The buck stops with him. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Yesterday morning, I wrote a post looking at the pattern of permissiveness in the basketball program, but under the athletic department's leadership more generally. While this week's SI article exposed some egregious allegations of student-athlete conduct as well as the extent of the culture of giving certain players a significant amount of rope, signs of this hands-off approach in the basketball program were already in the open. The behavior and events that have come to light along with the underlying pattern in Morgan Center can justify the replacement of both Dan Guerrero and Ben Howland. But until UCLA leaders realize the need to take corrective action in the athletic department, the responsibility to restore order and responsibility falls on these two men. They might not be the right men to hold this responsibility, but for now they are all that we have. But can they actually do it?
For the basketball program, the test of Coach Howland's ability to adapt by changing his hands-off approach to important players will soon be put to the test. Joshua Smith is a near-certainty to remain at UCLA for the 2012-13 season, while the departures of Jerime Anderson and Lazeric Jones will be countered by the eligibility of North Carolina transfer Larry Drew. Drew was a controversial figure in Chapel Hill, due to the conduct of his family and himself while part of their team, but especially in how he left the team, in the middle of the season after losing the starting PG job. There have not been any reported issues with Drew so far, but he may offer another test of the star/key player problem next season. Kyle Anderson should start the season as the pointman on offense, but is not physically suited to defend his opposite number. With Tyler Lamb and Norman Powell as the only other guards currently slated to be on next year's team (and Shabazz Muhammed a question mark on multiple levels), Drew will play a critical role in a profoundly critical year for Howland - if he happens to survive the current mess.
Ben Howland has failed in his responsibility as the leader of a collegiate athletic team, but particularly as a successor to the legacy of Coach Wooden and UCLA Basketball. While the specific problems in the basketball program most obviously fall in his lap, the failure of leadership and responsibility is not Howland's alone. In his decade in charge of UCLA's athletic department, Dan Guerrero has overseen the decline of the most successful athletic program in the nation, particularly by the most visible and profitable sports not just in terms of wins and losses, but in internal health.
Dan Guerrero and the rest of UCLA's leadership was inspired by Karl Dorrell's military upbringing and strict demeanor in looking to clean up the football program. While he was successful in reigning in the worst of the Toledo-era excesses, the players came to lose respect for his coaching ability and in the ability to win games. By the time of his hiring, Rick Neuheisel had reformed from his earlier (grossly exaggerated) issues with the NCAA bylaws, but had not greatly improved upon a lax history of internal discipline and establishing a sense of responsibility in the program. There was precious little concern from Dan Guerrero about the clear signs of mismanagment in the two primary athletic programs in Westwood.
Even after a series of player suspensions due to rule violations - including suspected violations of the drug policy -the halftime brawl against Arizona and the shameful 0-50 loss to Southern Cal, Guerrero had to be forced by alumni and influential donors to make a coaching change in football. For that matter, the policies that Guerrero and Morgan Center have in place dealing with Bruin athletes and their respective programs do not set a very high bar for conduct for Bruin athletes, nor do they give much room for their coaches to nip many problems in the bud (pun not intended)before becoming an uncontrollable mess. For example, In October of 2010 The LA Times described Morgan Center's drug policy in an article reporting on the suspension of a pair of Bruin football players. The policy, which applies to all UCLA Student-Athletes:
UCLA drug policy calls for a one-game suspension upon a third positive test. The first positive test results in the team doctor being told, mandatory counseling and future testing. The second failed test results in the coach and associate athletic director being notified, with more counseling and tests.
The updated Student-Athlete handbook (PDF) in effect for the current academic year contains a slight change to the policy, calling for the student-athlete's head coach to be notified after a first positive test. Left unchanged is the policy that a player is given a one game suspension only upon his or her third positive drug test. Per the LAT piece, the policy did for some period of time call for a head coach not to be informed about the problem facing his or her player until the second offense - even with the current policy, the coach is not permitted to take any corrective or disciplinary action of his or her own after a first positive test - making intervention by the program's leader a more difficult task. This is one of the most lenient - if not the most lenient - drug policies in NCAA sports.
This is just one of the signs of Dan Guerrero and Morgan Center's lenient oversight of Bruin athletics. While UCLA needs to reverse this problem, the people in position to effect change are the ones that allowed the rot to develop unabated. You can almost understand where Ben Howland and Reeves Nelson learned this stuff...