Monday, March 25, 2013

Thank You, Ben Howland

After their disappointing first-game, "second-round" exit in this year's NCAA tournament, it was certain that UCLA would fire coach Ben Howland after his tenth season.. Opening up his career with three straight Final Fours from 2006-2008 was a distant memory, and the pressure of having this year's #1 recruiting class, compounded by the successive transfers of too much key talent over the last five years, made this move unfortunate but not unexpected.

What was not unexpected, however, was that Howland left UCLA, and Pauley Pavilion, with total class. Courting the press during a press conference that allowed him to bid farewell, it was telling that Athletic Director Dan Guerrero didn't even have the balls to attend, having fired the man with the most conference championships since John Wooden. Because even though the move to fire Howland was predestined and probably appropriate at this time, and the opportunity was there to present UCLA with grace and dignity, it was only Howland who rose to the occasion.

Guerrero, as expected, was absent in both presence as well as class.

Now, I will admit, I am biased. I have had the opportunity to meet Howland one on one and found him an engaging and compelling individual, a hard-nosed yet fair coach, and a man of integrity. I hoped this season would have ended better, and I truly believe that if not for the fateful broken foot to Jordan Adams in the PAC-12 tournament win vs. Arizona, it likely would have ended better. And though the last seven seasons have been underwhelming for the Bruins, i have appreciated Howland's hand as coach.

Only a class act like Howland could remove the absolute anarchy of Steve Lavin's tenure. As disappointing as Howland's era ended, I would not want to see the streetball lack of coaching that constituted his predecessor's reign.

So I rooted for Coach Howland, and hoped he would have achieved more, but it didn't turn out that way. And I couldn't watch Friday night's game, but I'm disappointed to have read (from Plaschke, so I won't be linking) that the Bruins didn't even put up much of an effort against the Golden Gophers of Minnesota (who promptly lost their next game against Florida, AND fired their coach as well).

I'm sorry that things didn't work out for Howland at the end. I'm appreciative of his leadership and unwavering integrity, not putting up with bullshit from Reeves Nelson, and not taking the easy path to trash people on his way out the door.

And though I'm disappointed with the end result of late, but more so in the school's administration, who should have treated a class act accordingly. I know Bruins Nation is killing Howland on his way out, and I tip my hat to the commenters over there who are trying to maintain decorum and treat Howland with the class he deserves, the respect he has earned.

So thank you, Coach Howland, for your decade at UCLA and for some great times. You've got a fan here no matter where you end up next.

5 comments:

Dusty Baker said...

Headline just seen on MLB.com:

"Yanks' Wang happy to be back where he started"

Cliff Beefpile said...

Well said, Sax. And thank you, Coach Howland.

rbnlaw said...

Howland's problem was he lost the script that got him to 3 consecutive final fours. Hard-nosed, defensive basketball that makes it own opportunities. He failed to continue recruiting in that vein and opted for the "sexy" one-and-done'rs. Just look at Shabazz Mohammed this season.
Athletic? Yes. A pure scorer? Yes.
Game-changer? Yes.
Defender? Not so much.
Passer? 26 assists in 26 games sums that up.

Looking at the "talent" that has left the program is telling only in the fact that it was questionable "talent" to begin with. I don't expect we'll see Joshua Smith lighting up anything other than a scale in the near future.

I have no doubts Ben Howland will be successful with a Pitt-like program very soon, just like Jim Harrick found a winner with URI and Lamar Odom (and a bunch of workman-like role players). His bad luck was UCLA and its supporters want marquees and banners.

I miss Lorenzo Mata and his ilk.

Steve Sax said...

Agreed, rbnlaw. I also hope Howland's coaching staff doesn't get the shaft as well. There's some good peeps in that crew.

Cindy said...

Yes, it was certainly nice to hear how he said his good-bye. Refreshing!