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Did UCLA Make a Mistake Firing Ben Howland?

John Wooden is not coming back. UCLA has perhaps the most storied history in all of college basketball. With 11 National Championships, the Bruins are a blue blood program with few equals. Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina can argue with UCLA about who has the greatest, winningest, most historic program, but only one team won seven straight titles. One program retired the jersey numbers of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton.

UCLA fired head coach Ben Howland on Sunday night. He won 233 games over 10 seasons and took the Bruins to the Final Four three times. Howland will pocket $3.5 million for being terminated before his contract expired. It is very possible he is the best coach UCLA has had since Wooden. However, expectations at UCLA are significantly different, and more unrealistic than at any other school. The Bruins do not hang banners at Pauley Pavilion for Final Four appearances, only for championships.

Howland took over the Bruins program after UCLA fired Steve Lavin. In seven seasons at the helm Lavin went 145-78. He never took the Bruins to the Final Four and was fired after his only losing year. Lavin missed the NCAA tournament only once in his tenure.

Before Lavin was Jim Harrick. In addition to the 1995 National Title, Harrick led UCLA to the NCAA tournament in each of his eight years. However, Harrick was dismissed after he was accused of lying about an expense report. He later was fired at Rhode Island after being accused of sexual harassment, and at Georgia after being accused of academic fraud. Needless to say, there were some internal problems during his reign.

Gene Bartow, Gary Cunningham, Larry Brown, Larry Farmer, and Walt Hazzard all had winning records at the helm, but none lasted more than four years, and only Bartow and Brown took the Bruins to the Final Four. Again, Howland reached the Final Four three times.

When Howland got his first head coaching job at Northern Arizona, after two tough seasons, he won 20 games each of his last four years, took the Lumberjacks to the NCAA tournament in 1998, and led the nation in offense. After one mediocre year at Pittsburgh, Howland went 19-14 his second year, only to follow that with 57 victories over his final two seasons including two trip to the Sweet 16. At Pitt, Howland's Panthers led the nation in defense.

Howland's tenure at UCLA ends after a 25 win season and a first round NCAA loss to Minnesota with his second best player, Jordan Adams, out because of a broken ankle. In 2003-2004, he took over a team that was coming off of a 10-19 season. Three years later they won 32 games and lost the NCAA Title Game to Florida.

Sam Barry is the winningest basketball coach in USC history. He won 260 in 14 seasons. USC also is searching for a new coach. Ben Howland might not be John Wooden, but he could be Sam Barry. Well, maybe not, Barry also coached the Trojans football and baseball teams.


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