Three consecutive Final Fours five years ago and this year’s Pac-12 Conference Title were apparently not enough for UCLA to retain Ben Howland
Thank you Ben Howland, for leading UCLA with dignity and class for the last ten years.
Even Ben’s farewell press conference was an exercise of high class, as Ben showed nothing but respect for the institution that just fired him a month after winning a very tough Pac-12 Conference Regular Season Championship. Ben showed not discontent, but rather gratitude, for being allowed to enjoy his dream job for a decade.
Ben didn’t give envelopes of cash to his star recruits, he didn’t get drunk and fight with fans, he didn’t throw any chairs (just a sports coat), he didn’t take his players to a Strip Club, he didn’t get in a motorcycle accident with his mistress on the back of the bike, and he didn’t screw a waitress on a table at a closed Italian restaurant while his Wife and kids waited for him at home. But he didn’t win a National Championship either.
I like Ben Howland, and I always will. He is a stellar Coach, who has made so many teams and so many players BETTER. He put many, many players in the NBA, some of whom would never have been so successful if they had not been taught by Howland how to play PROficiently. He took this year’s ragtag team of high school stars and molded them into a successful Championship unit, by ADAPTING his style to the talent he had on hand. He recruited the Nation’s Top Class more than once, and enticed the Gatorade National Player of the Year to come to Westwood three times (I believe). He won four Conference Titles. And most impressively, he got the Bruins to three straight Final Fours. I predict that no other Coach will do that at UCLA for the rest of our lives.
All that being said… I actually DO understand why UCLA parted ways with Coach Howland. I am a little disappointed, because I like Ben, and would have preferred a scenario where he stayed, and was allowed a few more years to take the Bruins (back) to the next level. But I am not irate, nor am I pulling my support from UCLA, as some disgruntled fans are currently threatening. No one (including me) is happy with the current state of the Program, with a lack of deep Tournament runs, a lack of scholarship players, and a lack of fan support. It’s a shame that Jordan Adams’ injury might have led directly to the Bruins’ early March Madness exit this year, and indirectly to Ben’s dismissal, but that injury also illuminated the roster problems that are definitely Ben’s responsibility.
This situation would be less gut-wrenching if an ELITE Coach is coming in to replace Ben. I am okay — but not overwhelmed — with the most-mentioned candidates: Shaka Smart from VCU and Brad Stevens from Butler. Both of them just got knocked out of the Tourney, and neither of their teams performed up to their capabilities. I believe they are talented Coaches with lots of potential, but I’m not sure UCLA will get them, and I’m not sure they will be better than Ben at all the various facets of running a major Program in a media center like L.A. There are other candidates that have different qualities and upsides, but it’s all speculation now. Billy Donovan from Florida, Rick Pitino from Louisville — both highly unlikely prospects, but both would bring instant National respectability and amazing recruiting possibilities. And Pitino brings unsavory baggage that I don’t want at UCLA.
But none of the angst over Howland’s successor comes close to my anxiety regarding Howland’s next destination. If he ends up coaching u$c, Bruin fans might really regret his firing. With his discipline and integrity, he could easily change the whole culture at sc, and really put them on the map, for the first time in 40 years. That would be a disaster for UCLA, if they no longer are the dominant Basketball program in this City. Howland could also end up at Stanford, where he could make life tough on UCLA for years to come. With any luck, Howland will end up back in the East, or maybe in the Midwest. I think he would be a great fit at a Big Ten school, with big White cornfed farmboys banging underneath the basket. Howland would fare well with a team right out of “Hoosiers.” Less tattoos and piercings, less showboating, less attitude, less street cred, less bling, and more of a blue-collar, hard-working, working stiff mentality.
I wish Ben Howland the best of luck wherever he goes… except of course if he crosses over to the Dark Side at u$c. If he chooses to Coach the arch rivals of the school he has supposedly always worshipped, then I will lose all respect for him (ala Henry Bibby and Ken Norton, jr.), and hate him with a passion.