Minnesota vs. UCLA is the universe's way of saying Ben needs to go.
One year later and Ben Howland is still in charge in Westwood, although based on recent rumors, it doesn't seem like he will be for much longer. With the Bruins taking on Minnesota, it's an oddly appropriate time to resurrect an old post from the past that is now, oddly (and ironically) appropriate.
Back in April 2012, the nation was getting ready to see two of college basketball's blue-bloods battle it out for another national title, with Bill Self's Kansas Jayhawks taking on John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats. Meanwhile, our UCLA Bruins were done for the season, having not even made the NCAA tournament, and being snubbed by the second-tier NIT. It was a pathetic end to what should have been Ben Howland's final season in Westwood. But, instead, Chianti Dan (the man who wanted to keep Rick Neuheisel around for another season, despite another mediocre season that culminated in getting drubbed by Southern Cal 50-0) could not find the testicular fortitude to give Howland a pink slip.
It became readily apparent that there was no accountability in Westwood and it was worth comparing Chianti Dan's complete failure of leadership to what we have seen at our peers among other elite college basketball programs. Unsurprisingly, the comparison revealed a grim truth:
Instead of taking decisive action and terminating Howland for another sub-par season which should be unacceptable to all UCLA fans, Chianti Dan Guerrero is content to play wait-and-see, while the UCLA basketball brand swirls down the proverbial drain.
In short, when compared to how Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Kansas have defined reasonable expectations for an elite program, it became abundantly clear that there was no accountability for Howland under Chianti Dan.
However, with rumors continuing that Howland-to-Pitt, following Dixon-to-Southern Cal is going to happen once the tournament comes to a close, it seems that Howland is about to follow the same path Tubby Smith did on his way out of Lexington. So, with all of this now in play, it became very relevant to bring up the discussion from last April:
[Tubby] Smith took over when Rick Pitino left following the 1996-97 season to coach the Boston Celtics. In his first year in charge (1997-98), Tubby took the Wildcats to the promised land, putting together a 35-4 season and winning Kentucky it's seventh national title. Sure, Tubby rode the success of Pitino's success, but he followed it with 9 seasons, each with at least 22 wins and never missing the NCAA tournament. That's right: Tubby, who wanted to play a slow-paced, defense-oriented style, dubbed Tubby Ball (sound familiar Bruin fans?), brought the Wildcats a national title, three Elite Eight appearances, and two Sweet Sixteen appearances, all in a 10-year run where he never missed March Madness. Despite that, Tubby's seat got real warm. Why? Because Tubby wasn't in charge of some middle-of-the-road program, but one of college basketball's elites and the Kentucky fan base's expectations weren't met. Just making the tournament wasn't good enough in Lexington. Feeling the pressure from the fan base, Tubby gave up one of college basketball's most coveted jobs and left for a nobody program in the Big Ten, Minnesota (read: the Big Ten's version of Oregon State).
Let's get this straight. Tubby, who actually won a national championship, while never missing the NCAA tournament in 10 years, with zero losing seasons, with a 76.0% winning percentage (263-83) at Kentucky, is run out of town by a fan base tired of just making the NCAA tournament.
And here we are, with Ben Howland about to take on Tubby Smith in the second round of the NCAA tournament. It's a battle of one of the elite brands of college hoops taking on an also-ran program from the Big Ten. In other words, it's like a race between a Ferrari and a Kia. The Bruins trot out the top recruiting class in the nation, one that thoroughly outclasses the Gophers, even without Jordan Adams in the line-up. The Bruins come with the pedigree of a true elite college basketball program: 11 national titles certainly has a certain cachet.
But, unlike Ben Howland, who came close (which, as Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills can tell you, doesn't count), Tubby Smith has actually won it all, which makes his departure from Lexington all the more telling of the high, but reasonable, expectations placed on an elite program:
UCLA, on the other hand, continues to employ a head coach who has not won a national championship (and as Jordan Farmar explained, only national title banners get hung in the rafters at Pauley Pavilion, not Final Four appearances), has missed the NCAA tournament 3 out of his 9 seasons in charge, put together two losing seasons (one entirely of his own making), and only has a winning percentage of 68.1% (205-96) at UCLA. Heck, let's give Howland the benefit of the double and erase his 2003-04 season (since it was the first year after he took over from Lavin, who totally tanked the program) and the terrible 11-17 record that came with it. Even doing that, Ben's winning percentage at UCLA only goes up to 71.0% (194-79). Still well below the Tubby line.
Whether you're militant in your stance that Howland must go, or if you're the most strident Howler, we can't deny the numbers. If you run them, and please, I invite you to re-read the entirety of that post (titled "No Accountability at UCLA: How Chianti Dan's Failed Leadership Compares to College Basketball's Elites") and run the numbers yourself, you'll see that it doesn't justify retaining Ben Howland.
So, all-in-all, it makes this second round match-up between Howland and Tubby particularly ironic. Here's a coach who was run out of Kentucky, despite winning a national championship, never posting a losing season, and bringing his program to the Big Dance in ten-out-of-ten years. Yet, at the end of it, feeling pressure from a fan base that expects national championships from an elite program, he announced he was leaving by mutual agreement to take another coaching job at a less prestigious program in another conference.
You have to love that the NCAA announced this pairing just two days after I predicted that Howland's tenure in Westwood would end in a very-Tubby-like way:
- Chianti Dan and Howland announcing that Ben has decided to take on a new challenge and return to Pitt.
- The reality would be that Chianti would be forced to give Howland the axe (caving to pressure from big donors), but this little white lie would allow Chianti, who has never enjoyed media scrutiny since it always makes him look stupid, to avoid questioning from UCLA fans and the mainstream media, especially if a new hire doesn't pan out. Likewise, it'd allow Ben to save face by saying it was his choice to leave for Pitt, rather than being fired from what he previously proclaimed was his "dream job."
- Howland takes up the new job in Pitt, and shortly after, Southern Cal announce they have finalized a deal with Jamie Dixon.
- UCLA squanders opportunities to land a legitimate, elite coach, and instead Chianti either (a) stumbles into someone who turns out to be good (read: the basketball version of Jim Mora) or (b) hires someone who falls flat on his face (read: basketball version of Karl Dorrell) after chasing (and striking out) in trying to land Mark Few, Tom Izzo, and Brad Stevens.
- Eventually, Bruins fans find out that Shaka Smart was never given a chance. Smart goes on to another elite program and takes them to a national championship.
- Howland, safely in Pittsburgh, tells the local media (playing to the Pitt fan base) that he is very happy to return to Pitt because of how unreasonable the expectations are in Westwood, how the pressure was ridiculous, and publicly blasts Bill Walton.
It's almost as if the powers-to-be in the NCAA are trying to drop a big giant hint to both Howland and Chianti Dan on how to move Ben on to Pitt, so that the Bruins can go out and get an elite coach that can take the Bruins back to being a true elite college basketball blue-blood. Now, of course, the fools at the NCAA don't know that their buddy Chianti Dan has botched pretty much every coaching search he's run (unless the candidate comes to him and asks for the job, a la Ben Howland and Jim Mora). But, if there's a blue-print for how Howland's departure is going to play out, if you read this old ESPN article by Andy Katz on Tubby's departure, it's there.
What's particularly sad is that, ultimately, these numbers will fall on deaf ears in Westwood, with the legions of Howlers and Chianti Dan sycophants refusing to accept the reality of the statistics. In other words, as I asked back in April of 2012:
Even if Ben Howland, in his tenth season in charge at UCLA, goes on an undefeated 40-win season and wins a national title, his winning percentage at UCLA will only rise to 71.9%, or 4.1% percentage points short of the Tubby line. And let's be real: there is no way he's winning 40 games, going undefeated, and winning a national title, even with Shabazz in the fold.
76.0% and only one national title wasn't good enough for the fan base in Kentucky.
So, why is 68.1% and zero national titles acceptable in Westwood?