UCLA Fires Basketball Coach Ben Howland

howlandfiredWESTWOOD, Calif. — Ben Howland, who led UCLA to three Final Four appearances, was fired Sunday, the school announced, ending the longest tenure for a Bruins coach since John Wooden retired in 1975.

Howland spent 10 seasons in Westwood and is coming off one of his best coaching performances, with the Bruins winning the Pac-12 Conference regular-season championship. Yet his star had fallen considerably since taking UCLA to consecutive Final Fours from 2006-08. He was informed Sunday that he was fired.

UCLA needed to go deep into the NCAA tournament to save Howland’s job. The Bruins were bounced by Minnesota, 83-63, in their first game Friday in Austin, Texas.

Howland’s contract, which runs through 2017, has a $3.2-million buyout — 2.3-million for his 2013-14 pay and $900,000 for his remaining base pay.

In a statement released by UCLA, Howland said, “I have been blessed with the opportunity to coach at UCLA for 10 years and I will always be grateful to Dan Guerrero and Chancellors Block, Abrams and Carnesale for the opportunity to coach and teach our players and work alongside tremendous coaches. The UCLA community and fans have been unbelievable to my family and I, and it’s been an honor and privilege to represent this great institution. I look forward to what comes next.”

UCLA officials are interested in Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart and Butler’s Brad Stevens, according to a person familiar with the athletic department who was not authorized to speak. Neither are likely to be pried away easily, if at all.

Failing that, UCLA officials might seek a former NBA coach, the person familiar with the athletic department said.

Howland’s popularity dropped as the Bruins’ success under him waned. UCLA reached the NCAA tournament only twice in the last four seasons.

There was criticism about his tight-fisted control, both in games and with the team and staff. There were concerns about the number of players who transferred, though only a few found success elsewhere: Drew Gordon (New Mexico), Mike Moser (UNLV), Chace Stanback (UNLV) and Matt Carlino (BYU).

The tipping point came a year ago after a Sports Illustrated story painted a program that was out of control. Howland and Guerrero met at the end of the 2011-12 season and there were promises of change.

Howland was viewed as having one season to convince Guerrero to retain him. He brought in the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class, but a season of constant turmoil followed.

Freshman guard Shabazz Muhammad went through a lengthy NCAA investigation and wasn’t cleared to play until three games into the season.

Freshman center Tony Parker had a series of injuries and was slow to develop.

Guard Tyler Lamb and center Joshua Smith transferred in November, sapping the Bruins’ depth. Smith was also UCLA’s most formidable inside player.

Still, Howland was able to win his fourth conference championship, more than any UCLA coach other than John Wooden. The Bruins’ postseason chances were dealt a blow when freshman guard Jordan Adams, the team’s second-leading scorer, broke his right foot in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals.

UCLA officials are also concerned about ticket sales at renovated Pauley Pavilion. Only five crowds topped 10,000 this season despite the Bruins chasing the conference title with an up-tempo style.

The Pauley Pavilion renovation cost $138 million. UCLA officials need the arena to be a cash cow. New season tickets buyers, or season ticket holders who want an upgrade, must also make a per ticket donation to the Wooden Athletic Fund ranging from $100 to $17,000 for priority-seating areas.

Los Angeles Times

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