Time is up for an emotional Ben Howland
LOS ANGELES – Ben Howland became unmasked, if only momentarily, on Monday afternoon as he addressed the media one final time inside new Pauley Pavilion.
He lifted the veil, showing an emotional side of him that was unseen during his 10 seasons in Los Angeles.
“I wish (athletic director) Dan (Guerrero) continued success in sustaining the premiere athletic program in the country,” he said holding back tears while continuing to express his thank you’s to UCLA staff and his players.
“I want to now recognize my wife Kim, who’s here today,” Howland said with the tears now becoming tougher and tougher to hold back. “I’ve been so blessed to have such a wonderful wife and family. I am really thankful for their boundless support during my tenure here at UCLA.”
The end of the road was here. His dream job as the head coach of UCLA was now a present day nightmare as he realized he was sitting at a post that he would no longer resume.
“The pride of being a Bruin is something that will always be a part of who I am,” he said.
But it won’t be the same. Even if he enters new Pauley Pavilion again as a head coach, it will be as a visitor.
The end is present. His time in Westwood is done.
To those with a national perspective, on the outside looking in, it’s how? Why? What could UCLA possibly be thinking letting go of a head coach that reached the Final Four three times?
To those close to the situation, they see an embattled coach, who for the last few years saw more players leave the program than come in.
Howland says he's pleased with the direction the program is headed in as he leaves but there aren’t many who would agree.
Athletic director Dan Guerrero said as much when he addressed the situation on Sunday evening.
“As I looked at the entire program, and where I felt we were — especially headed into next year, which obviously is where we need to look at this point in time — I felt like now was the appropriate time to make a decision,” Guerrero said.
With Shabazz Muhammad likely to opt for the NBA and Larry Drew II all out of eligibility that leaves the Bruins with just five returning scholarship players.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility to think Kyle Anderson could test the NBA waters and center Tony Parker has taken to Twitter on more than one occasion to discuss his dislike for Los Angeles.
Howland signed three players before he was let go but there’s no guarantee they won’t ask for a release from their National Letters of Intent with Howland being fired.
The most prized possession of that class, combo guard Zach LaVine, has already expressed a desire to head to Washington. Forward Noah Allen appears to be a Bruin through and through but guard Allerik Freeman looks like he’s going to play the waiting game.
“They should still come here,” Howland said of the UCLA signees. “It’s the greatest opportunity in their life. I will tell each one of them that.”
It’s been well documented how the Bruins were down to just seven men in the NCAA tournament. There was hope heading into the season that the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class could have the Bruins bound for Atlanta.
However, as the season played out beginning with two players leaving the program and Jordan Adams' season coming to an end as a result of injury, the Bruins were one-and-done in the NCAA tournament.
That, quite frankly, won’t cut it in Westwood.
This is Los Angeles. The land of champions where almost doesn’t count.
This is a place where champions are beloved and, sorry, conference championships don’t cut it.
This is the place where the greatest basketball coach that ever lived called home. And like it or not, with the bar he set decades ago, if you’re sitting in his seat you better reach it or be shown the door.
Howland had a good run. It was 10 years. It was those three Final Fours. It was four regular season conference championships. It was two conference tournament championships. And it was a 2006 Pac-10 Coach of the Year Award.
Sure, he won 68.5% of his games but in the only won that counts in the eyes of Bruins fans, he was 0-1.
The same amount of national championship banners that were hanging in the old Pauley Pavilion when Howland took the job in 2003 remain the same amount of banners that hang in the new Pauley Pavilion as he exits in 2013.
The man before Howland, Steve Lavin, was fired after making five Sweet 16’s in seven seasons. Howland made three in 10 years.
Regardless if anyone wants to admit it or not, the line in the sand has been drawn.
Guerrero wouldn’t say it and Howland declined to comment but it’s there.
If you come to Westwood, it’s championship or bust. Conference championships are cute.
National championships are what matter.
Howland’s exit is one full of emotion but it’s what he signed up for.
“It’s part of the business,” he said.
At UCLA, that business is winning national championships.