Monday, March 25, 2013

UCLA is Now the Graveyard of College Basketball Coaches Ohio State received the well-deserved reputation seven decades ago of being “the graveyard of football coaches.” UCLA with the firing of Coach Ben Howland on Sunday has now earned that sobriquet for basketball. Schools with exceptional success in an athletic program instill an expectation of continued success in the fan base. God help the succeeding coaches over whom the Sword of Damocles hangs. Winning in not enough. Winning big is insufficient. National championships, preferably with perfect seasons, are expected. Nick Saban has finally filled the shoes of Bear Bryant at Alabama. None of the six coaches between the Bear and Sabin measured up, not even Gene Stallings who won a national title in 1992. Ohio State had 5 coaches in 11 years before woody Hayes was hired in 1951. Woody won 5 national titles before being fired in 1978. His successor, Earle Bruce, was fired in 1987, as was John Cooper in 2000. Neither won a national title and both had losing records against Michigan. Jim Tressel won a national title in 2002 and dominated Michigan. He too was fired in 2011. If history is any guide, Urban Meyer’s years are numbered. Other football powers, Texas, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, USC, Miami, Michigan, Nebraska, Washington, and almost all the SEC will pull the trigger on coaches who don’t measure up. Historic basketball powers, such as Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, and North Carolina, have the same attitude. UCLA has achieved the Ohio State legend in basketball. John Wooden won 10 national titles in 12 years between 1964 and 1976. The great Adolph Rupp and Mike Krzyxewski have only won 4 each. The infante terrible Bobby Knight won three at Indiana. John Wooden’s record will not be broken in this era of “one and done” for the superstars. Pat Summitt at Tennessee came close with 8 titles for the Lady Vols, but she’s retired for medical reasons. The UCLA family expects basketball excellence. It is suffering from a case of excessive enthusiasm. Ben Howland did not win enough in the past five years, so he gets a $2.3 million buyout for next year. John Wooden never earned more than $30,000 and Woody Hayes $43,000. They represent a different era, one which was is not obsessed with multi million dollar athletic budgets – an era based on tradition and fundamentals rather than prime time. Win big and fill the seats. The five coaches who immediately followed Wooden lasted a total of 13 years. The pressure to win was too great. Nothing less than a national title was acceptable. The succeeding coaches of Jim Harrick, Steve Lavin, and now Ben Howland were fired. Harrick was not saved by winning a national title in 1994-95, the year before his termination. Pete Dalis, UCLA’s athletic director, wanted to fired Harrick for some time, and finally found an excuse in a recruiting violation. Some terminations are for conduct, such as hitting players on the opposing team (Woody Hayes), his own players (Bobby Knight), player misconduct (Tressel),or otherwise becoming an embarrassment to the institution (Tressel). Sports Illustrated published a year ago a feature article which dammed Howland and the UCLA basketball program. It is not pleasant reading, and is perhaps responsible for UCLA falling short of 10,000 tickets sold in all but 5 home games. Ben Howland stopped winning big and filling the seats. The players have increasingly quit, literally and figuratively, on him over his decade at UCLA, during the off season, during the season, and more recently during games. UCLA basketball has not been UCLA basketball for 37 years.

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