Honestly my first reaction was sadness. I did not enjoy seeing Ben Howland and the program he led and the manner in which he led it so widely chastised and considered ruinous.
And I understand the nature of this beast. It’s a business of immediate criticisms with many anonymous critics free to spout whatever they wish from behind the security of a screen name. Also a lot of very public critics.
But I suppose what I find so interesting about this now vitriolic UCLA fan base – now encouraging their former coach to not let the door hit him on the way out – has been their insistence on replacing “Coach.” To ensure that there is a head figure to carry forth the program of Coach, with the principles of the pyramid bound to their mind and inscribed across his heart.
Ben Howland is a helluva basketball coach. Somewhere along the line he lost his way as the elite guy he swiftly proved himself to be; but, as evident by this season’s Pac-12 championship, he didn’t stray too far from what exactly he is: a terrific basketball coach.As it unfortunately were, he did not have the energy to carry the torch of the past; to embody the man (Wooden) whom he is not, was not, and will not be. An exhausting task to compete with the ghosts of the past.
But as I said, there is a beast to this industry and so, when expectations realistic or otherwise are not met, the beast rears its ugly head and axes are swung.
I’m not trying to make an argument here for keeping Ben Howland. It’s become clear that he is not the right man, right now, to be the lead at UCLA. His time had run its course. There was little enthusiasm in Westwood and Howland seemed to be doing very little to instill excitement in the program surrounding his on-court product. It would appear that both parties are best suited with a fresh start.
Which might be exactly what the UCLA program needs: A fresh start. And I’m not talking about simply a new coach. John Wooden will never be replaced. He can and should be respected and remembered are revered but no man will be successful in any venture mimicking another. The Bruins are about to acquire a very good coach. A man with an impressive resume and the utmost respect for the job he’s inheriting. But for him to be successful, for him to truly uphold the principles of “Coach’s Program,” he will have to be his own man. Whatever that is, he will adhere to his own principles and succeed by his own strengths. He will win because, in his own right, is good.
Ben Howland will take a season or so off and find his way into a new position somewhere and likely be very successful there. He’ll find little appreciation for his ten seasons in Westwood (the longest tenure since Wooden) but he should sleep well at night knowing he’s good at what he does: Coach basketball.
May his next venture allow him to do such.
May UCLA’s next venture allow someone to succeed.