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UCLA Basketball Coaching Search Notes: Bruins’ Final-4

Organizing thoughts on the current state of search for UCLA’s next basketball coach.

Yes, Pauley can use a little jolt ...
Yes, Pauley can use a little jolt ...
Jamie Squire

Now that Ben Howland has said his graceful goodbyes in his last official presser at UCLA, let's move on and delve into the latest situation concerning the search for his replacement. The operative word here is patience. We have had some experience with these searches thanks to an incompetent administration.

The last time UCLA was on the market for a new basketball coach - the college basketball landscape was a little different. At that time at least couple of other major college basketball programs, were on the market for a new coach. UNC had hired Matt Doherty so that it could go quickly after Roy Williams (perhaps to keep UCLA away from pursuing him). UNC's hiring of William paved the path for Illinois's Bill Self to Kansas. Meanwhile, UCLA ended up getting Ben Howland, who at the time appeared a perfect match. And, the hiring was easily executed given Howland's natural interest in the job with a little assist from the Wassermans and Sonny Vaccaro.

This time no other major programs are going to be on the market for a coach. In fact it is going to be a while. As noted by Patroclus in the comment thread all other major programs are pretty set at the moment:

Duke: Coach K's until he retires or dies
UNC: Roy Williams likewise has that on lock, and is very hard to believe that he will struggle to the point that he risks losing it:
Kentucky: Coach Cal won a NC last year and missed the tourney this year. That won't put him on the hot seat yet, but if he has a Howland-like next 2-3 years, maybe the UK community starts to get restless.
Kansas: Bill Self seems to be solid there - finally having answered the main complain of not being able to win the big one.
Indiana: Tom Crean has rebuilt the program, has it on a clear upward trajectory (could say the same about Howland 7 years ago)

So here is UCLA in the market all alone (with boatload of cash thanks to Pac-12 deal and group of boosters who are eager to see an ROI in much discussed "renovation" of Pauley). So whether or not UCLA lands a home run hire or not, what it has going for it is that it will be able to go after its top three choices with no competition from another elite program. That counts for something.

So can the Bruins execute the hiring of any of these three guys (listed in alphabetical order)?

  • Billy Donovan
  • Rick Pitino
  • Brad Stevens

We have now heard from number of folks that Bruins are locking into those three. And those three have been on the list for a while. The conversations are not taking place out of the blue from what we have heard. I personally have no idea whether to feel optimistic or take the cynical route. It's a challenge to get past the cynicism given who is in charge of our athletic department and the university. Perhaps it will be leadership from few boosters who will get it done this time around. We will h ave to see.

Meanwhile, the coach who is notably missing from the list of top-3 is none other than Shaka Smart. And the scenario around Smart got interesting because of the firing of Tubby Smith. Why this is interesting? In case you didn't read the Q&A we had with Minnesota bloggers last week, here are the relevant parts (emphasis mine):

Is Tubby Smith on the hot seat? And since AD Norwood Teague hired Shaka Smart at VCU, is there any hope that the Gophers can make a run at Smart if Smith is shown the door?

GoAUpher: His seat is quite toasty. How toasty depends on whether or not you think our new AD is willing to fire Tubby despite a pretty sizable buyout ($2.5 million). The other factor is that while his tenure has been underwhelming compared to the expectations his hiring created, his actual results in terms of NCAA tourney berths is at the program's historical average. Even his conference winning % isn't that far below the program's average. The biggest issues have been how he's lost (3 consecutive seasons with Feb/March collapses, bad losses to horrible teams) and the fact that this season's team has woefully underachieved.

Personally, I think firing him after this year is a bad idea because I doubt many quality mid-major coaches will want the job based on Tubby getting fired despite meeting program averages, lack of a practice facility, etc. As a result, the Gophers will end up taking a flyer on a less proven mid-major with a high chance of remaining what they are now...mediocre. I'd rather see them keep Tubby for one more year and work hard at getting the practice facility under way so that new coaches can be shown tangible proof that the U is investing in the program. All that said, I'm not a Tubby supporter. I'm fed up with the recurring themes of his tenure (late season collapses, teams that appear woefully underprepared for simple things like zone offense, etc) and I'm very confident that what we're getting now is what we'll get from Tubby moving forward. The dream scenario is Tubby pulling a Tubby (i.e. beating the heat by taking a new job) or retiring. Then the hire process doesn't have the "fired a respected coach" issue to contend with.

Are people hopeful that we'd be able to make a run at Shaka if Tubby goes? Well, we'd love it if it happened, but I sincerely doubt it does. Shaka has turned down better jobs with more advantages than Minnesota before. Unless his bond with Teague is very strong, I don't see why he'd come to the U.

Steve: Smith is definitely on the hot seat, and fans are not happy with where the program is in his sixth season. I think most people expected to be finishing near the top of the conference by now and not merely sneaking into the tournament as an 11 seed. And with his struggles this season with arguably the best team he's had here, people are rightfully frustrated. In fact, I wrote my own "Fire Tubby" post earlier this season and haven't wavered from that position.

In terms of replacements, though, that's a tougher deal. Smart's name has been thrown around a lot and Teague's connection to VCU is definitely there, but there hasn't been an official connection shown between Smart and Minnesota. Flip Saunders is a candidate who is often talked about but, at this point, it's hard to speculate because it's not even confirmed that Tubby Smith is going anywhere.

I guess it's cliché to mention the connection between UCLA and Minnesota regarding the hiring of Coach John Wooden, since thanks to knocked out phone lines from a snowstorm in Minnesota, the Gophers were unable to make an offer to the Coach before the Bruins sealed the deal. It could be a matter of UCLA v. Minnesota deal wrt to Smart but we will have to see how that all plays out.

It doesn't make sense why a coach like Shaka Smart would be considered as a "second tier" candidate. No sense at all. I am not emotionally invested in any of the choices but I think Smart deserves to be in the first tier along with the other three given his accomplishments at VCU (that's just me). BTW, interestingly the folks at Daily Gopher have listed Brad Stevens as a "second tier" candidate behind Flip Saunders (along with Smart). Wow.

Anyway, I think we should consider Shaka as a top-tier choice along with the other three. We will see whether UCLA gets to seal the deal with one of the Final-4.

Now beyond this Final-4, it's unclear who are UCLA's fall back options. What do we know is what we don't want clowns like Lorenzo Romar in the mix. Although hilariously and pathetically Romar is sending signals via the traditional media trying to position himself for a phone call. Similarly Mark Gottfried would be a pretty uninspiring choice. Also, pathetic would be retreads from the NBA - such as guys like Kurt Rambis or Mike Brown (LOLOL). None of these guys would get anyone excited about paying up $$ to watch games at the OPUG.

The question here is basically whether UCLA can be successful with its search - landing one of the coaches from "the Final-4" - despite having Dan Chianti Guerrero out there as at least as the public face leading the AD? Can UCLA get this done through the efforts of "Type A" type of boosters and independent search firm?

We still have an athletic director, who gave us the final choices of Mike Riley and Karl Dorrell before settling on Dorrell. His second football search gave us the final (what was reported in public at least) list of Rick Neuheisel, Dewayne Walker and Norm Chow, before going with now bizarre combination of all three, and then in the last go around taking a chance with Jim Mora, while embarrassingly striking out in pursuit of Chris Petersen.

The track record here is not encouraging (I am being nice). But, hey hope springs eternal I guess.