LOS ANGELES--Let the coaching search begin.
Ben Howland and Dan Guerrero have said their piece to each other and to the public through press conferences and now a job thought to be among the most prestigious in all of college sports is open.
Just how prestigious the job really is, we're about to find out. Guerrero, UCLA's athletic director, and his search team will no doubt scour the nation and make runs at some of the top coaches in the country. They are armed with plenty of money thanks to the Pac-12 Networks deal, so if they strike out, it will be an indication that the UCLA job isn't as elite as it once was.
The Bruis will need to act quickly. The National signing period for basketball begins April 17. Not only does UCLA need to fill some roster spots, but the three players who signed in the early period need to see who the new coach is and decide whether or not UCLA is still for them. The Bruins hope to have a coach in place by the Final Four weekend, April 6-7.
Whoever gets the job won't have to worry about administrative support. Howland, fired Sunday after 10 years, received plenty of votes of confidence over the years in terms of contract extensions. He signed a seven-year deal in 2008 then signed one-year extensions in 2009, 2010 and 2011 meaning he was under contract through 2018.
Howland received one-year extensions after finishing second in the Pac-10 and losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2008-09, got another extension after going 14-18 in 2009-10 and then another after finishing second in the Pac-10 and losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2010-11.
This year, after winning the Pac-12, he got fired. Don't worry about him, though. He'll land on his feet and is a good enough coach to quickly get another job. Plus, he'll receive $3.5 million as a parting gift thanks to the buyout clause in his contract and those extensions. Howland receives $300,000 for each remaining year on his contract plus the guaranteed $2 million fee he was going to make next year.
Without those extensions after posting substandard results, UCLA could have saved $900,000. Knowing how generous UCLA can be with coaches may help lure one of the top targets to Westwood. Associate athletic director Mark Harlan, who heads up department development, is surely working overtime to get the support of UCLA's boosters as the program gears up to make what it hopes will be the kind of splashy hire that will excite the fan base.
And just who are those targets? Speculation has already begun, on Twitter and message boards and in the media. And while this is by no means intended to represent an actual coaching search list, here are some of the names you're likely to hear:
Coach: Mark Few
Current position: Gonzaga
Why he's a no-brainer: A long-established power coach on the West Coast, Few has maintained an elite-level program at Gonzaga for 14 years. He's made four Sweet 16 appearances and this season had the Bulldogs ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Fast fact: Despite the collegiate success, only seven Gonzaga players from the Few era have made the NBA and none has averaged more than 7.5 points or 3.6 rebounds in their NBA career.
Coach: Shaka Smart
Current position: Virginia Commonwealth
Why he's a no-brainer: He's one of the hottest up-and-coming coaches after taking VCU to the Final Four in 2011-12 and building a nationally relevant program at a mid-major. His "havoc" style of play adds entertainment value and helps recruit players who enjoy the up-tempo pace.
Fast fact: Despite his success on the national level, he has not won a conference title in four years as a head coach.
Coach: Brad Stevens
Current position: Butler
Why he's a no-brainer: Considered perhaps the top young coach in the college game, Stevens took tiny Butler to the national championship game in 2009-10 and again in 2010-11. He's among the brightest students of the game and an expert at game planning and adjusting.
Fast fact: He's a rising star in the coaching world from a mid-major school in Indiana. The last time UCLA hired someone with that description, he went on to win 10 national championships with the Bruins.
ELITE PIPE DREAMS
Coach: Billy Donovan
Current position: Florida
Why he's elite: Two national titles and four Elite Eight appearances in the last seven seasons and one win from another this season. He's built a national basketball power at a football school.
Why he's a pipe dream: He makes $3.5 million a year, which translates to around $5 million considering the cost of living and tax rate differences. He's entrenched in central Florida and moved his entire immediate family there. He runs a program that is better than UCLA right now and he can get players into school at Florida that he wouldn't be able to at UCLA.
Fast fact: Donovan's contract includes a clause that he and his agent "can not directly or indirectly explore, negotiate or discuss any employment with any other school or professional team" without the written permission of athletic director Jeremy Foley.
Coach: Rick Pitino
Current position: Louisville
Why he's elite: An impeccable coaching resume that includes becoming the first coach to take three different schools to a Final Four (Providence, Kentucky and Louisville). He's been to six total Final Fours and is two wins away from another.
Why he's a pipe dream: It would take a whale of an offer to lure Pitino. He makes $3.9 million a year in Louisville and before this season signed a five-year contract extension that runs through 2022. He receives an additional $3 million in retention bonuses if he stays through 2022 which probably puts him outside of UCLA's salary range. He's 60 years old and leading one of the top programs in the country so it's unlikely he'd want to try and rebuild UCLA.
Fast fact: Aside from a job as an assistant at Hawaii from 1974-76, Pitino has never held a job West of the Mississippi.
Others in this category: John Calipari (Kentucky), Tom Izzo (Michigan State), Phil Jackson (former Lakers coach), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), Bill Self (Kansas), Roy Williams (North Carolina).
Coach: Andy Enfield
Current position: Florida Gulf Coast
Why he's being mentioned: He's the flavor of the month with his Cinderella run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. Everyone is talking about his loose, entertaining style of play.
The verdict: He only has two years of head coaching experience in a small mid-major conference. He's not yet ready for UCLA.
Coach: Mark Gottfried
Current position: North Carolina State
Why he's being mentioned: He was an assistant at UCLA from 1987-1995 and to this day preaches John Wooden's pyramid of success. Recruited Southern California well in the past, as he helped land such players as Ed O'Bannon, Tyus Edney and Tracy Murray.
The verdict: He hasn't had much success as a head coach. He missed the NCAA tournament six times in 11 seasons at Alabama, hasn't won a conference title since 1998 at Murray State and has won only four NCAA tournament games in 16 seasons as a head coach. UCLA may be looking for more.
Coach: Lorenzo Romar
Current position: Washington
Why he's being mentioned: He grew up in Los Angeles and was an assistant at UCLA from 1992-96 and coached Pepperdine from 1996-99 so he has connections to the school and the area.
The verdict: His teams have been fairly mediocre at every stop. He has only two conference titles in 17 seasons as a head coach and has never taken a team past the Sweet 16. This would be aiming low for UCLA.
Others in this category: Dana Altman (Oregon), Tad Boyle (Colorado), Gregg Marshall (Wichita State), Josh Pastner (Memphis)
UNDER THE RADAR
Coach: Buzz Williams
Current position: Marquette
The skinny: Has taken the Eagles to the Sweet 16 in three consecutive seasons and won the Big East Conference title this year.
The verdict: Proven success in a major conference. Still young enough (40) to build and maintain UCLA's program for a long time.
Coach: Jay Wright
Current position: Villanova
The skinny: An excellent recruiter, but has had only sporadic success on the court. He's been to the Final Four once and to the Sweet 16 or beyond four times in 12 seasons but has not finished higher than seventh in the Big East the last three seasons. He was an assistant at UNLV in the early 1990's so he has a West coast connection.
The verdict: If UCLA wants to make a splash with this hire, he should be low on the list if he's on it at all.
Coach: Tony Bennett
Current position: Virginia
The skinny: Had some success at Washington State from 2006-08 when he led the Cougars to second and third place finishes in the Pac-10 and earned national coach of the year honors in 2007. Has Virginia on the upswing with 20-win seasons in the last two years.
The verdict: The son of a coach and a guy with Pac-12 ties, Bennett is on the rise. A good second-tier choice.
WAY UNDER THE RADAR
Coach: Eric Musselman
Current position: Arizona State assistant
The skinny: Former head coach of the Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors also spent time in the NBA D-League and developed a reputation as a great teacher of the game. He was named 2012 D-League coach of the year while with the Los Angeles Defenders. Played collegiately at the University of San Diego.
The verdict: Among the best under-the-radar candidates out there. Has NBA ties, which would go a long way in recruiting, and is familiar with Southern California. Should be a person of interest.
Coach: Scott Drew
Current position: Baylor
The skinny: Took over a downtrodden Baylor program that was a shambles and on probation after a 2003 murder scandal and turned it into a consistent winner. Reached the Elite Eight in 2010 and again in 2012.
The verdict: Has shown he can build a major conference team into a winner. Might be worth a look.
Coach: Mike Budenholzer
Current position: San Antonio Spurs assistant
The skinny: A longtime member of Greg Popovich's staff, Budenholzer is considered one of the top NBA assistants who has never held a head coaching job. He's been the No. 1 assistant for the Spurs since 2007-08 and his name always comes up when there is an NBA coach opening. Grew up in Arizona and went to college at Pomona, so he knows the West.
The verdict: Without college coaching experience, he'd need to hire good recruiters as assistants but he's ready for a head coaching job and if the NBA isn't going to give him one, why not see if he's interested in a college job?
FROM THE NBA
It seemed to work out OK for the UCLA football team when they hired a former NFL coach with no college experience, so why not try to strike gold again with one of these guys?:
Mike Brown, former Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers coach (son is a standout at Mater Dei high)
Jeff Van Gundy, former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach (was an assistant at Providence and Rutgers)
Stan Van Gundy, former Orlando Magic coach (coached 14 years in college, including the head job at Wisconsin)
Brian Shaw, Indiana Pacers assistant (Highly-respected assistant attended UC Santa Barbara and spent 12 years in L.A. as a player and coach)