What about that flashing red light in the distance, the one just over the horizon? The one that's been there a while, just out of view, that seems a lot closer right now?
That's the end of UCLA's 2009-10 basketball season. The season that seems to have ended months ago, then crawled along towards its inevitable and merciful conclusion.
In the simplest possible terms, this season has not been fun. For anyone. At its most basic level, we fans just want a season to be fun. It's fun to watch the team win, of course. It's also fun to watch a team grow and progress. It's fun to watch a team improve and entertain. Heck, sometimes a team doesn't win enough games, but there's something inherently enjoyable in the way they work, the way they hustle, the way they inspire - final score be damned.
Sadly, the most recent version of Ben Howland basketball failed to meet the fun threshold on every possible level.
As a result, instead of turning to this blog to bond over the team's success, our community gathered to vent. In place of collective celebration, we all have been gathering around a hearth built of bandwidth to criticize, to pick the season apart, and to wonder where it all went wrong.
At Bruins Nation, we've focused on a variety of targets, from those whose play has fallen short of anyone's expectation, to those who built the team and taught it what it knows -- or doesn't know. We've called out players, we've called out former players and assistant coaches, shoot, we've even called out the student section. But, that road we've been riding, the one with the red light just over the horizon, that road like all others leads to just one person: UCLA head men's basketball coach Ben Howland.
Recently, we've been seeing quite a few comments asserting that some of the front page writers were right all along in many of our criticisms regarding how Howland has managed the team on the court this season, from the forever inexplicable insistence that Nikola Dragovic play, to the why-didn't-he-redshirt season of Mike Moser. What we're here to say now, now that the season is ending, is that it basically doesn't matter whether we were right or wrong. What really matters is what exactly will Howland do to get this program back on track and whether he will make strong moves to address the issues we have laid out in detail.
Our main point though lies beneath the very question.
What will Howland do?
Because simply by phrasing it like that, we want to make it clear that the group of UCLA fans/alumni collectively known as Bruins Nation are still unanimously supportive of Ben Howland. Yes, we must reiterate unequivocally that a losing season in Howland's seventh season is simply unacceptable and will be counted as a major strike against the coach. We also must note that this team's record and on-court performance (and the reasons we arrived at this record) justified the heavy criticism we leveled at Howland and his staff this season.
But that doesn't mean we aren't totally behind the coach and anyone who infers from our questions and criticism that we are in any way advocating, discussing, or even considering the replacement of Ben Howland as UCLA's basketball coach has misread both our words and our intentions.
From our vantage point, Howland encountered what we see as a "perfect storm" of early NBA defections, injuries, and recruiting malcontents. Given how it was Howland's staff that failed to foresee and prepare for some of these developments (many that were anticipated by almost everyone else, i.e. Jrue Holiday's early departure), how long it took for Howland to make obvious adjustments and the way he developed personnel on his roster, the season didn't even live up to bare minimum of expectations of putting together a winning record in Westwood. Ironically, and make no mistake, this season still has been an underachieving disaster, because, despite all the problems, we still have a better team on paper than some of the teams that beat us. Even with all the roster problems this team managed to underachieve.
However, while we have lobbed heavy criticism in how he has managed this program, we still think he is the right guy to be in charge of our program at this snap shot in time. Yet our support doesn't mean we have complete trust in him given what we have seen on the court. It means that he has to earn back the trust which was lost this season.
Just remember, voicing concern (even if it is done in very strident and passionate manner) doesn't mean we are asking for Howland to fired. We are not even thinking about "candidates." It's an off-the-table topic until we see how next two seasons turn out. We also want to point out that it is not about being in any "one camp" or "the other." The last thing we want is for BN to turn into the ridiculous civil war cesspool we've seen on other online communities and permanently divide our fanbase and readers.
The fact is, because of the enormous reservoir of good will Howland built up in his first six seasons, he still gets the luxury to turn this thing around in the next couple of seasons. We believe Howland needs to address a critical set of issues and we are going to keep a very close eye on how he goes about addressing the problems concerning our program. Coach Wooden said:
Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.
So, if Coach Ben Howland is not addressing the issues concerning the Bruin basketball program in a productive way, we are not going to be in denial as the events take place. We will keep firing away in the same manner we have been all along and, if people are not going to be comfortable with that, well, tough.
Finally, we just want to remind the entire community that if and when we stop believing Ben Howland is the right man for the job, you'll know it. Just ask Karl Dorrell.
-Achilles, Ajax, Bellerophon, Menelaus, Meriones, Nestor, Odysseus, Patroclus, Ryan, Telemachus, and Tydides