CINCINNATI – Bob Huggins was ordered Tuesday to resign as Cincinnati’s basketball coach or he’ll be fired, the culmination of a power struggle with the school president.

In a letter faxed to his lawyer by the university, Huggins was given 24 hours to resign and accept a financial compensation package.If he doesn’t respond by 2 p.m. Wednesday, he will be fired, the letter said.

The 51-year-old coach was traveling and had not seen the letter, lawyer Richard Katz said. Huggins has won more games than any other coach at Cincinnati, but his tenure also has been marked by player arrests and NCAA rules violations that landed the school on probation.

His arrest for drunken driving last year upset new school president Nancy Zimpher. Huggins was placed on unpaid leave over the summer, but returned and coached last season, the Bearcats’ last before moving into the Big East.

The school declined to invoke a roll-over provision in his contract that would have left Huggins with four years on his deal, making it easier to recruit players. Katz has tried unsuccessfully to get the contract extended.

“We’ve been discussing with them for the last six or eight weeks an extension of the contract,” Katz said. “It appeared he wasn’t going to be able to fulfill the remaining two years of the contract because he couldn’t recruit, he was running into obstacles at the university.”

It would not have been appropriate for that to continue.”

The letter faxed to Katz on Tuesday was signed by the school’s legal counsel, Zimpher, athletic director Bob Goin and the chairman of the board of trustees. Through the school, they declined to comment.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information request, offered to keep Huggins in some other job until 2008, paying him $2.77 million over that time. He could have no hand in the basketball program.

If Huggins declines the offer, he will be fired, the letter said.

“I think we would both agree that these negotiations have gone on far too long,” the letter said. “Mr. Huggins has clearly expressed, through you, his desire to move in another direction.”

The letter also highlighted the deepening rift between Huggins and the school administration.

Zimpher notified Huggins last May that he would not get his contract automatically extended, as provided for in the deal. He was given the option of leaving or continuing to coach on the two-year deal.

He held a news conference to announce he was staying rather than informing the administration privately, a move that evidently drove the wedge deeper. The ultimatum sent on Tuesday referred to the May news conference, noting the university had to issue a statement “in light of the fact that coach Huggins chose to deal with contract issues through the media.”

Huggins went 399-127 in 16 seasons at Cincinnati, rebuilding it into a nationally prominent program after years in disarray. His teams made 14 consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament, and reached the Final Four in 1992.

The program also had a history of player arrests and infractions. The program went on two years’ probation in 1998 after the NCAA concluded there was a lack of institutional control.

The relationship between Huggins and Zimpher was strained after he was arrested in June 2004 for drunken driving. The police videotape of Huggins staggering during his field sobriety test was shown nationally.

Huggins pleaded no contest to driving under the influence, attended a three-day intervention program, and was suspended without pay by the university for two months.

The Bearcats failed to win a league title in their final season in Conference USA, and lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The program’s problems multiplied after the season, when freshman Roy Bright was dismissed from the team because he had a gun on campus.

Assistant coach Keith LeGree also was arrested and charged with drunken driving, but was acquitted during a trial. He was reinstated as an assistant coach last month.

AP-ES-08-23-05 1619EDT

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