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Analysis: A Look at Howland's Mediocre Career Numbers as the UCLA Head Coach

A dispassionate look at the numbers from UCLA's vaunted basketball legacy and from Ben Howland's comparatively mediocre tenure.

The rise is over Ben.
The rise is over Ben.

UCLA just lost to the worst team in the conference. Swirl that around in your mouth for a while, let it sink in, burn a hole in your heart, and settle in for a retrospective look at the Howland tenure.

Ben Howland is now in his 10th year at the helm of the UCLA Basketball program. That is longer than Steve Lavin (7 years) and Jim Harrick (8 years). It is the longest a coach has been at UCLA since John Wooden, and it is certainly a long enough period to draw some general conclusions about trends, records and other facts. And this post is going to be chock full of those. My goal here is to paint a general picture, and most of the time you will be able to draw your own conclusions but I will make a few points along the way

Before we get started, we must first agree on one fundamental premise: the standard for UCLA Basketball begins with John Wooden's tenure. That is not to say that his results are the expected standard, but the status and reputation of UCLA Basketball were established then and that represents our legacy. If you dismiss this and find Coach's legacy irrelevant, then stop reading now (and be ashamed).

General Accomplishments

- 3 conference championships. Since Wooden, every UCLA coach has won the conference at least once (yes, even Lavin his first year), except for Larry Brown, who still got to the championship game.

- 3 Final Fours. Since Wooden, three coaches (Bartow, Brown, Harrick) have each been to one Final Four.

- 0 national championships. Harrick won UCLA's only national championship since Wooden left.

- 2 losing seasons. Lavin is the only other coach who had a losing season, UCLA's first since 1947. He was fired afterwards.

- 3 missed NCAA tournaments. UCLA missed the tournament 6 times in the 27 years before Howland.

Overall Record

Here are the winning percentages of coaches since John Wooden:

Coach Years Overall Record (Win%) Conf Record (Win %) Avg Conf Finish
Gene Bartow 2 52-9 (85.2%) 24-4 (85.7) 1
Gary Cunningham 2 50-8 (86.2) 29-3 (90.6) 1
Larry Brown 2 42-17 (71.2) 25-11 (69.4) 3.5
Larry Farmer 3 61-23 (72.6) 39-15 (72.2) 2.5
Walt Hazzard 4 77-47 (62.1) 47-25 (65.3) 2.5
Jim Harrick 8 192-62 (75.6) 108-36 (75.0) 2.5
Steve Lavin 7 145-78 (65.0) 81-48 (62.8) 3.7
Ben Howland 10 230-105 (68.7) 124-67 (64.9) 2.9

In the Post-Wooden era, Howland is 6th out of 8 in overall record and average conference finish, and 7th in conference record.

Record against conference teams

This table compares Howland's winning percentage against Pac-10 teams (Utah and Colorado are excluded) to UCLA's historical record before Howland.

Team All-time W-L All-time % Howland's W-L Howland's % Difference
Arizona 38-26 59.4 12-11 52.2 - 7.2
Arizona State 48-12 80.0 14-6 70.0 - 10.0
Cal 118-92 56.2 15-9 62.5 + 6.3
Stanford 123-85 59.1 15-6 71.4 + 12.3
Oregon 70-24 74.5 11-8 57.9 - 16.6
Oregon State 73-31 70.2 17-3 85.0 + 14.8
Washington 83-29 74.1 9-11 45.0 - 29.1
Washington State 84-12 87.5 18-3 85.7 - 1.8
Southern Cal 120-95 55.8 14-9 60.9 + 5.1
Total 757-406 65.1 125-66 65.4 + 0.3

Howland's conference record is nearly identical to UCLA's historical conference record. However, in the post-Wooden era, UCLA was 353-142 (0.713) before Howland, or 0.059 better than Howland.

Howland's performance against Washington stands out as truly pathetic, with a losing record. You may think the record against Southern Cal validates Howland, but we need to keep in mind how far ahead Southern Cal was when UCLA was founded, and that Southern Cal had at one point a 42 game winning streak against UCLA from 1932 to 1943 (note: I am still counting the "ineligible" OJ Mayo victory as a loss for Howland).

Notable losses

I am defining this as losses to bad teams (i.e., teams that were bad at the time of the loss, ranging from terrible to NIT level, which I still define as bad)

- USC (twice)
- St. John's
- Washington State
- Arizona State
- Oregon State

- Oregon State (twice)


- Stanford
- Washington
- California

- Washington

- Arizona
- Washington State

- Cal State Fullerton
- Portland
- Long Beach State
- Mississippi State
- Arizona (twice)
- Stanford
- USC (twice)
- Oregon (twice)

- Montana
- California
- Oregon

- Loyola Marymount
- Middle Tennessee State
- Stanford
- Oregon State
- St. John's

- Cal Poly
- Washington State

I have heard a lot of people give Howland a break for his first season at UCLA. I don't. That team had Dijon Thompson, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Hollins, Cedric Bozeman, and a senior TJ Cummings. Yes, Lavin cratered the program, but there is absolutely no reason for a team with these kinds of players to only win 11 games. And for those who keep saying that "it took Wooden 15 years to win his first championship", well, Wooden also took over a team with a losing record and won his division the first four years, and the conference in his second year.

Think Howland's Final Fours have "earned him" some time and credit? Ok then, how's five years? How much longer is he supposed to live off of those achievements? Ben Howland is in his fifth season since going to three straight Final Fours. In that time, he has been to the tournament twice and won two games there (obviously, he may win more games this year in the tournament). The point has been made before, other elite programs would not have put up with the four years that followed his final four streak. But at UCLA, he got another year.

I would probably feel better about Ben if he actually addressed the glaring questions about his program, but he has never answered these except to make excuses:
- Why have so many players left the program?
- Why has UCLA been unable to recruit a true point guard?
- Why have you been unable to win in Seattle?
- Why do you only have 8 scholarship players?

Most damningly, he keeps getting defensive about getting called out by Bill Walton, referring to Walton's "point of reference", as if the knock on Howland was that he hasn't won a championship. I mean seriously, have any of us here made that complaint? We were all ecstatic during the final four years, they were special because of the level of play, the toughness and the dedication. But those teams are gone, and that coach is gone.

Again, think about it. It has been five years since Howland's last Final Four. What is more probable, that he will replicate that run, or that we will get more of the same from the last five years? Next year will be the same team with some new arrivals (including yet another juco point guard)...but will any of those guys be as good as Shabazz Muhammad? Will there be a point guard even as good as Larry Drew II? No, there won't be. And Howland will continue to favor the Wear twins (aka poor man's Hansborough) over Tony Parker. And he will continue to call momentum killing timeouts. And we will have some embarrassing losses, as we have had every year under Howland, notably since 2009.

The ride is over. It is time for a new chapter of UCLA Basketball.