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UCLA Basketball: Is Mick Cronin Facing the Ghost of Ben Howland?

Negative recruiting about Cronin only caring about defense has begun.

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NCAA Basketball: UCLA-Press Conference
Mick Cronin is not happy with the negative recruiting
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This basketball off-season is all about new Coach Mick Cronin. Ironically, he is not being haunted by the ghost of John Wooden or even a hangover from the no defense Alford error, er, era. Nope. He is being chased by the ghost of Ben Howland. That is the narrative that is being developed by UCLA haters.

Why is that bad? From his former home news source,

Former Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Mick Cronin, who left UC in April to become UCLA’s new head coach, isn’t happy about what he considers negative recruiting from other schools he says tell players they won’t score enough on a team coached by Cronin because his style prioritizes defense.

Over at Forbes, they have an interview:

Cronin says other schools tell recruits that Cronin is a defensive-oriented coach who won’t let them shine offensively.

“I get [ticked] off when I read about all we do is play defense and nobody tends to look at the fact that we’re 1-2 in scoring in the American [Athletic Conference] every year,” Cronin said Wednesday by phone in an exclusive interview. “Two years ago we led the nation in margin of victory.

”That’s what people try to use against us, it’s ridiculous.”

A little later in the article, Cronin says:

”Somehow Kentucky blocks every shot and doesn’t let anybody score and nobody says that about them. I think that’s a pretty good way for big guys to get to the NBA.”

It concludes with this statement from Cronin:

”We’d like to lead the nation in offense, defense and rebounding,” he said.

Obviously. this was the same knock as used against Ben Howland. How did Ben do? According to a garbage article in ESPN a while back, he was the best UCLA Coach since Wooden and Howland came closest to escaping Wooden’s ghost.

1. Ben Howland (2004-13), 233-107 (.685), 3 Final Fours -- Howland stands as the most consistent of Wooden’s successors, reaching the Final Four in three straight years (2006-08) before a four-year drought without reaching the second weekend of the NCAA tournament led to his firing in 2013. Criticism about UCLA’s style of play, flagging ticket sales at a renovated Pauley Pavilion and a damning Sports Illustrated article that portrayed Howland’s program as directionless were other notable characteristics of the hot-and-cold Howland era.

This is funny: first sentence “most consistent,” last sentence “hot-and-cold Howland era.” Last time I checked, running hot and cold is not consistent. And what they said on Lavin? Can I get a Bill Walton “please”?

That said, the other part of the Howland narrative is being used against Cronin. He only cares about defense. It will bore UCLA fans. They won’t come to games. When UCLA plays the first exhibition game against Stanislaus State expect the story to be about the crowd and the style of play.

This is a reason why people hate the media. UCLA haters are going to bash the fans and say they want Wooden and/or offense. This is the narrative that the other Pac-12 teams want out there and, in some cases, many other schools across the country. UCLA has a great recruiting pool in its backyard and UCLA’s rivals love nothing more than to get a narrative out there that UCLA is not “fun” and the fans suck.

The reality is simple. Cronin can easily pack Pauley Pavilion by doing one thing: winning. On the other hand, Cronin could bring back LMU’s all offense and no defense of the last century and no one would come when UCLA finishes 16-14.

Lastly, the negative recruiting against Howland worked not because of his defense as much as Howland was, well, Howland. While we can debate how good a coach Howland was, not even his staunchest defender would claim he was a “player’s coach,” which makes the last ESPN article I am going to cite an example of how Cronin is not Howland. Cronin gets along well with his ex-wife!?! I mean this article could also be BS but the fact his ex is moving to California makes me think it is true.

”I was never leaving without my daughter, so there’s only so many places where Darlene would have come with me,” Cronin said. “We weren’t going to separate. Even here, we’ll get places near each other because that’s just how we do things. We’re ‘the Ozzie and Harriet of divorce,’ or whatever you want to call it. So where would she have gone? Very few places.”

Taylor said she was shocked when Cronin first called about the possibility; but she has lived in nine states and the thought of raising their biracial daughter in L.A.’s diverse environment intrigued her. She agreed to move her life if UCLA offered him the job.

”A lot of people are looking at me like I’m crazy,” said Taylor, a former Division I track and field athlete who has run a fitness and nutrition business in Cincinnati. “‘You’re moving across the country for your ex-husband?’ No, I’m moving across the country for my daughter. I’m all about adventure. Hopefully, it could be something awesome for me, too.”

If he can deal with his ex-wife so well, he can probably handle the egos of players and the insanity of basketball parents pretty well. Putting aside the negative recruiting and ex-wives, Cronin sums up the fans and UCLA accurately in the following quote:

”The fallacy, I think, is that people here have succumbed to unrealistic expectations,” Cronin said. “Each individual situation has been different. You can’t just put them all in a lump and say that. People are realistic. Nobody here thinks anybody is gonna do what [Wooden did], especially nowadays.”

Cronin is right, despite the media pontification, he is not chasing ghost of Coach Wooden or even Ben Howland. He has a chance to make his own mark.

Go Bruins!