This question has been burning up inside the Bruin faithful the entire season. UCLA basketball coach Ben Howland, responsible for three straight Final Four appearances from 2006 to 2008, has led his team to something of a really terrible season. At 4-4 within the Pac-12, UCLA is two games back out of first place in the conference and is 7th in the Pac-12 standings. Their overall record isn’t too awesome either, at 11-9 with key losses to teams like Middle Tennessee State and Loyola Marymount. Those are hardly teams worthy of losing to.
Of course, the other side of the coin is this: Not many basketball coaches get to the Final Four, and fewer do it three times in a row. The level of discipline and the talent in recruiting is certainly a factor, and that usually is on the head coach. In Howland’s nine-year tenure as coach, UCLA has only missed the Big Dance twice. Last year, UCLA mustered up a 13-5 in-conference record (although they wound up losing the Pac-12 title to Oregon) and managed to get into the round of 32. Second round isn’t exactly something to gawk at, but it isn’t something to worth firing a coach over.
Still, UCLA has been bounced out of the second round of the NCAA tournament twice in the past three seasons, and if UCLA cannot make the cut into the tournament this year (and, if we’re honest, it doesn’t look very good), then it will have been the second time in three years that we don’t get to play in the postseason.
Personally? Howland needs — not should, needs — to stay for one more year. Some shoddy recruiting — which may very well fall on Howland’s head, mind you — has led to a huge dip in talent level this year, leaving this team unable to play defense unless they’re playing zone defense (which is built to mask deficiencies and avoid having one-on-one matchups exploited). But with the number one recruit in the nation, Shabazz Muhammad, strongly considering heading to Westwood, and with Kyle Anderson, the second-best recruit in the nation, already committed to UCLA, it’d be difficult to retain those two extremely-talented players with Ben Howland gone. And rightfully so — no player who wants to go one-and-done and into the NBA wants to hurt his draft status by playing for a losing team.
It seems irrational to fire Howland knowing that, with the commitment of Muhammad, the best recruiting class in the nation will be at his disposal. We know what Howland is capable of when he has serious talent on his squad, and if he’s truly “lost his touch,” then he’ll tank for sure next year.
But if he hasn’t? If this coach gets deep into the NCAA tournament and comes inches away from winning us another national championship? Then we’ll know how silly we were, and that Howland went through a slump.
So, yeah, one more year. But what say you? Should Howland get to stay one more year?