Steve Alford has lost the UCLA Bruins team. Given its talent level, the team consistently underachieves and never puts together a 40-minute effort. There is a strong case for firing Steve Alford right now. The Pac-12 is weak and UCLA could still win the Pac-12 and even make the NCAA Tournament with a new coach who can get control of the team.
But some of our readers like Matt Garrido are rightly concerned of a “Lavin situation.” An interim coach has the team play up to its talent level and becomes the permanent coach. There is precedent for this. Steve Lavin took over a talented team after Jim Harrick was fired and took them to the Elite Eight. In my opinion, Lavin had nothing to do with that finish as that team had many veteran players, but the fact remains Lavin got credit. As a result, he was hired as the head coach despite being only a few years removed from being a graduate assistant.
I have the perfect solution to Matt’s relevant fears: Larry Brown. Brown is a great basketball coach. Brown has connections and even a certain affection for UCLA. He arguably put himself on the coaching map with his success at UCLA when he took a very young UCLA team to the finals. He really wants to coach again, but no one in the country will hire him because of his age and because of his propensity for violating NCAA rules.
The latter is what makes this work. If you bring in Brown as interim coach, it is flat out for this year. He is NOT allowed under any circumstances to recruit. This won’t hurt UCLA as it will be announced when he is hired. It also allows UCLA to openly look for new coaches. All would have to agree that Brown is only coach for this season.
I think Brown would be interested. While he is a brilliant basketball savant, he is also legendary for his lack of loyalty to any program or job. A great example is the fact that he is the only person to coach two NBA teams in one year. He has publicly stated his desire to coach in the US again. While most coaches would not take a half year gig, for Larry Brown it would be just another year in the life of a basketball vagabond. Also if you’re Brown, you see the talent on this team and you have to be drooling at the chance.
For its part, UCLA gets a Hall of Fame coach. The players get the rarest thing of all in a college coach, an NBA and NCAA Champion. He understands not only winning but what it takes to make it in the NBA.
Brown is a great basketball coach. That said he is a horrible program head. He is, to put one spin on it, crazy. One insider told me the story of how he quit UCLA the first time over the carpet. Yes, “the carpet” in the coach’s office was not acceptable to him. (There is more to it but this story is credible for Larry Brown.) He also was on a plane to take the UCLA job a second time, when he changed his mind. More importantly, the NCAA programs he has coached have faced NCAA sanctions because of his recruiting efforts.
That just means Brown could never be a candidate for the UCLA job long-term. But, as a short-term solution to give this year’s team a chance to hit its potential, he would be great option.
That said, I know it won’t happen. Athletic Director Dan Guerrero first skill is laziness. This would force him to work twice as hard as he would have to hire two coaches. Brown is also not the easiest to deal with. Brown is a gamble in that he could literally say yes and then decide he does not want to do it. (Remember, he literally told UCLA yes once before only to change his mind on the plane flight.)
But what does UCLA have to lose? If Alford is fired and Brown changes his mind, Assistant Coach Bartow takes over. That’s not ideal, but at least you can start the coaching search. First and foremost, think of the players, Brown is a GREAT coach, one of the best of all time. Yeah, he is old, but he has had success recently. Fans would also be excited. Old timers would love to see the guy who came close to winning it all in a miracle run.
Just my Christmas wish.