Time was now for Howland, UCLA to part ways
It’s hard for some to fathom letting go of the coach that won the conference title (and made the tournament championship game) just weeks before. But, with UCLA parting ways with basketball coach Ben Howland on Sunday, here we are.
The timing is rarely perfect when firing a coach. But make no mistake: the time was now for both Howland and the school, and this was a long time coming.
The coach went 233-107 in 10 seasons at UCLA, including seven NCAA tournament trips and three Final Fours. But his program has slipped in recent years with just one NCAA tournament win in the past five years, taking the luster off his early accomplishments.
"The evaluation of a coach involves a number of different things besides just wins and losses," Bruins athletic director Dan Guerrero said. "I felt that now was the appropriate time to make the decision to make a change and get a fresh start."
This is a "What have you done for me lately?" business. The coaches know this. The athletic directors doubly so. As great as Howland was at his job over the course of the last decade, he's taken the Bruins to the tournament three of the last five years and produced just two wins. In a place like Westwood, that doesn't cut it.
There's also been a fatigue factor with Howland that has worked against him as of late more than his slow offensive style - prior to this year, that is. Ten years in one place is a long time. Unless you're Mike Krzyzewski at Duke or Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, coaches should probably start looking for a new gig when approaching the decade mark so that fans, boosters and the athletic department don't start getting antsy when there's slippage in the results.
"We'll look for someone that can play a fun brand of basketball, but also a quality brand of basketball," Guerrero said. "We don't want to bring in a coach that averages 50 points a game."
Howland set the bar high for himself at UCLA with his run of Final Fours and NBA lottery picks. He didn't live up to it in the last few years, and if an AD is so much as thinking about making a change, it's time to make a change.
"There are a number of factors whether or not people come to games or not," Guerrero said. "I would not lay all of that on Ben's shoulders by any stretch of the imagination. Obviously we need to generate as much fan support as we can to get people in the seats."
Howland is a good coach. He built up Northern Arizona, Pitt and UCLA, and likely will do the same at his next stop. He was good to the media, recruited some talent and recognized when he had to change things up, such as with this year's recruiting class and a more up-tempo style. He'll get a nice buyout and likely will be relieved that the angst surrounding his job and the program has been lifted with his exit.
UCLA will land a good coach, as it is an elite college basketball job. There are only a handful of those out there and with the history, facilities and good recruiting in Los Angeles. It shouldn't be too hard for Guerrero to find somebody.
"We want to bring somebody here that will excite the fan base," he said. "There's a lot to sell when it comes to UCLA. It's a big university with great academics, a great basketball tradition, terrific facilities in Pauley Pavilion. We play in a wonderful conference with a great location, fertile recruiting base - there's a number of positives that a coach would look at if they come to UCLA."
Butler's Brad Stevens and VCU's Shaka Smart will be mentioned by many as some of the top candidates. Others from Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg to Florida's Billy Donovan will also come up. There should be no shortage of candidates for Guerrero to choose from.
As painful as it was in the short term, the time was now for the program to move forward and the Bruins will be doing exactly that with a new coach for next season.