There was a time not very long ago in UCLA basketball history that a coach who had been to three Final Fours was run out of town. It wasn’t so much that Ben Howland hadn’t done the job well — seven NCAA tournament appearances in 10 years and seven first-round NBA draft picks said otherwise — but he certainly didn’t represent what UCLA romantics thought their basketball program should be.
Personally awkward and defense-focused, Howland was stylistically miscast in a town that has long preferred a plastic smile to the wrinkles and fine lines that come with fading beauty. When a few cracks in Howland’s program started to form, firing him was easy.
But even Hollywood’s best cosmetic surgeons wouldn’t be able to erase the marks of stress that have formed over UCLA’s last few decades.
It says a lot about where the program of John Wooden now stands in the college sports landscape that once UCLA’s three-month-old coaching search finally got serious this week after a laughable attempt to lure John Calipari, it turned its focus away from superstar names that were never coming and instead moved on to coaches who would do well to produce a Howland-era encore.