Saturday, March 30, 2013

UCLA's Overblown Ego Hurting Coaching Search

When you think of college basketball there are but a few schools that stand at the top the mountain, a.k.a the "Blue Bloods." You may know them as UCLA, Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina, Kansas and Duke. So, when Ben Howland was let go following an opening round loss to Minnesota in this year's NCAA tournament, you could sort of understand, right?

I mean, after all this is John Wooden's program - you know, the one of 10 national championships in 12 years and all. The expectations at a "Blue Blood" program should be higher than what Howland produced this year or over even over the past few. Put aside the three Final Fours and the four conference championships in 10 years at Westwood - or so we've been told by Dan Guerrero, the Athletics Director at UCLA - that's not good enough anymore. 

Sure, the pressure cooker is hotter than the sun in SoCal and more choking than the smog in the City of Angels, but who wouldn't want the job in Westwood, right? The title of head coach at the University of California - Los Angeles carries so much prestige, you'd be out of your mind to turn it down.

Never mind the fact that before the good Dr. Wooden came on campus the Bruins had never been to the NCAA tournament, let alone won a national championship (a fact most people probably don't realize) and never mind the fact that since John Wooden's departure the Bruins have managed a whole ONE national championship. 

So, here we sit almost exactly a week out from the firing of Howland and the Bruins have yet to find themselves a new head coach. Instead they find themselves on the verge of striking out and it's all their own doing too. 

The first strike? How about chasing after everyone's favorite name with every "major" job out there - Shaka Smart. Reports were that Smart was the man UCLA wanted all along, yet he stood by his VCU Rams and received about a $300,000 a year raise in the process. 

The second strike? How about chasing after Brad Stevens of Butler. Now if you believe the "reports" out there Stevens was their No. 1 choice all along (never mind the Smart stuff was reported and closed first), yet he chose to say "Thanks but No Thanks" as well. 

Strike Three? How about an overinflated ego of who you think you are? 

Conventional wisdom would tell you that it doesn't matter where you are at - if a "Blue Blood" program comes calling you answer and ask "how high." Just look at Bill Self from Illinois to Kansas, etc. You don't ask questions when those names come callin.... You just go. Yet that hasn't been the case for the Bruins at all. How come?

It doesn't take a genius to figure out it's twofold. First is the fact that Smart and Stevens are a rare breed of coach - following in the footsteps of Mark Few if you will. They realize they have a basketball machine going for them where they are and that means being king of the castle too. 

Hell, Stevens and the Butler Bulldogs are about to become Big East members after being the top dog in the respectable (but not exactly set the world on fire awesome) Horizon League just two seasons ago. 

Tell me again whey he'd leave for UCLA with those kind of Midwest roots and a boatload of cash about to come his school's way.... As for Smart it's a similar situation, he's financially sound himself and he's got everything any other program in the country could possibly ever offer in basketball terms. Why leave if you are truly happy, right?

Oh and that second reason? INSANE EXPECTATIONS. Seriously, who does UCLA think they are? 

Yes, we get it, you had this amazing run through the better part or the 1960's and 1970's and you should be applauded for holding the most championships in NCAA history. However, when are you as a program going to realize who you are now and what your true history is. You've managed to win one title since Wooden left... and Howland has given you the most consistent results since that golden era, yet he's gone and never coming back thanks to your inflated sense of self worth. 

Congrats UCLA - you're now the Axl Rose of college basketball - once awesome and now a washed up version of yourself hoping for a makeover to make you relevant once again.

In Guerrero's rush to put UCLA back at the top of the throne of college basketball it appears he forgot one of life's biggest lessons - things aren't always greener on the other side of the pasture. Striking out on the only two names that will satisfy your insane boosters and make sense in terms of X's and O's should be all the proof we need that ego and reality don't always mesh and it may end up putting the Bruins back far more than what Ben Howland was perceived to have done. 

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