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Why We Hate Steve Lavin

Baron Davis with the feeling in this picture and more importantly in one quote helped to sum up UCLA fans opinions of Steve Lavin.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Baron Davis with the feeling in this picture and more importantly in one quote helped to sum up UCLA fans opinions of Steve Lavin. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Lavin's defenders say: He went to all those sweet sixteens.  He's a gregarious guy.  He is gone from UCLA now, get over it.  He had cool hair. 

Okay, the last one is not something his defenders say, but the fact is it is important to understand that the feelings of UCLA basketball fans feel toward Lavin are not irrational and moreover it is important that they are not forgotten.  I will briefly layout five reasons. 

1.  Our Model for a Coach is John Wooden.  In honor of his current location let me put it in Broadway terms, Lavin's model is the traveling salesman, "Professor" Harold Hill of the classic play the Music Man (or in Hollywood terms Michael Scott, Hat tip Westwood Wizard).

Wooden walked his talk.  Lavin just never stops talking.  A very good coach, like Ben Howland, makes his players better at basketball.   Coach made his players better as people and basketball players.  Lavin prepared his players to deal with used car salesmen.

For Lavin it is about the sales pitch, not basketball, life or his players.  A great example is Ryan Hollins who played for Lavin and was coached by Ben Howland.  Hollins was a great athlete (he was a very good high jumper as well as being a seven footer) but was going nowhere as a basketball player.  In comes CBH to coach/teach him and he is now enjoying a long NBA career. 

Enough of me talking, let me just quote Baron Davis, Lavin's best UCLA player, on what he thought of Lavin's skills

"As reported by Bay Area blogger Geoff Lepper of the Contra Costa Times, former UCLA point guard Baron Davis looked into the rafters at Pauley Pavilion last Friday during the Golden State Warriors' morning shoot-around and said, "We should have a banner up there: the only team to make the tournament without a coach."

Could not have said it better Baron, more after the jump.

2.  Lavin took advantage of a National Treasure.

Coach Wooden was more than just a coach.  He was a national treasure who President George W. Bush awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  He means even more to Bruin fans.  Long after he was done coaching, Coach was still a presence often speaking to all the athletic teams and serving as a symbol of all that is right.

Coach was such a nice man that he diligently always tried to help anyone who asked.  Even after he could no longer drive, he would have people take him to the post office so he could mail packages and letters to those who asked him questions or to autograph things. 

CBH has it right, he calls himself the "caretaker" of Bruin basketball.

But Lavin tried to take advantage of Coach.  He made it sound like Wooden was his close adviser.  The worst example was Lavin asked Coach to be the best man at his wedding.  It was a shameless stunt by the constant self promoter.  He knew Coach would not say no. 

Of course the punch line was Lavin abused all his" friends" at his wedding which he canceled long after the invites went out and travel plans were made. Lavin canceled his wedding reception with a note:

Sorry to inform them, it read, but too many guests had accepted their invitations to the wedding, far more than the resort could accommodate. Instead, the couple announced, they would be heading to Europe to marry.

The couple apologized for any inconvenience and assured guests that they would receive photographs of the wedding.

3.  Being a College Basketball Coach is Hard Work with Long Days Recruiting.

After a win against Stanford a few days back, CBH flew to Las Vegas to watch Shabazz Muhammad  play.  Lavin's recruiting trips were legendary for their lack of effort and being clueless.

One summer, he left the recruiting circuit to fly to Boston to watch baseball’s All-Star Game at Fenway Park.

At a high school tournament near Seattle, while coaches and scouts sat in the bleachers taking notes on prospects, Lavin watched the games from the side, pedaling away on an exercise bike until he was soaked with sweat.

Another example was while at a Dodger Game inadvertently or purposefully used the Dodger GM to make an illegal phone call.  Even if it was an inadvertent mistake, it was still a shady deal.

Lavin said he would not reconsider his ties with Barrett in light of the SI story, in which one of Barrett's former players, Kenny Brunner, said he received a car and $10,000 cash while playing for Barrett.

``Coaches realize this is the culture we live in,'' said Lavin, noting that coaches like Kansas' Roy Williams, Stanford's Mike Montgomery and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski have signed some of Barrett's players.

Yet, those schools have not landed in trouble because of their relationship with Barrett.

--In October, Malone, the Dodgers' GM, got Lavin in hot water when he borrowed the coach's phone and mistakenly left a message with Sampson rather than Barrett, asking why he wasn't pushing Sampson to UCLA. The Pac-10 and NCAA are investigating the relationship between UCLA, Barrett and the Dodgers.

4.  Coach's Scout the Opposing Team and Coach During the Game. 

Lavin just talks.  There are too many examples to go into here.  An often cited example is his asking before a big game against Gonzaga if they play man to man or zone.  But my favorite example is quicksand

When it comes to UCLA's matchup-zone defense, ignorance is bliss. Sometimes, the Bruins on the court aren't even sure if they are in man-to-man defense or a matchup zone--nicknamed quicksand--which is a zone that calls for aggressive, in-your-face, man-to-man techniques.

"When we come out of the press and fall back into quicksand, sometimes it's hard to even notice what we're in," said Coach Steve Lavin, whose team has found success with the matchup zone in recent weeks. "In 1997, it was at its best. The great thing was the timeouts. Charles (O'Bannon) would say, 'What are we in?' And two guys would say, 'We're in quicksand,' and the other three would say, 'We're in man-to-man.' I'd say, 'Good. That's how we want it."'

Lavin's rationale? If the Bruins couldn't figure it out, the opposing players wouldn't have a prayer of doing so, either.

This sums up Lavin.  Lavin caught being stupid just keeps talking and hopefully you won't notice.  But eventually most do.

5.  Why it Still Matters

What do the three worst coaches in UCLA Basketball history have in common?  They were all unqualified assistants promoted when the head coach was fired or left unexpectedly.  All were given jobs they did not earn or deserve and they went on to embarrass UCLA.   A short post on this subject I did a while back is here.  UCLA is at a minimum an elite basketball school.  Elite schools do not promote inexperienced assistants and give them full time jobs.

Yet, UCLA did that three times.  First with Larry Farmer, who made it his top priority for the players to dress professionally.  Next with Walt Hazzard who LA radio legend Jim Healy famous played a tape of his "diamond and two defense." And lastly with Lavin who was a little more than a year removed from being a part time graduate assistant. Even some of Lavin's biggest defenders say he was not ready to be a head coach, let alone a coach at UCLA so soon. 

As Lavin's bio said of his background  at the time (emphasis mine since taken down since last linked):

Lavin had worked for and studied under some of the most recognized defensive coaches in the country Texas Tech's Bob Knight,; . . . [much further down that experience comes out:] During the semester break of 1987-88 while attending Chapman University, Lavin observed Knight's program, when he was head coach at Indiana,

Want to bet Bobby Knight does not remember Lavin?  Or better yet, do you think Knight would claim him as a disciple?  Only Lavin could claim that a winter break visit to IU was working for someone and trumpet that as a qualification to be a head coach.  I observed Lavin for more than two weeks and listened to him for years.  I am not ready to coach UCLA or St. John's.  I am ready to deal with the car salesman now but I feel confident that many fans know more about Basketball than Lavin.  

Last of all, I should say I speak in sentiment for BN not in exact details.  Before he took his hiatus Nestor made the point that this is a blog not a magazine.  It is impossible for a hobbyist blogger to truly scratch the surface of all the problems with Steve Lavin. 

Please feel free to add your own below but don't tell us he doesn't matter or that he went to all those sweet sixteens.  He did go, but he never coached.