In today's society, it can be a bit daunting to be a coach because of the fickle and impatient nature of the fans. Outcries of fans' and extremists' opinions are magnified through the internet and do not necessarily hold their weight because of the inherent limited picture of the fan. Fans cannot see what goes on behind the scenes everyday at practice; they don't hang out with the team players; they only see what happens during the game and interviews (and the occasional tweet). As a result, coaches are subjected to the unjustified critique of its fans, sometimes for the better but also sometimes for the worse.
I've heard all the reasons for why Ben Howland should leave the program, but grew frustrated when I never heard the other side of the coin. So I took a few minutes to create a list of reasons why Howland should stay:
1. Although he can be stubborn at times, he has clearly shown adjustment in his coaching style and game.
His zone defense in the beginning of the year was implemented to cover and hide the weaknesses of their man-to-man defense, which was struggling not because of the lack of strategy in part of Howland, but because the players just had not fully learned the art of staying in front of their man and team defense. Defense takes a lot of skill and time to master. Had he implemented his zone defense during the 2006-2008 season, we probably would have had a championship.
After last night's game, Howland STILL had one time out left at the end of the game despite Bill Walton's criticism of players calling a time out to save a possession. When Howland first started coaching at UCLA, he would run out of time outs with 3 minutes left on the clock. (Actually, I personally never had an objection back then as I knew our team was mature enough to handle themselves with Darren Collision at the helm). His vast improvement shows that he is willing to listen to the fans and critics and adjust his game accordingly.
Most recently he took it to the Arizona Wildcats last night AT McKale Center. He prepared the team all week to strengthen rebounding and it showed. He took one of the weakest points of the team and nearly outrebounded one of the best rebounding teams in the country (with a depleted and weak interior). Arizona has nearly 24% more rebounds than its opponents to that date according to the NCAA website. That night, there was a difference of only 3 rebounds between the two teams: 41-38.
2. Ben Howland's passion and love for UCLA is unquestionable
When he started at UCLA he told us that UCLA basketball was his dream job. Today, when many coaches they get good enough they leave the program (ie Chip Kelley, Pete Carroll, Mike Montgomery) to pursue other more potentially beneficial jobs in higher paying or more prestigious jobs. This is not the case with Ben Howland. I don't know what Howland's end-game is, but I certainly feel that he cherishes the job he has and does not take his job for granted (for most of the time, at least). He will stick around as our coach as long as we will allow him to and he is dedicated to keeping the high standards of UCLA basketball alive.
3. Recruits from all over the nation come to learn his defense for the NBA
We must all admit that the NBA has taken away a lot from the college game, but it seems like an inevitable part of basketball life. Many recruits come to UCLA knowing that they will probably jump to the NBA in a year or two. After all, that's where all the fame and riches lie. (From this fact alone, the college game is not what it used to be in the 1970s and will NEVER be like that again unless something in the core of the college game changes)
Many recruits will be lured to our program not only by the letters U-C-L-A, but also Ben Howland's touted defense. From AAU teams to high school teams, many of the recruits are already well versed at the offensive part of the game but individual and team defense is what is lacking from most players for them to succeed at the next level. So why not learn defense from a renown basketball defense specialist? Ben Howland is known to be one of the great basketball guru's on defense. He is a perfectionist in his coaching and pays a lot of attention to detail, sometimes making players run the same plays until they get it perfect. However, not all of the recruits will pan-out because of various reasons, but it gives them a greater opportunity to succeed at the next level. Seemingly those that graduate have the UCLA effect and are ready for the NBA game almost immediately.
But this seems to be a double-edged sword when recruiting players. While you have those that are elite hard-working players like Love, Westbrook, Afflalo, Shabazz and Adams, you also have those that feel that the NBA should be handed on a silver platter for them: "UCLA Fab 5", Honeycutt, Josh Smith. Defense is not an easy skill to learn and takes a lot of hard work, effort and dedication. Those that are willing to get down and dirty with defense are the ones that come out on top.
Coaches can sometimes be criticized to an extreme by fans (many true some not) that can cost them their jobs. Even though it may seem like the best option at the time, there may be more benefit for keeping them around longer. The best for the team isn't always about finding the next new coach; perhaps it's about taking the coach we have, have him learn from his mistakes and grow fundamentally and strategically to bring the team to new heights instead. (Hey not everyone is perfect). It took John Wooden himself several years of highs and lows before he won his first championship but eventually he got ten of them.
Howland is the type of coach that should and needs to be kept around. His best years are to come as a coach, especially for UCLA, where he has adjusted his coaching style for an elite-tier basketball school. John Wooden said himself in his book, "When we are patient, we'll have greater appreciation of our success" and "We tend to forget that all good things take time."
I have read many articles that call for his head and say that he is not a right fit for the job. Be careful what you wish for, because when he wins a championship with another school, the last words I want to say are "I told you so".