Does this look like the man who should be the Caretaker of Coach Wooden's program? Read George Dohrmann's article on SI.com and I'll bet you say no. (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
The story from Sports Illustrated writer George Dohrmann appropriately titled "Not The UCLA Way" appeared on the SI.com iPad app last evening, and it should be available on their main site soon. We will put up a link as soon as it is available. [UPDATE: here is the link to the online story]
First, I think it important that everyone read the entire story so we have a complete understanding of the content when we discuss it and its implications. It is worse in many ways than what I was expecting, and it is not as bad in some ways that I was fearing.
Primarily, the story is a damning indictment of Coach Howland and his appalling lack of discipline, and how his inconsistent and irresponsible management of his basketball squad destroyed morale, unity, and effectiveness of the team during the last 4 years. It is also an indictment of the failure of Dan Guerrero to evaluate his coaching staff and to be sure the right people are leading our student-athletes. If people can still see a future for either of them in Westwood after reading these accounts, they are never going to be convinced.
Dohrmann writes that he spoke with over a dozen staff and players in preparing the story. Reports of frequent fights, regular pot and alcohol use, bullying behavior by Howland and certain players, particularly Reeves Nelson, and a gross departure from the ideals of UCLA basketball are recurrent themes through the article. The sum of these events led to the mess that we have been seeing on the court in recent years.
The former players and staff members offered a detailed inside account of how seemingly minor problems, if left unaddressed, can quickly sabotage even a storied program led by one of the nation's most respected coaches. The Bruins' struggles tell a cautionary tale of the risks of recruiting hyped players, the challenges of managing recalcitrant teenagers and the consequences of letting discipline and accountability break down.
And at the end of the article, our embarrassment of an AD Dan Guerrero gives a ringing endorsement of the coach who was supposed to be the Caretaker of Wooden's program but has in fact been exactly the opposite.
Interestingly, the report really mirrors many of the points that we have hinted at on BN previously: that the Ben Ball Warriors were more responsible for the teams' success than Ben himself; that players disliked Howland personally and did not want to play for him; that Howland played favorites to the detriment of his team's unity; that Howland looked the other way when behavioral problems occurred by players who produced in the floor. We have heard these sort of comments and complaints from a variety of sources over the years, and though it was mostly hearsay at the time, the messages were repeated enough to make it sound reliable. This article confirms many of those suppositions.
One recent theme we have discussed is that the success of the Final Four teams was more a product of tough minded players and their commitment to the program. They were certainly schemed well by Howland, but he had essentially no role in their becoming a tight-knit group, which is equally important for building a winning team.
Howland was neither a nurturer nor a player's coach. Other than practice and games, he had little contact with his athletes, according to players.
They [the 2006 - 07 players] were a tight group. If they went out, to the movies or a party, they were 15 strong. That kind of comraderie is not unusual on good teams, but Howland's former players say he had very little to do with instilling it.
Each of the players who spoke to SI said they found Howland socially awkward and disapproved of the verbal abuse they say he directed at his staff, the student managers, and the weakest players. One player said if he saw Howland waiting for the elevator he would take the stairs."
We have made references on BN that Howland is not a likable coach and is seen was a bully, and that his assistant coaches in the beginning were critical to keeping the team together. We were often challenged (rightly) to back that suggestion up with facts when all we could repeat were rumors. The feelings of Howland's former players should settle that issue. Contrast Howland's relationships with his players with Coach.
So while the real Ben Ball Warriors like AA, JF, LMR, DC, AA2, LRMaM, and MR had enough self discipline and commitment to make the program work, the wheels came off in 2008 when Howland landed his #1 recruiting class, a group of very talented but immature and entitled players who fractured the program
When practices began in October (2008) however, it was quickly apparent that while the Baby Bruins' level of talent was undeniable, their levels of dedication varied. Some of the newcomers didn't appreciate the commitment needed to succeed at the top level of the college game. Holiday and Lee were serious and professional; they had fun off the court but never went too far. Anderson, Gordon, and Morgan, by contrast took advantage of the freedom...They partied. The trio regularly drank alcohol and smoked marijuana, sometimes before practice, according to multiple teammates.
Other stories of missed curfews, use of other recreational drugs like ecstasy, and a division between the upperclassmen and the freshmen followed. Instead of Howland addressing the players involved and holding them accountable, he bullied and then fired a team manager who was knowledgeable of the situation.
Howland's continued lack of discipline was most glaring when dealing with Reeves Nelson, who got in repeated fights with teammates and went out of his way to deliver cheap shots to them, resulting in injuries and missed playing time. The details in the article are really quite appalling, and seem to confirm suspicions that Reeves has some real demons that need to be addressed. How Howland missed this during the recruiting process raises serious questions. How he continued to tolerate it for over 2 years is a bigger problem.
Howland looked the other way. One team member says he asked Howland after a practice why he wasn't punishing Nelson, to which he said Howland resounded, "He's producing."
As a result of Nelson's behavior and Howland's failure to properly address it, coaches and players (who are currently having very successful seasons) left the UCLA basketball team.
The litany of failures by Howland that are detailed in the story should be more than enough to convince his most ardent supporters that he is not the right man to run Coach's program,and the article doesn't even get into any other issues we have discussed on BN such as recruiting misses and hole, poor in-game management, and the W-L record the last 3+ years. It is clear that the lack of success on the floor is a direct result of the poor management by the program's head coach. Despite this, Chianti Dan remains unaffected. Though he declined to be interviewed for the SI article, Dohrmann cites a quote Chianti made to espy.com in January
"I need Ben Howland. Why would I even think about looking at someone else? By his own admission, [Howland] made some mistakes. But I'm going to work with him....We need to turn it around, and we get all that. But we will.
The problem that Guerrero misses (this time) is that Howland has continued to make the same mistakes for the last 4 years. Some people are savvy and proactive and chameleon-like in their ability to adapt and change according to their circumstances. Howland is about as far from that as anyone. And for Dan to put his head in the sand and say that Howland will turn it around, and he'll work with him to do so shows that he is equally incompetent in facing reality and working successfully within it
Again, it is important for every Bruin to read the entire article. Not only because it validates almost all of what BN has been saying, it even outpaces some of my bigger concerns about Howland's ability to mentor our young student-athletes. Fortunately, the article seems to lack any of the big smoking gun NCAA-type violations that many feared may be included in this. For that, I don't think the NCAA will come calling to Westwood anytime soon, either with a list of violations or with a tournament invitation.
But the alumni and the fan base better damn well come calling to Chancellor Block this morning. In the end, it is clear that neither Ben Howland nor Dan Guerrero deserve their jobs in Westwood any longer. It is time to find a new AD immediately. The new AD should find a replacement for Howland at the end of this season. As the tittle states, this is not the UCLA way, and as people who love and support UCLA - and the UCLA way - we should not tolerate this any longer.