Antoni didn’t have the horses to compete, but he went out looking comfortable. There are worse ways to lose.
Looking forward, there’s no reason why these two should really even be seen as opponents. We can hope for some intra-state rivalry games between the two programs in the future, if only so Governor Justice won’t have stapled that suit together in vain. But in a broader sense Huggins and D’Antoni are working towards the same end, and not just in the sense that they will both spend much of the rest of their lives wearing weird clothes while yelling at tall guys during basketball games.
Basketball is unique among our major sports in allowing coaches to dress like adults. Baseball forces older men—men shaped like heirloom eggplants, men in their 70s wearing those progressive lenses, men who are quite literally Charlie Manuel—to don the same baseball uniforms as their youthful charges. Football, branded to the gills as it is, takes those men and drags them through the Lawn Dad section of the team’s Official NFL Gear Store, and the results are Crossfit Aficionado Golf Pro at best and Grown Man In Pajamas at worst.
But basketball lets the men who are not in uniform dress more or less as they like. In college, that generally isn’t good news—it’s mostly legacy slicksters in goofy Dick Tracy suits, aspiring legacy slicksters in somewhat less-shiny suits, some young comers dressing like Steve Kerr, and then a windswept plain of Jos. A. Bank stretching to either horizon. But Huggins, in his principled refusal of natural fibers and equally principled refusal to give a shit about how he looks, has been a pioneer. In D’Antoni, he has both a worthy rival and perhaps an heir—someone who puts a little bit more work into his outfits, but who still aims to express if not quite Hugginsian disdain for contemporary sartorial standards, at least something on the order of “everything I’m wearing was purchased from the Casual Men’s rack at a nearby Marshall’s and I’m still making it work.”
For now, Huggins moves on, and D’Antoni goes home. Governor Justice, a feckless coal billionaire who owes millions of dollars in back taxes, will get photographed in his messed-up blazer as many more times as is politically expedient and no more. But the broader battle goes on, with Huggins and D’Antoni fighting shoulder to shoulder. As long as college coaches are allowed to express themselves by picking their own clothes, Huggins and D’Antoni will be allies—for sartorial free will and against collars and neckties and generally accepted tailoring best practices, two warriors, two of a kind.