March 25, 2013 |

UCLA Fires Coach: It's a Sad Day

UCLA Fires Coach: It’s a Sad Day

The UCLA men’s’ basketball team won the Pac-12 Conference regular season championship this season and reached the title game of the conference tournament.

The Bruins lost that title game only after Jordan Adams, one of their star players, broke a leg and couldn’t play.

UCLA went on to lose its NCAA Tournament opening game, finishing with a 25-10 record as three prized freshmen – Adams, Shabazz Muhammad and Ryan Anderson -- played major roles.

At a lot of schools the coach would have been congratulated. At UCLA, Ben Howland was fired.

This is a very sad story.

UCLA has won the conference championship the last four seasons, and Howland is the school’s only basketball coach to accomplish that since John Wooden.

But athletic director Dan Guerrero says he looks at other things besides winning.

This is all about money.

UCLA invested heavily in remodeling Pauley Pavilion and wants a significant return. But attendance sagged this season, probably because the Bruins lost some early non-conference games and several one games later were scheduled for 6 pm to accommodate television. Throw in competition for the sports fans’ dollar from the Lakers and Clippers.

UCLA does have other reasons for making a change. Howland’s teams have not reached the Sweet 16 for five straight seasons. I guess, in Guerrero’s mind, that cancels out Howland’s three consecutive Final Four appearances.

I wonder if UCLA officials realize that college basketball has changed drastically since Wooden created his dynasty, perhaps the greatest in the history of the sport.

ESPN didn’t exist then. The glamour teams that have become increasingly prominent since, North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky and several in the Big Ten, became the destination of prized recruits when their games would be shown regularly nationwide. UCLA’s conference was left out of that.

When Lew Alcindor led UCLA to championship status Bill Walton followed. Players like Mike Warren from Indiana and Fred Slaughter from Kansas came to Westwood.

Today, elite high school players often choose the ESPN favorites and yet Howland was able to lure the No. 1 player this time, Muhammad..

I don’t know what Guerrero expects a new coach to do – reverse the new trend? Does he expect UCLA to regain the elite status of Wooden’s days to come back? Highly unlikely.

Summing up college basketball now – It is what it is.

In recent days two college basketball coaches, Steve Alford at New Mexico and Jamie Dixon at Pittsburgh, were given new 10-year contracts.

Both of their teams were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, just like UCLA.

I guess officials at those schools appreciated their coaches’ overall performances over several years.

But then there was Minnesota firing Tubby Smith, whose team beat UCLA by 20 points in the first round and lost to Florida two days later.

Smith had coached there six years and won 20 games five times.

I don’t know what these university officials expect, but I think they make some awful decisions.

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