A little more than a month ago, we discussed the very realistic possibility that Jaime Dixon, a Los Angeles native, would be coming to Southern Cal to replace the fired Kevin O'Neill. Bear in mind, at that time, Dixon was rumored to be one of Pat Haden's top candidates, but it appeared that Dixon was not willing to relocate if it meant going against his old boss and friend, Ben Howland. But, as the Dixon-to-U$C chatter continues to heat up, it appears we now know the reason why:
Rumor is that Ben Howland may have already discussed returning to his old stomping grounds at Pitt to replace Dixon if UCLA decides to go in another direction. At this point, it's unconfirmed, and very speculative, and just a rumor, but the word is that Ben may have already had discussions with Pederson about returning to Pitt.
Which falls 100% in line with what CBS Sports' Jeff Goodman had to say about Ben-to-Pitt rumors a couple of days ago:
It'll be all about what this team does in the NCAA tournament that ultimately determines his fate and whether he remains patrolling the sidelines at Pauley Pavilion. The rumors persist that his buddy, Jamie Dixon, is headed to the west coast and will take the USC job. The speculation will then begin concerning Howland heading back to his old stomping grounds at Pittsburgh.
Howland's old boss, Steve Pederson, is back at Pitt after his stint at Nebraska. If you recall, speculation was high that Howland would re-join Pederson's protege, Mark Boehm, in Lincoln. From what we know of Howland, Perderson, and Boehm, they remain close and have all three, reportedly, place a high value on personal loyalty (which, don't get us wrong, is a positive personality trait). Logically, it makes sense, especially with Dixon-to-Southern Cal heating up as a realistic possibility. Dixon wouldn't come back if he didn't already know that Ben was planning on heading back to the more inviting world of Big East basketball.
Couple all of that information with the fact that Ben has been much more vocal in voicing his displeasure with certain segments of the alums and fan base (read: Bill Walton) and it appears more and more that Howland is setting up an exit strategy.
For example, it would not be surprising to see the following sequence of events play out:
- 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.
As I've said, right now all of this is just speculation and none of it has been confirmed. That being said, it's a rumor that is growing louder and louder and simply can't be ignored.
Fire away with your comments and thoughts in the open thread as we get ready to watch the Bruins take on the Ducks in what could be Howland's last Pac-12 game as the head coach in Westwood.