Marching to Vegas: On The State Of The UCLA Coaching JobPosted by AMurawa on December 21st, 2012
From the moment it was first rumored, the relocation of the conference tournament to Las Vegas has created quite a buzz among Pac-12 basketball fans. Adam Butler (@pachoopsAB) of PacHoops will be here every week as he offers his unique perspective along our March to Vegas.
I saw this week from Bruins Report Online that sources indicate UCLA is ready and arguably willing to dismiss Ben Howland mid-season. This is big news. I haven’t the slightest idea the degree to which the Bruin administration should be taken seriously, but for this to come out is indeed significant. Should AD Dan Guerrero pull that trigger he had better have all his ducks in a row. I’m saying it won’t be good enough to have his next coach talking to a realtor; the dude needs to be moved in by the time Howland is let go and it better be a home run hire. An in-season firing of any coach is a big deal; the firing of the head basketball coach at the University of California, Los Angeles? You don’t need me to go into the history of that program to answer the question. My point is that this is a program and an athletic department that has been chastised for quite some time now. Just search “Chianti Dan” and the first Bruins Nation piece you’ll find is titled “Total Failure.”
When they were hunting a new football coach following Rick Neuheisel’s firing, Guerrero’s office was nearly stormed. Imagine a botched or embarrassing search surrounding the school’s crown jewel? This isn’t playing with fire; it’s playing with the sun. The end game for UCLA basketball is to be UCLA basketball. The article cites Guerrero’s desire to “re-establish UCLA as one of the perennial powers in college basketball,” using words like “urgency” to get to that state. Nothing says urgency like an interim HC.
I’ve had this conversation with a number of friends regarding the position at UCLA and it’s an interesting one. Who wants the job? Who would want the job? Who should get the job? It is worth noting that Howland, when he’s on, is great. There was (can’t really use “is” in this moment) no question he was elite. But times have changed (see: Article, Premise of This One) and those questions are getting asked a lot more frequently. My initial feeling is that this is a good job to get right now. Just as Howland received it, the program would be a moderately floundering one and the new guy would quickly garner lots of support and smiles (assuming a good hire). He’d be awarded some patience and, the ultimate prize, the keys to the biggest, fanciest, sexiest, sleekest, bestest car on the West Coast (some would argue the nation). That’s metaphorically speaking of course. Now, before I go too far down history lane because it’s so easy to do re: UCLA, I want to give the other argument surrounding the job.
The counter point is that this isn’t a desirable gig, a bold statement in my estimation but I was willing to listen and I learned. (By the way, this conversation was had with @ShockerHoops who has a wealth of hoops knowledge and whose coach has been a rumored candidate for any vacancies that might open up at Pauley). This side of the coin explained to me that it’s a seat destined to fail. I’d liken it to a La-Z-Boy on a dunk tank: you’re cozy now but you are going in. But how could this storied program be an undesirable destination? Because Westwood misses its Wizard. Since the late great John Wooden’s departure from UCLA there have been eight head men, few who have left by their own volition. Where there’s smoke, as they say, there will be a firing at UCLA. Taking that role is a Herculean task not for the faint of winning. Why take the gig you’re going to get fired from and modestly supported for?
As with all things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle but the argument against being UCLA’s head coach is very compelling to me. Of course none of this really means anything should Howland be retained as head coach. And if he’s indeed a dead man walking, the other question that continues to be asked is what does he have to do to keep his job? With this one, I struggle. Answering this question seems to be the perfect example of not asking questions you don’t want the answer to. In this case, I believe he’s either the coach or he isn’t. This needs to be black and white thing, the proverbial do your thing or get off the pot. If he’s fighting for his job, he’s fighting the wrong fight. He’s supposed to be fighting Wildcats and Ducks, Trojans and Huskies. This is a decision that goes far beyond number of wins and which weekend in the Tournament UCLA survives to.
But this ultimately isn’t really a column about Howland. This is about Dan Guerrero – a paid decision maker – making a decision: Who’s next? Because, at this point, he has to have made up his mind, one way or another, on his current coach. Guerrero had best flail that axe cautiously, know exactly what he’s doing, because he won’t be replacing Ben Howland, he’ll still be seeking to replace John Wooden.