I was motivated to write this post in response to a recent poll that was attached to a well-written and well-reasoned article by KSBruin questioning whether Ben Howland has earned the right to stay at U.C.L.A. This article and poll appeared after the Oregon State loss, but before the Oregon game last Saturday. It asked a simple question:
Does Ben Howland deserve to remain as the UCLA basketball coach if the Bruins miss the tournament for the second time in last three years (and no where close to being an elite basketball program)?
The initial results were discouraging to me. After the first hundred or so votes, 2/3rds of the voters felt Howland did deserve to stay even if his team missed the tournament again this year (which they almost assuredly will unless they win the Pac-12 Tournament).
I don't want this to be about the reasons that Howland needs to go or stay. Many people here at Bruins Nation have been expressing concerns about Howland for the last 2-3 years. Despite many who railed against those concerns, the alarm bells have only increased over time. Last Monday, after several months of discussion, Nestor (with the support of the other front pagers) wrote of our conclusion that we had passed the point of no return and it was time for Howland to move on.
The initial response in the poll suggested that the majority of readers/voters disagreed with us.
It was only partly surprising that later that day, after the Bruins blew a 13 point halftime lead and gave up 51 points in the second half (remember when we used to give up 51 points in an entire game?) against Oregon and lost that the poll results turned around. The current results of the poll after 742 votes is that 44% think Howland deserves to stay, while 41% feel he needs to go. The no's made up an awful lot of ground.
Now I don't know if people voted "no" in anger, or if people suddenly saw the logic of our arguments. I doubt it was just the latter. I'm not upset that people disagreed with us. We seriously always welcome intelligent and respectful debate here. To me, the sudden swing was worrisome because it seemed to be motivated by the latest basketball score, and the most recent score is the wrong reason to make a decision on something as important as determining the basketball head coach's future.
You see, neither I nor the other front pagers came to the conclusion that Howland needed to go based on a single game. Our feelings were based on the last 4+ years of problems that have recurred over and over, causing a steady decline in the quality of our basketball team. So while on one hand I was glad to see the disparity in opinions closing, I really want people to believe in it, and not just react bitterly to a brutal and disappointing second half collapse. That kind of emotion works two ways. It's like the Chancellor leading an 8-Clap after beating Cal in football. I do not want to see a sudden return of support when Howland's team destroyed a very bad Utah team, or if they win later today against a puzzling Colorado team.
Of course, we can never completely divorce ourselves from emotion towards our school, and we shouldn't try to. But decisions like these need to be based on certain standards and expectations that we have for U.C.L.A., no matter how much we like Neuheisel, or how fun Gonzaga was. We can't have decision based entirely on emotion. Decisions must be made in as reasoned a manner as is possible for true Bruin fans, and they need to be based on years of careful and thoughtful consideration.
Bruins Nation isn't just making this stuff up out of nowhere. The people here at Bruins Nation, and that includes the majority of readers and commenters and posters, in addition to the front pagers, are the most hard core blue and gold Bruin fans there are. And I'm willing to bet that with our love and devotion we feel a sense of pride in upholding the standards of excellence that we associate with our school, and a sense of responsibility for calling out those that are damaging U.C.L.A. It's the ongoing eye-test, using Coach's ideals of excellence (which is not the same as records) as the bar.
Protecting and propagating the U.C.L.A. ideals should be all of our responsibility as Bruins. When anyone connected with U.C.L.A., from Nicola Dragovich to Alexandra Wallace to Chianti Dan Guerrero, falls short of those ideals or even appears to counter them, it as our responsibility to call out those responsible and hold them accountable. I am proud of Bruins Nation's record in upholding the traditional values of excellence for our school.
Unfortunately, there is too much apathy amongst the Bruin faithful, because we don't see that same determination everywhere. Why the apathy, Bruins?
Maybe some people just have little to no expectations. Clearly some set the bar much lower than we do. Some may simply feel helpless to do anything (and our Chancellor is certainly propagating those feelings). Making an intellectual change is difficult, and some take longer to accomplish this. Some have their priorities and their targets out of order.
Whatever the case, it is this lack of conviction that has allowed the last decade of decline and the longer standing culture of mediocrity to continue. It is the same line of thinking that allowed Neuheisel to stay after Arizona, which got us 0-50, a sub-.500 record, national derision, and a very late start on the coaching search. It is the same line of thinking that might let Howland keep his job, which will see the Bruins likely miss the Big Dance again, likely miss on important recruits, lose worthwhile players, and stall our proudest sporting tradition even further from its legacy. It is this same line of thinking that has let Dan Guerrerror inexplicably keep his job, which costs U.C.L.A. donations, support, excellence, achievement, pride, and hope.
There has been no shortage of vitriol and tangible opposition to Guerrerror from Bruins Nation. And it has been seen in other places around the blogosphere and mainstream media, but only to a far lesser extent. Some of those people whine that Bruins Nation is not representative of the entire Bruin fan base. We see comments or entire blog posts that cry that we push things too far and too hard, that we are too rigid, that we can’t be happy with good enough, and that we aren't good Bruins.
Unfortunately, those people have it absolutely backwards. I want to know why every one else is lagging so far behind us. Why didn't other sites support the students keeping their Pauley seats like us? How much fuss did others make over Rocky Seto? Who else was calling for Neuheisel to go after Arizona? Is anyone else now admitting that Howland needs to move on? Why are other sites tolerating Dan Guerrero's ongoing $700k/yr mismanagement of Bruin Athletics instead of putting on the full court press to get this guy and his cronies out of Westwood?
I see Bruins Nation not as a fringe but rather as the front lines of the assault. People here are the leaders, the loudest voice of true passionate Bruin fans who actually give a damn about the legacy of John Wooden and making sure that U.C.L.A. always strives to reach his sacred ideals. What is sad is that the other collections of fans around the internets don't have the same devotion and passion and leadership that we have seen here, and who are failing their charge to remind the caretakers of our school of just what those 4 letters represent.
Stick to your guns, Bruins. There will always be twists and turns on any road, but the main thing is keeping the destination in sight. And for U.C.L.A., that destination is defined by the the principles of a humble man from Indiana. Don't take your foot off the gas until we are there. Anything less is selling our school and every Bruin short.