- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero and chancellor Gene Block held a conference call with reporters Wednesday to discuss a Sports Illustrated report that alleged multiple wrongdoings by basketball coach Ben Howland and his players. The following is a transcript of the call:
GENE BLOCK (opening statement)
Every day, those of us fortunate enough to be associated with this great university take enormous pride in what UCLA represents so it’s particularly disheartening to me and to our Bruin community to be confronted with the types of assertions contained in the Sports Illustrated article about our men’s basketball program.
We all know the special place that UCLA basketball holds on this campus and beyond so any injury to the program is an injury to all of us. Because of this rich legacy we hold ourselves to a higher standard. John Wooden taught us that it’s not only important to take pride in our achievements, but also to take pride in how we live our lives.
There is no question that the story paints a picture of one of our premier programs that causes a great deal of concern. I have questions just like I know you do.
After conferring with Dan Guerrero, we’ve agreed to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the Universities policies, procedures and values are aligned with our continued pursuit of excellence. We expect all of our student athletes to abide by our university’s code of conduct at all times and to represent us proudly. At the same time, our players must be respected and provided with an environment that makes their college experience a rich and rewarding one.
Every day so many of our student athletes make us proud through their community involvement, campus leadership, academic achievement and competition on the court and on the field. Many of Ben Howland’s players are among them. Though it wasn’t fun reading the criticisms leveled against us this morning, I know we will be better as a result of them. I’m confident that Dan will be able to move us forward in men’s basketball and continue to lead our outstanding department of athletics.
DAN GUERRERO (opening statement)
When I became the athletic director at my alma mater almost 10 years ago, I was entrusted with leadership of what I believe is the nation’s premier athletic program. Our mission is clear: To provide a comprehensive student athlete experience for 24 sports that builds character, enhances our community and provides opportunities for academic and athletic excellence.
I’m reminded of that mission daily when I watch our more than 700 student athletes strive to be the best that they can be; when I walk by the academic center and watch our collaborative learning team at work; when I see the enthusiasm on the faces of our new football staff as they work late into the night.
Yet I’m also reminded of this core mission today at a time when we might have fallen short of this mission. I am disappointed to the extent that there may be merit in the Sports Illustrated story and that we could have done more for our student athletes and coaches. I’m angry that these alleged actions of a select few could cast doubts on all that is great about UCLA athletics. Yet I am determined to move forward and do everything in my power to ensure that our student athletes and our coaches live up to the values we believe in.
Coach Howland came to UCLA and quickly brought the program back to the nation’s elite, leading the team to three Final Fours with a tremendous group of young men. But he’s not perfect. He’s admitted both publicly and privately some of his shortcomings and mistakes. To be sure, we want to win more championships and do it the right way, which means there are expectations for both on and off the court behavior by Ben.
At UCLA, like our peer institutions, we place a high degree of trust in our head coaches. They in turn place a high degree of trust in their student athletes. But even with that trust, it’s clear that we don’t always meet the standards of expectation.
Federal privacy laws prevent any UCLA official from addressing any specific charges concerning former or current student athletes and therefore I’m unable to provide specific context around a number of the alleged incidences in the article. That said, as it relates to the alleged drug use or alcohol consumption by former and current members of our men’s basketball team, let me state that UCLA has programs in place that address alcohol abuse and a stringent and comprehensive drug testing program administered and supervised by a panel of experts, campus administrators, doctors and lawyers.
The university administration and department leadership take any reports of alleged drug use by our students seriously and we will continue to provide the necessary resources and support for members of our community.
But let me be clear, if in any instance I as a leader of this department or the members of our staff do not follow protocol, or do our very best to do what is in the best interest of our student athletes, then we probably have not lived up to our core mission. Should that be that case, then I will take responsibility for that and I can assure you that this will be remedied.
Coaching and playing basketball or any other spot at UCLA is a privilege and an honor and we’ve always sought to achieve excellence in character, in education, community and of course, also competition. Every coach and player that has ever been a part of UCLA knows that character and values are as important as winning. I’ve been a Bruin for more than 40 years. I know that the expectations of academic and athletic success are lofty and they should be. Yet I also know that high character is not an expectation, it is a requirement for every Bruin for that is what makes UCLA so great.
Q: Are you confident in Dan Guerrero’s leadership of the UCLA athletic program?
GENE BLOCK: Dan and I are both frustrated with some of our athletic performances in some sports, on the other hand if you look under Dan’s leadership, there have been extremely strong performances including a re-certification by the NCAA. We've executed I think 22 NCAA titles since he's been here. We’ve had a tremendous amount of success and I would say that Dan focuses on and his concern is about our student athletes and all the different ranges of their development and I have great confidence in him.
Q: What is Ben Howland’s job status and what was your initial reaction to not dismissing Reeves Nelson?
DAN GUERRERO: Obviously I’ve been with Ben for nine years. He’s done some great things for our program, produced some outstanding players, some great teams and some great young men that have gone on and graduated and played professionally or are doing well in society in general.
Obviously this is a stain on that to some degree. We certainly have to pull ourselves together and make certain that that which has caused our program to stumble be fixed. I can assure you with the highest degree of confidence that we have been working very, very hard to deal with a lot of these challenges that have faced us over the last two or three years. Certainly as it relates to any one particular student athlete, we can’t really divulge or disclose any issues. But I will say that we know of several issues that have occurred over the course of the years and we routed these individuals through our counseling or whatever mechanisms that we have in place to support our student athletes and we’ve monitored a number of these issues. Could decisions have been made differently in some regard? I would venture to say that in many cases, or at least in one or two cases Ben might say yeah we probably should have done things differently.
But if your mission is to help the student athlete, if your mission is to focus on those individuals that are in your program, that are part of your program, that are under your tutelage, then you do what you can to help them. I believe that was the mindset as we move through the situation with several of the athletes.
Q: And Howland's job status?
As always, and this is a trite response in a lot of ways, we’ll go through the rest of the season. We have two games this week and then the Pac-12 tournament. We’ll see what happens relative to any post season play and then we’ll sit down and talk about the situation like we always do.
Obviously there are other elements that come into play. Certainly the article raised some issues, but believe me we were aware of many issues as well and we’ll put our arms around those and decide what we’re going to do at the end of the year.
Q: Are you going to have any kind of internal investigation?
As soon as we found out what some of the assertions were prior to the story even being written we mobilized some of our staff to check the validity of some of these. Obviously we hadn't read the story until late last night and there were some things in there that we had never heard of before so we will certainly mobilize to move in that direction as well.
Q: Did you sit down with Ben last year to discuss how the season went in terms of whether he would come back?
DAN GUERRERO: Ben and I meet on a regular basis pertaining to a number of issues. Recruiting, scheduling, academics, those kinds of things. We will meet as I said on a regular basis on a number of issues including how we move forward in subsequent years and we do that on a regular basis.
Q: But did you have a post-season thing or is this the first time you’ve had to sit down and discuss whether the season went well enough?
DAN GUERRERO: No, we do it every year. Obviously after last year, we had taken a team to the second round of the NCAAs and finished one game out of first in the conference. We were one possession away from the Sweet 16. We download after that and talk about the future and what the expectations are for this year.
Q: What about the article surprised you?
DAN GUERRERO: I can’t elaborate necessarily, but I will tell you that the assertions in my opinion were in three kettles of fish, if you will. You have those allegations that the coaching staff knew about and ran them up the flagpole to either me or my staff and of course we handled those accordingly. There are some issues in there that never made it up to our office, but were handled internally by the coaching staff. And there are other issues that neither the coaching staff nor the administration knew.
I’m not going to get into issues of personnel management or anything like that. Ben and I discuss a number of these things all the time. We will evaluate each one of these allegations. As I said we knew some of them so those weren’t surprising to us. Those that we didn’t know, we’ll talk those through.
Q: Did any players come to you and expressed concerns about these incidents?
DAN GUERRERO: I’ve never had any of the players actually come directly to me to convey any issues or concerns and I talk to players a lot.
Q: Do you anticipate any disciplinary action for Ben?
DAN GUERRERO: At this point in time, we’re sort of assessing all of the issues that have come into play. Once again, I shouldn’t talk about any personnel management issues or things of that nature. Ben has got to coach his team this week and in the tournament and in post season if we get in that. We’ll address this entire matter at the end of the year.
Q: How can UCLA assure recruits that Ben Howland will be the coach next season?
DAN GUERRERO: I pretty much answered that question. We do have two letters of intent signed by two good quality student athletes and we hope to sign a few other members. Once again, Ben has been with me for nine years. We have enjoyed a lot of success. We have a bump in the road right now, we have to talk things through as it relates to some of the issues here and that’s pretty much where I can leave it at this point.
Q: How concerned are you with the physical abuse component?
DAN GUERRERO: There is no way to discount the importance of that and how critical that is. We provide a lot of student development training to our student athletes. We spend a lot of time dealing with issues of hazing for example and alcohol and the like. The one thing that I think we have fallen short of is in the area of bullying and I think that is what you are alluding to. That’s very concerning. Frankly as a result of this situation we’ll probably be looking to add that to our student development program.
Q: Is there a need for a culture change in the basketball program?
DAN GUERRERO: Yes, there is, there’s no question about that. If you look at the success of our team early in Ben’s tenure, it was built on a solid foundation that was commensurate with Ben’s coaching philosophy. We brought in kids with great character, hard-nosed and they bought into what he was trying to teach them as a coach: Emphasizing defense and being selfless as a team, working together. All those kinds of things made our Final Four teams what they were. The past several years, we’ve kind of broken from that for whatever reason.
Ben has admitted that he has made some mistakes in evaluation, whether it’s evaluation of talent or evaluation of character and we’ve had to live with that for the last two or three years. That being said, I like the path that we are going on in a number of ways. You’ve got to remember, we’re talking about a few isolated incidents with a few young men that have made bad decisions. We're not talking about the entire program. If you look at the roster of student athletes that have been in the basketball program over the last nine years, it’s a great array of terrific young men so that could happen again.
Q: Can’t you make the case that this is a continuing problem, for example with Josh Smith’s inability to stay in shape? Isn’t that an indication of a lack of discipline in the program?
DAN GUERRERO: We do all we can to help all of our student athletes. I can’t get into specifics about any one. Might Ben regret that he did something more for one than another? Perhaps. But if it’s done in the spirit of trying to help someone. And again, you don’t all know the kinds of things that we know in terms of our support for the student athletes that we have in our program. Obviously if it impacts the team in a negative sense, you’re going to see that on the court and certainly we haven't performed at the level that we desire, but that doesn't mean we can get there again.
Q: You say you like the path that you are on and these are a few isolated incidents but you stop short of saying Ben will be back. What's the gap there?
DAN GUERRERO: I'm just talking about the caliber of young men that we have in the program right now. He made a clear determination that there have been some errors in judgement. The key is to minimize those errors in judgement and go from there.
Q: But the farthest you will go is say you will sit down with him at the end of the year. Why are you unable to say Ben Howland will be back next year?
DAN GUERRERO: We just read the article today and there are issues in there that are evident that have to be discussed. We’re talking about less than 12 hours from the release of that article and we still have some due diligence to do in that regard so I don’t want to go out in front of anything in this regard. There are a lot of pluses in our program and there are a lot of issues and before I make any comments about the long-term future, those things need to be sorted out.
Q: Do you believe you are a hands-on athletic director and does your role with the football and basketball program need to change given the depth that the teams have fallen to?
DAN GUERRERO: I'd like to know what you mean by hands on. Do I meet with my coaches on a regular basis? Yes, I do. Do we talk about every facet of the program on a regular basis, yes we do. I think what you need to know is more importantly, we place a tremendous amount of trust in our coaches. They understand what our core values are, they understand what our core philosophy is, they know that we do want to win but we don't want to win at all costs. There are a lot of factors that go into play as to whether a team is successful or not successful and all of you have chronicled those over the years.
I'm excited about what we're doing in football, I think Jim has come in and brought in a terrific staff. We have been able to do that because we have been able to make a greater financial commitment to support that program and my belief that is going to translate into success in that program.
In basketball, we've been there. We've been to three Final Fours. Have we slid? Yeah, there's no question about that. But that doesn't mean that we can't pull this thing back and get it going again and I'm very confident that we'll be able to do that.
Q: Have any of the staff come to you with allegations of verbal abuse?
DAN GUERRERO: I have been involved with Ben for a very, very long time and I have talked to a number of individuals that have raised concerns about one thing or another. I can tell you that a number of those issues that have been raised, relative to Ben or anybody else in the program., that has come to me have been dealt with.
I do go to practice, I do attend games, I do meet with him on a regular basis, I do meet with the support staff and when I can have interaction with the student athletes, I do that as well. I think that is the appropriate way to get a gauge of what is going on in the program.
Do we see everything? No we don’t. Do we know what all of our student athletes are doing 24/7? No we don’t. I don’t think there is anyone who does that. But it gets back to that fact that we trust our coaches, our coaches trust the student athletes and we need to continue to educate through the various means that we have in the department.
Q: Chancellor Block, do you believe there need to be changes made in the athletic department at any level?
GENE BLOCK: I have an athletic director that I have faith in and he is aware of the issues and as you’ve heard from him, he’s dealing with them. We talk a lot and we meet regularly. With Dan’s leadership and with my advice, I think we’re going to get back on the track we want to be on.
Q: Will Dan be back next year?
GENE BLOCK: I’m looking forward to Dan. As I said, I have great confidence in what Dan is doing and he has all the right Bruin values and we’re working together.