Well, I wish I could say I was surprised at our Bruins' complete, total, and pathetic collapse against Romar's poorly coached, street-ball, goon squad. I don't know what it is about Seattle, but no matter how much talent Howland has, it seems like he simply cannot beat Romar. And no, Romar is not a good coach. So, seriously, when Ben finally gets shown the door, let me save you the trouble: Romar would be completely unacceptable to be our head coach.
In any event, since Nestor (joined by the rest of us on the front page) publicly made it clear that Ben Howland is not going to be the guy that gets UCLA back to the elite level it should be at in college basketball, I have always been a bit troubled.
Now, before I go further, let me explain something about the expectations for our basketball program. No one is calling for or demanding multiple NCAA titles in a short time period. We don't expect anyone to ever duplicate what Coach did. But, what we do expect is that UCLA, the leader in men's basketball national titles, should contend for the national title on a consistent basis, that we make regular deep runs in the NCAA tournament, regularly win the Pac-12 title, and that once every so often, we play for (and maybe finally win) the whole damn thing.
In other words, I expect us to replicate the success we see at places like North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, and Kansas. This is UCLA after all.
Now, as you've seen, I, along with the rest of the front page crew, have been vocal in calling for the removal of Ben Howland as our men's basketball coach, to be joined by our incompetent, total failure of an athletic director, Chianti Dan Guerrero. So, you're probably wondering why I, of all people, am troubled by calling for Howland to be fired.
Let's talk about that after the jump.
In fact, I have a confession to make: deep down inside, I'm a Howler too.
I used to be the biggest Howland fan. I f**king loved the guy, loved his coaching style, and just loved the in-your-shirt, take-no-shit, my-name-is-Arron-f**king-Afflalo-and-I-will-not-be-denied fight and drive of classic, Big East style, nasty junkyard dog defensive Ben Ball Warrior basketball. But something has happened to Howland, and we've discussed time and time again what has caused our coach to lose his way. Was it the loss of the Dixon/Keating style assistant? The unmistakable errors in judgment in letting Shipp, Dragovic, Honeycutt, Nelson, and others slack off and face no repercussions while Moser, Powell, Lane, etc. got the hook for the smallest of errors? The inability to control the attitudes of his players? The stubborn refusal to adjust when man-to-man defense just isn't working?
Well, this isn't the post for analysis. I'm not going to sit here and go through the numbers, the game tape, the quotes from players, and tell you why Ben needs to go. We've had that conversation time and time again. I could simply copy-paste the great analysis that DCBruins, Tydides, Nestor, Patroclus, and the other front pagers have been putting up about this team's struggles. Nope, this post is about reflecting on Howland; it's about something more visceral.
When Howland came in, he turned our program around fast. No one expected JF, AA, LRMAM, and the rest of the original Ben Ball Warriors to take us to the national title game. It was a wild, crazy ride and it looked like Ben had worked a miracle and got UCLA back to where it should be, but way ahead of schedule. I loved the guy. When we lost to Florida for the second time, then Memphis, I figured Ben was just like Bill Self: that he was a great coach and that he would win UCLA a national championship. In my mind, it wasn't a question of if, but when Ben would bring UCLA its next banner.
Those were the good ol' days. We played tough defense. We won. We had good guys on the roster, the kind of guys you just really wanted to like, just not as players, but as people: DC, AA, JF, LMR, LRMAM, AA2, etc. As a young alum, who didn't get to experience the Wooden years, or even King Ed, or heck, even any point in time where our football program didn't suck huge balls, that win over Gonzaga and those runs to the Final Four were awesome memories, the highlights of my time as a Bruin (bear in mind, I didn't get into UCLA until I got to UCLA, since I'm a Northern California guy, but then again, I never gave a damn about Cal or Stanford growing up either . . . but probably because they both sucked). So for me, the biggest highs were all due to Ben.
I believed in Ben Howland. Even last year, when the season was imploding, and the numbers just kept telling us that Howland was creeping toward the Lavin-esque, while I knew in my head that Ben was in trouble, my heart just kept telling me no. Even as this season got off to an absolutely horrendous start, deep down, I kept hoping that Ben would turn it around, that a switch would flip, and we'd see a return to the Ben Ball we all grew to love.
I want Ben Howland to succeed. I want him to win national championships in Westwood. I like the guy. No, really, I do. Despite the stories of his stubbornness, the unusual pattern of every player wanting to leave early to not deal with (what we hear) are tyrannical practices, I like Ben Howland. He did right by UCLA and it never seemed like he was going to use us as a stepping stone to another gig.
I take no joy in calling for Ben Howland's firing. I really don't. But, when you look at the numbers, it's clear that en hasn't gotten the job done, at least not to the level UCLA deserves. That said, it's about more than the numbers, but it's about something that happened this season that made me realize, on a deep, visceral level, that Howland had to go.
I stopped believing in Ben Howland.
I no longer have the confidence that everything will turn out okay for UCLA. I no longer believe that Ben can guide us to the pinnacle of college basketball. I don't have faith in Ben, not anymore. I can't point to any particular reason, or any particular point in time where that happened: I just know it did. I lost faith. I stopped believing in Ben. The magic is gone.
I could care less about watching our basketball games, because it's just painful. It hurts to see the shell of a formerly great coach flail about with a mediocre team (that he is solely responsible for building), unable to adjust, unable to find a way to win, and unable to bear any resemblance to the outstanding coach that made UCLA a dominating force in college hoops.
When you look at schools like Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, and the other elites, the fans have something we don't: a belief in their coach. Deep down in every Blue Devil, Tar Heel, Jayhawk, etc. is the belief that, even in a bad, rebuilding season (which for these guys, still always result in at least a NCAA tournament appearance), that Coach K, Williams, or Self would right the ship.
Howland, on the other hand, lost that. It's sad.
Deep down inside, I want Howland to prove us wrong. I want him to make us eat our words. I hope his team turns the corner, destroy everyone else left on schedule, win the Pac-12 tournament, and take us on a deep run to the Sweet Sixteen. I hope, so bad, this happens. Not just because I have zero faith in Chianti Dan's inability to make a competent hiring decision when it comes to basketball (since Ben basically flew out to beg for the job when Lavin got the boot), but because I want to recapture some of that magic. I want to go back to those days when JF, AA, LRMAM, LMR, and the rest of the Ben Ball gang were turning Pauley Pavilion into hottest ticket in town.
But it's not going to happen. There's a big difference between what I want to happen, and what I know will happen. I wanted Rick to succeed too. I was ecstatic when he got hired. Which brings me to another confession:
Deep down inside, I'm a Neub too.
At BN, we take no joy from the failings of Rick or Ben. In an ideal world, both men would be succeeding beyond our wildest imaginations. But at some point, you have to take a step back and realize, objectively, that it is time to move on. It's a lot like being with your ex. You stuck it out, you tried to make it work. You tried to remember the good times, the fun memories when everything clicked. But at some point, you realized it wasn't going to work. And life went on.
So as difficult as it is, as much as we don't want to, it's time to move on. The magic is gone. The belief is gone. And no matter how much we want things to go back the way they were, during those magical Final Four runs, those days aren't coming back. I take no joy in saying it, but the simple truth is that it's time for Ben Howland to fade away from Westwood.