A Pair Of Job Openings In Southern CaliforniaPosted by AMurawa on March 23rd, 2013
When UCLA bowed out of the NCAA Tournament in convincing fashion to Minnesota, the Ben Howland era in Westwood ended along with the Bruins’ season (an official announcement is expected in the next couple days). Meanwhile, across town, USC’s first target for their open head coaching position, Pitt’s Jamie Dixon, signed an extension with his current school, effectively eliminating him from contention for that job. With all other coaches in the conferences expected back next season (Stanford has announced that Johnny Dawkins will return, and it looks like Ken Bone will return to Washington State, though no official announcement has been made), we’ll take a quick look at those two jobs and try to read the tea leaves a bit as to what the future may hold.
While UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero made no decisive comment following the game Friday night (“We’ll take stock in the next couple of days and talk like we always do with all coaches,” he said), expectations are that sooner rather than later we’ll have an announcement that the partnership between Howland and UCLA will end. And, regardless of whether Guerrero has an improvement lined up, this is a move that has to be made – for both parties. The relationship has soured, the fickle UCLA fan base has abandoned ship, West Coast recruiting has largely dried up, Howland seems to have compromised his principles, and, the kiss of death, Bill Walton has weighed in heavily in favor of a change at the top of the program. The excitement of three straight Final Four trips from 2006-08 is a distant memory. Howland is still a very good coach, but he’s not a very good coach going forward for UCLA and it is time for both sides to move on.
There are plenty of questions as to the future in Westwood, and “who’s next?” is only the simplest. Just how appealing is the UCLA job? What are reasonable expectations in Westwood? (Hint for Bruins’ fans: 10 championships every 12 years is not “reasonable.”) And what should the future of UCLA basketball look like? The positives of the UCLA job include the ability to lock up a healthy percentage of California recruits and get in on some elite recruits nationwide, not to mention the prestige and spot in history associated with coaching at one of the sports bluebloods. The negatives? Tons of expectations and a fan base that can’t always be bothered to get out to games, let alone make any noise once they’re there. Still, expect Guerrero to aim high. If he hasn’t already been in touch with representatives for VCU’s Shaka Smart and Butler’s Brad Stevens, he’s either insane or criminally negligent. The question is whether either of those guys would leave their current situations for UCLA; among others Smart has turned down Illinois and N.C. State in the past, while Stevens has said no to Illinois, Oregon and Maryland. But the UCLA job is of a different level than all of those.
Between the two of them, Stevens is probably the more desired, but Smart perhaps more likely to be interested. Stevens’ record speaks for itself, what with the two Final Fours and the history of getting the most out of his guys. If he is tempted by the siren song of UCLA, he wouldn’t be the first head coach from the state of Indiana to make that transition – John Wooden spent two seasons as the head coach at Indiana State before heading to Westwood. But one of the nits picked against Howland in his UCLA career was his largely down-tempo, half-court style. If Guerrero really wanted to appeal to the Showtime history of Los Angeles basketball, he might make a big push at Smart and his “havoc” style of play. And, frankly, if either one of those guys winds up in Los Angeles, it will be interesting to see what they can do with access to higher level recruits than they can get at either of their current schools.
If, as odds may indicate, neither Stevens nor Smart is interested in the UCLA job, who else would be on Guerrero’s list? The goal is a home run hire, and you can bet guys like Billy Donovan, Mark Few, Thad Matta, and even Bill Self would at least get a call, though there is likely little interest on their end. In short, if UCLA doesn’t wind up getting either Stevens or Smart, there are likely going to be an awful lot of disappointed Bruin fans renewing their calls for the head of their AD.
As for USC, no breaking news here, but as always, they’re clearly playing second fiddle to UCLA, just as the Bruins do with their cross-town rival when it comes to football. It had been no secret that Dixon was athletic director Pat Haden’s first choice, with a reported 10-year, $25 million contract offer on the table. But Dixon re-upped with Pitt, just as Steve Alford, another potential candidate, did with New Mexico last week. With those guys out of the mix, Syracuse assistant coach Mike Hopkins would appear to be the leading candidate, but there has also been talk about trying to pry Josh Pastner away from a disappointed Memphis fan base. With the UCLA job open, one would guess that USC would have a hard time filling their opening until a Bruins hiring is announced, but despite a significant lack of history in South L.A., you would figure that SC will be able to wind up with a pretty good hire, especially with the type of money they’re expected to fling around. And, in some cases, for the right candidate, it may even be the more appealing job. Certainly the USC campus and surrounding area doesn’t hold a candle to UCLA’s lush Westwood campus, especially for a coach with young family, but there will be less pressure and less expectations for the next Trojans head coach. Whoever does wind up patrolling the sidelines in the Galen Center, however, will find a fan base that is far more ambivalent than the one at UCLA.