We are at a crossroads, and as Dan Wolken of Fox Sports points out, the question now is what does UCLA Basketball want to be? What does it mean? What does it stand for? Never in the past half century, even under Lavin, has this question required anything more than a joke or cursory answer, but now, in the wake of Howland's and Guerrero's gross mismanagement of Coach's legacy, there is doubt.
Wolken basically asks "where are we going to go from here?"
But now comes the moment when UCLA needs to decide whether it’s still one of those programs, whether the legacy it inherited is still worth protecting. It’s time to stop rationalizing the poisonous culture of Ben Howland and do what Kentucky did, what North Carolina did, when its birthright started slipping away. It’s time for UCLA to stop talking about what it was and start figuring out what it’s going to be.
One would think that given the recent results and then with the bombshell that came out documenting the reasons for our demise, there would be a great deal of soul searching involved at this time. It's time to get to the root of the problem and rededicate ourselves to recapturing our birthright or surrender it for good. Now for a reminder of what Chianti Dan Guerrero's response was to SI's expose:
"That being said, I like the path we're going on," Guerrero added. "We’re talking about a few isolated incidents. We’re not talking about the entire program."
Let there be no doubt that this is a man that does not understand the gravity of the situation.
There were a great many pathetic excuse makers, both in traditional media and disgustingly even within our own ranks, who are still around today, using the classic Trogan-esque defense of "everyone else is doing it!" It's sad that it takes an outside voice to deliver some much needed perspective to many of our own fans.
But that largely misses the point, because this isn’t any program. This is UCLA — or, more accurately, it was UCLA — and the article detailed a series of desperate decisions by Howland that set it ablaze.
That's right. This IS UCLA. Those that don our uniform and coach in our programs are expected to uphold Coach's legacy. We've spent years detailing that the greatness of Coach extended far beyond the hardwood. Yet the Howlers and Chiantiphiles are willing to forget all of that in a second if it means protecting the status quo. For these people to so quickly and callously cast off Coach's lessons as soon as it becomes convenient is perhaps a sign that as a program we are losing our identity, if it hasn't already been lost. Again, the question: What does UCLA Basketball want to be? Where do we go from here?
These aren’t things that happen at elite programs. They’re things that happen at desperate programs. And if there’s something UCLA should never be, it’s desperate.
So now here we are, the mystique of UCLA basketball smoldering on the pages of Sports Illustrated, and what happens next will be telling. Kentucky would not tolerate this. North Carolina would not tolerate this. In fact, they didn’t tolerate it when some of the same issues arrived at their doorstep within the past decade.
Kentucky and North Carolina saw the warning signs and acted like elite programs. How UCLA reacts to this will say a lot about what UCLA is.
It is our birthright to be peers with this elite group of schools, but don't tell that to segments of our fanbase and our athletic department that conveniently forgets who we're supposed to be as soon as it's time to make the tough decisions. Nevermind that part of our legacy has already been stained by our current negligent coach and his enabler of a boss; what has been lost can be regained if there is enough will and courage, two character traits sorely lacking in the AD and in Howlers and Chiantiphiles.
Wolken also channels BN when it comes to our main gripes with the management of this program over the past 4 years:
The job of a college basketball coach isn’t just about what out-of-bounds plays you draw up. It’s about who you recruit, how you discipline, how you deal with people. When a coach makes bad choices in those areas, it will show up in the on-court product every single time. It’s never been more obvious how those bad choices have turned UCLA into a Pac-12 also-ran, and at programs like that you shouldn’t get more than one chance to screw it up.
Did you hear that? All you Howlers who insist that "he's still a good coach" is good enough? It's not. We've been saying this for years. Actual coaching is only a fraction of the job title for which Ben Howland is being compensated upwards of 2 million a year. He is expected to be a program manager. All the minor details, all the little things people try to explain away with "how could he know that...?" are all his jurisdiction and his responsibility. And as Wolken points out, it's all those bad choices on those "little" things that have landed us where we are.
And so we must ask, once again, this time directed to Chancellor Block, who has been as aloof and dismissive of a clearly failing segment of his stewardship as any other incompetent manager, the central question:
But what kind of program are you, UCLA? Do you belong with Kentucky and North Carolina on the Mount Rushmore of college hoops, or are you just part of the riff-raff, willing to tolerate this disgrace?
We’re all waiting for your answer, UCLA. Now’s the time to choose.
Not just you, Mr. Wolken. UCLA fans and alumni who honor and cherish Coach John Wooden's legacy are waiting as well.
Ultimately, the ball is in Chancellor Block's court. The men directly responsible for this embarrassment and humiliation are right in front of him. What will be his decision? Now's the time to choose.