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All those wasted years

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BUMPED:We posted this just about a year ago on March 6, 2006. The points made by Bruin Blue still remain germane. And we should keep this post in the back of our minds when we think about our other major sports program. Roundup is coming up in a bit. TYGFBH. GO BRUINS. -N

[03-06-06 N] BruinBlue requested we posted this message here. He posted this message on another board on Sunday afternoon. This is yet another must read for all UCLA basketball (and football) fans. Read the last 2 paras. closely. Let's not make the same mistake with football. -N

This is a great time for UCLA basketball fans, and we should enjoy it thoroughly. Knowing that we will have a high NCAA seed, watching the other games with a rooting interest, because it could help our seed or matchup, basking in our newfound national respect (ESPN's Duke-Carolina fixation notwithstanding). It will be a great two weeks, and maybe it won't end there. But in this brief lull before the tumult, I can't help but reflect back on the endless years of futility and diminished expectations following the brief, magical Larry Brown-led run to the championship game in 1980.

First, we hired Larry Farmer, because he was there, he was a really nice guy, and he was a Bruin; also, because Sam Gilbert, who had pushed hard for Farmer to be hired instead of Brown when Cunningham resigned, was determined to have a minority coach at UCLA. So we watched Farmer, who was overmatched, begin the slow descent into mediocrity which became emblematic of UCLA basketball. As the voices of discontent increased, there was, incredibly, resistance to making a change from the students, and from Chancellor Young. Finally, Farmer was actually given a three-year extension, but the new AD Dalis forced him to accept Hazzard and Hirsch as assistants, and Farmer intelligently and graciously decided to leave. So we fortunately had another chance, but quickly blew it, as Dalis decided to just hire Hazzard, because he was there, he was a Bruin, a great former player, and he promised (as Farmer) to play "Wooden basketball."

Under Hazzard, things got worse, even though there was one conference championship and a tourney win, before we were humiliated by another WAC team in the round of 32. So Dalis, in the only capable act of his entire tenure, fired Hazzard and embarked on a national coaching search. That of course led to the Larry Brown tango, and one of the worst days of my life as a Bruin fan--when I woke up with Brown about to be named the coach, and went to bed knowing that Brown wasn't going to be the coach and Jim Harrick inevitably was.

Then came the Harrick years, and people can argue about their merits. I never liked Harrick as a coach, although he certainly did win that glorious title in '95 (with the help of a Tyus Edney miracle and an unaccountably inane coaching decision by Norm Stewart of Missouri). Other than that, we underachieved (remember Penn State, Indiana, Tulsa, Princeton)? However, we at least had some national prestige, thanks to that title and the strong team we fielded the next year. We were virtually on a par with Arizona as the best program in the West, although we were ordinarily not a national threat.

Then of course came the Harrick scandal and the incredibly rushed decision to hire Lavin as head coach. I don't want to make everyone suffer by recounting that at length, but surely there are lessons to be learned there. Lavin's qualifications were that he was there, he was young, he was glib, and he seemed energetic. Somehow too many Bruin fans, and the inevitably clueless administration, thought that this was enough. Well, then we had seven utterly futile years, where everyone who knew anything about basketball realized that we were a terribly coached team. During this era, we actually became a national laughingstock, despite our strange ability to win two tournament games most years. Arizona scorned us, Stanford mocked us, and except for the invariable good week in mid-March, we had to suffer through some of the worst-looking basketball imaginable. Finally, somehow, the Lavin nightmare ended.

So here we are, finally with a coach who teaches fundamentals on both ends, handles himself with dignity, and has seemingly turned around the entire Bruin ethos in just three years. We are not where we want to be yet, but we can certainly see our way there. It seems almost surreal to me to hear announcers talk about the tough defense that UCLA plays. And no one is going to take us lightly anymore. And of course we should focus on the future, not the past. But those were 22 years out of our lives, and they cannot go unregarded. We were cheated out of the enjoyment of our favorite sport and team because of a lazy and befuddled athletic administration, and too many fans who thought that because someone was "a Bruin," or looked like a coach, that he would do. And how often did we have to hear about the "pathology" of UCLA basketball; that we simply expected too much, demanded too much, would only be satisfied with Wooden-like success? So not only did we have to endure the awful basketball, but we had to be told that we were ungrateful not to appreciate it.

We didn't deserve those 22 years, but they happened. And unfortunately their residual effects will be felt for at least several years more, as an entire generation of youngsters has grown up with Duke and Connecticut and Arizona and North Carolina as their favorite teams, not UCLA. We will have to fight hard to regain the stature we want, as it will be much harder than it would have been 25 years ago, had we hired intelligently. And at least I hope we have learned some lessons we will never forget. You do not hire coaches based on the fact that they went here or played here; you do not hire them because a vocal group of alumni push for the hire; you do not listen to the national UCLA-haters who say "You're living in the past; you can't get the kind of nationally prestigious coach you would like to have." And finally, when you are fortunate enough to land a coach with a well-deserved national reputation, you had better do everything in your power to keep him, because at this public institution, in a big metropolis where pro sports flourish and too many people are willing to accept, tolerate or ignore this school and program, the abyss of mediocrity always lurks not too far away.