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Is Panic Starting to Set in at UCLA over Hiring of a New Basketball Coach?

An arbitrary timeline to hire a coach “within the next week” makes it look like the Bruins are repeating history and expecting a different result.

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament-Kansas State vs. Texas Christian
TCU’s Jamie Dixon appears to be the best of a mediocre list of candidates UCLA is now focusing on.
Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Bolch of the LA Times is reporting that the UCLA Bruins’ coaching search is now focusing on Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin and TCU’s Jamie Dixon “after striking out with a slew of top targets.”

Bolch adds:

Dixon and Cronin emerged as leading candidates after a bevy of more coveted coaches expressed no interest, were eliminated through the school’s vetting process or declined to be interviewed until after the Final Four.

UCLA hopes to have a coach in place within the next week as the field of potential candidates continues to dwindle, a person with knowledge of the situation said.

This is ridiculous. This indicates that the UCLA Athletic Department learned ABSOLUTELY NOTHING from the hiring of Steve Alford.

Why is the athletic department imposing an arbitrary timeline, instead of waiting until after the Final Four to interview Tony Bennett? This is exactly the same thing which happened after the firing of Ben Howland.

Instead of waiting until Wichita State had exited the tournament, UCLA panicked an made an obvious mistake of hiring Steve Alford.

Well, it looks like that’s about to happen again. There is absolutely no reason why UCLA cannot wait until Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers to finish playing in the Final Four.

What difference does it make if UCLA doesn’t hire a new coach for two or three weeks instead of a week, especially if the difference is hiring a coach who just made it to the Final Four instead of a list of guys who have never made the Final Four?

The answer is simple: It doesn’t, and that’s why this news is going to upset most Bruin fans.

As far as the fact that the search appears to be narrowing to Dixon and Cronin goes, Dixon would be an acceptable choice as someone who has been to the Elite Eight, but his results since leaving Pittsburgh for TCU have been disappointing. The Horned Frogs have made the NCAA Tournament only once in the three years Dixon has been there and they were a one-and-done team that year.

Bolch mentions that Dixon’s TCU buyout might be “a potential stumbling block....” Ironically, the amount of his buyout is $8 million, which just happens to be what UCLA offered John Calipari per year. If UCLA can offer Calipari $8 million per year, they won’t worry about paying Dixon’s TCU buyout.

As far as Cronin goes, he has shown that he can beat Steve Alford, but when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, the farthest he’s made it has been the Sweet 16, and he’s only done that once in his sixteen seasons as a head coach. He might very well end up being Alford 2.0.

Bolch adds, “The Bruins are also considering St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett, Texas coach Shaka Smart and former Phoenix Suns coach and UCLA alumnus Earl Watson as fallback options, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation.”

Randy Bennett is a guy who’s made the Sweet 16 once over eighteen seasons. That’s pretty unremarkable.

Shaka Smart was a guy who was high on the list of a lot of fans when Alford was hired. It was because he took Virginia Commonwealth to the Final Four in just his second season. But, after that, he followed the Final Four appearance with back-to-back second round departures and he hasn’t made it past the first round during Alford’s entire tenure. Four years ago, he took the Texas job and his tenure there has been very disappointing for Longhorn fans.

Of course, then, there’s Earl Watson. Bolch’s article makes it quite clear that Watson’s interview was not just done as a courtesy. And, that’s why so many Bruin fans are upset that Watson was even interviewed. If you played a game of “Which one of these doesn’t belong?”, Watson wins and it’s not even close.

To say that all of these are disappointing choices might just be the understatement of 2019.

A few days ago, UCLA Senior Associate AD Josh Rebholz, who is a part of the search committee, tweeted this:

If UCLA is insistent on hiring someone whose team isn’t in the Final Four by next week, it will be certain that they hurried and made another mistake in a long line of poor hiring decisions by Dan Guerrero.

Go Bruins!