Howland out the door in Westwood

Upon taking the Minnesota job after leaving Kentucky, Tubby Smith said “you always want to be wanted.”

Perhaps, UCLA head coach Ben Howland will be echoing those sentiments sometime in the near future as the end is apparently near for Howland in Westwood following a 20-point loss to the Golden Gophers in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

But would getting through the first weekend have been enough for Howland to keep his job?

The three straight Final Four appearances Howland guided the Bruins seems like the distant past to UCLA fans. Howland ended last season answering questions about his job security. This time around it appears to be a formality.

Howland’s future has been the proverbial elephant in the room all season long. He acknowledges it’s what he signed up for. Being the head coach of UCLA is a job that comes with tremendous pressure and scrutiny, but none more than the Bruins head coach says he puts on himself.

When the topic of his future was brought up in Austin on Thursday, he responded by saying he was focused on the game against Minnesota and helping his team be “the very best they can be.”

Howland filled the UCLA locker room with negative quotes from writers, analysts, etc. about the Bruins as they prepare for Minnesota, something Howland hopep will motivate the team to pick up a win in the tournament and maybe even more. There’s no denying the coach needed wins, and a lot of them, if he wanted a chance to extend his tenure.

Would the Sweet 16 have done? How about the Elite Eight? Would another Final Four run have sufficed?

The answer is likely neither.

There are rumblings around the Westwood campus that a buyout of over $2 million is already in place to part ways with Howland, who is under contract through 2015.

The school is prepared to throw a lot of coin in the direction of its next head coach.
Names like Rick Pitino, Billy Donovan, Brad Stevens, and Shaka Smart have surfaced as possible targets to replace Howland.

It’s, without question, a very ambitious list but UCLA is still one of the premiere head coaching jobs in all of college basketball.

The UCLA head basketball coach could expect to receive upwards of $3 million per season if not more, which would be on par with the other perennially top programs in the country, i.e. Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Louisville, Florida, and Michigan State.

As for Howland, when he first took over the job, he mentioned to athletic director Dan Guerrero that Pauley Pavilion could use some work. It wasn’t something Guerrero took to fondly to at the time but he and others eventually came around.

The Bruins now have a shiny, renovated building in the new Pauley Pavilion but no one to fill the seats.

Is that the coach’s fault?

In the first season in the new Pauley, Howland and the Bruins opened it with the No. 1 recruiting class in the country including the No. 1 player in his class, Shabazz Muhammad.
Sure they suffered a bad loss to Cal Poly which knocked them out of the top 25, but they bounced back and took home the Pac-12 regular season title.

Howland even switched his style this season and opened the game up more, allowing his teams to get up and down the floor – a change from his rigid half-court ways of the past.

Still, UCLA fans had a tough time coming out and supporting the team. At 25-9 and playing in a newly renovated building for the first time, it’s conceivable the product was good enough but the Bruins only averaged 9,549 in attendance in 18 home games this season.

On the other hand, it quite possibly could have been a revolt against the program by Howland detractors.

Only time will tell.