Ben Howland is in his ninth year as Head Coach at UCLA. During his tenure with the Bruins, Howland has been incredibly successful. He has a dazzling 205-96 record, has recruited numerous McDonald’s All-Americans, has sent numerous players to the pros, and at one time led the Bruins to three straight Final Fours. However, since UCLA’s most recent Final Four appearance, the program has had a downturn. The most recent article in Sports Illustrated gives a window into why and it is not a pretty one for Howland or the UCLA basketball program. According to SI, the problems at UCLA began when a group of players began to rebel without consequence and when Howland gave star treatment with certain players that caused him to lose control of the program. The story goes on to allege that there was widespread fighting amongst teammates and that there was drinking and smoking marijuana before practices. If these allegations turn out to be true, Howland should be incredibly disappointed as he has sent the program into a state of turmoil.
While it is hard to police young adults and they can be loose cannons at times, it appears Howland failed to maintain control of the program that he is responsible for and one of the most important things for any head coach to do at any level is police his/her locker room. Coaches need to hold their players accountable and if they fail to do that they are doing their program a disservice. Something has to change in Westwood. The character of the program has been shattered and if Howland is retained following this season, it will be up to him to make sure things change and pick up the shattered pieces of the basketball program and put them back together again. Dan Guerrero joined Fox Sports Radio with Petros and Money to talk about his reaction to the Sports Illustrated article, what he knew about these allegations, if he has talked to Ben Howland about this, what Howland’s standing is with the program, whether UCLA was given a fair shake in the article, and what he makes of the downturn of the program.
His reaction to the article:
“It’s obviously a tough day for us today. Any time you have a team or story in a national publication like, especially one of the ilk of Sports Illustrated, it’s not a good day but I can assure you with the highest degree of confidence that we have a great program and we have great kids throughout the entire program and this is an opportunity for us to take a good, hard look as we have certainly in the men’s basketball program and get better.”
What he knew about these allegations:
“If you look at the assertions they’re sort of three kettles of fish if you will. You’ve got the one issues that we obviously knew occurred and if in fact we were aware of those things then we ran them through the proper channels and proper protocol in terms of dealing with them. There were other issues that did not stoop to the levels of administration or myself addressing, we put a lot of trust in our coaches and our coaches have the responsibility to manage their programs and they do that with their student athletes. There were some issues that might have been involved at that level but once again that is not unusual. Then there were other assertions or allegations that no one knew of, neither the coaches nor the administration, and we’re in the process of validating if you will what some of those issues were.”
If he has talked with Ben Howland about this:
“When we first heard of the story it goes all the way back to February 13, we caught wind that a former coach had been contacted by the writer to corroborate a piece of information he was trying to utilize for the story and that coach contacted us. That was when we first knew that something was up. We didn’t know the angle and we didn’t know what direction at that particular time but of course since it was Sports Illustrated we knew that it would be significant and then when we found out who the writer was we also knew that it would be significant. From that point forward we began the process of discussing what the possibilities were. Then about five days later we actually called the writer to gleam some information if possible and he did share some more information relative to that. We began our dialogue at that point about what the issues were and just have proceeded throughout the last ten days or so to work on this.”
How this would affect the Ben Howland’s job if the article is true and valid:
“You can’t really throw it all into one bag. Over the course of nine years Ben has run the program and by in large the greater number of the student athletes that have been in his program have been fantastic young men, some of them have gone on and obviously they’re doing well in the professional ranks, some are overseas doing great and some are just great young men in society today. We’ve had a few situations with a few young men that have not represented the program the way we would like in a general sense but the most important thing is we take this article, we take where we are as a program, and at the end of the season Ben and I will talk things through. Obviously you need to have an alignment of vision, correct what’s wrong, and we just need to make certain that we are there. That process doesn’t take place till the end of the year like we always do it. We always meet at the end of the year and go through the season.”
Whether UCLA was given a fair shake by Sports Illustrated in the article:
“I’m not going to cast judgment on anything in that regard and the writer is a Pulitzer Prize winning writer. I do know there are some assertions in that particular article where the context may not be exactly the way we think things occurred but that is neither here nor there. We’re not at a point right now where we want to start disputing things. We know what our issues are in the program, we know where we want to be, we know the type of program we want to have, and we’re going to move forward.”
On the downturn of the program:
“Let me just say that last year we were one game out of first place in the Pac 10, we beat Michigan State in the opening round and went to the last possession if you will against Florida and just missed going to the Sweet 16. That’s not exactly where we want to be. Obviously we want to be competing for National Championships and things of that nature. How far away are we? The culture has to go back to what it was before and there are a number of issues that affect what kind of team you have. We’ve lost quality student athletes to the NBA and I think just about every one that has gone out early is a multi-millionaire now so it’s quite an attribution to the kind of coaching and experience they have had here and certainly the kind of player they are.
Then I believe as I indicated, Ben has indicated that he has made some mistakes in terms of evaluation of talent and or character and we’ve got to get back to evaluating the right kind of talent, the right kind of character, getting them in the program, and getting individuals that fit Ben’s style because that is very important. He’s a stickler on defense that creates a lot of transition offense for us, you’ve got to be individuals that are selfless and be team players, that’s what we need and in order for us to be able to get there we need to look in that direction but there are a lot of great things happening for our program. We’ve got Pauly Pavillion coming on board in the fall, a 136 million dollar renovation it’s going to be an unbelievable facility and we’re looking forward to the future.”