Hey baby, put to rest any thought that Rick Pitino will eventually coach at UCLA.
I had a phone conversation with Rick on Monday, and based on our discussion I can emphatically state that under no condition will he become the coach of the Bruins.
He told me that he has the highest respect for John Wooden and the UCLA program and what it has stood for over the years. Pitino also said he has a lot of respect for the job done by current coach Steve Lavin.
|UCLA coach Steve Lavin has remained focused despite numerous distractions this season.|
Pitino is supportive of Lavin and feels the school is in good hands under his guidance.
Even if UCLA were to make a change, Pitino told me he would not be interested because he wants to go in a different direction.
Eliminate the Pitino Watch out in Westwood. It's not going to happen and he's upset that his name is constantly mentioned out there. He feels badly for Lavin and the UCLA kids. The Bruins are trying to put together a strong finish to earn an NCAA berth. Instead, there are distractions galore.
I asked Rick very clearly, and he said point blank that he is not interested and will not be involved in the UCLA situation should that job become open. Pitino feels Lavin should be allowed to do his job.
Don't count out UNLV for Pitino. Those who jumped the gun on that one made an error. He is still in the process of analyzing what the Runnin' Rebels job has to offer. He's also looking at what sanctions could take place, the affect of scheduling, etc.
I'm sure Rick is aware that other marquee jobs will become available come March. There's no doubt he's the marquee name, number one on many hit lists of ADs across America.
As for Lavin, he has been treated like a fifth-year interim coach. Every game is a test as he is fighting for coaching survival.
That was the case going into No. 1 Stanford last week. For the second straight year, the Bruins stunned the Cardinal at Maples Pavilion. This week, UCLA has to get ready to face rival USC. Nobody said life at Westwood would be easy, baby!
To me, Lavin is Captain Courageous. He has been blasted and ripped big-time in the media over the performance of the up-and-down Bruins. There also seems to be someone leaking out information to create havoc within the UCLA program.
There have been reports of academic problems. There have been stories of a walk-on, the son of Mater Dei High School coach Gary McKnight, getting favorable treatment. The article said the younger McKnight was admitted to the University through Lavin's recommendation.
Give me a break! Lavin has faced unbelievable scrutiny and pressure. Over the last five years, he has persevered despite numerous obstacles. The situation is unfair; every game he must prove himself. Think about his record: three Sweet 16 appearances, one journey to the Elite Eight and a Pac-10 title.
Why don't people simply let the guy do his job and coach? If the administrative hierarchy wants to make a change at the end of the season, so be it. Give Lavin and his kids a chance to reach their potential instead of having to hear rumors, rumors and more rumors.
After the win at Stanford, there was frustration galore over the Lavin rumors. UCLA's leader, guard Earl Watson, said he was tired of it, saying that the team just wanted to go out and play hoops.
What about the character of this team? Lavin deserves respect for his preparation for the Stanford game. The Bruins, coming off a 29-point blitzing by California, came back with a spirited practice on Friday. That session lasted over 45 minutes longer than the prescribed time. The Bruins were focused and intense. Billy Knight was lighting it up in practice, hitting 3-pointer after 3-pointer. My partner and buddy Brent Musberger and I looked at each other and said Knight had to be on the floor against Stanford.
Sure enough, Lavin inserted him into the starting lineup and he responded with 22 big points. He sparked the Bruins, hitting big shot after big shot. In fairness to Stanford, the Cardinal was shorthanded. Two key contributors never left the bench, while a third was limited. Shot blocker Curtis Borchardt (foot) and guard Julius Barnes (ankle) did not play. Ryan Mendez gave it his all, but he was laboring with the flu and a 101-degree temperature.
||Over the last five years, Lavin has persevered despite numerous obstacles. The situation is unfair; every game he must prove himself. Think about his record: three Sweet 16 appearances, one journey to the Elite Eight and a Pac-10 title.
Take nothing away from UCLA as it played with purpose. Watson, Knight, Jason Kapono, Dan Gadzuric and company were ready to perform. It was special for them to walk out of Maples with a second straight upset over Stanford. Remember, this is a program which lost Jerome Moiso and JaRon Rush. Imagine where UCLA would be if both players stayed in school.
Lavin has not folded under pressure. He got his kids ready to play at Stanford. His UCLA teams have improved heading into the NCAAs.
The troubling times are legit. Not one administrator has stepped forward to say Lavin is our coach or will be in the future. They haven't put the nonsense aside, so everywhere he goes, people talk about Rick Pitino sitting on the sidelines, ready to return to the college game.
Whether it's signs or vocal taunts, Lavin has heard it everywhere. It's a tough time, but at age 36, he has a world of experience. He has battled adversity, which should help in his coaching future, whether at UCLA or elsewhere. He signed a six-year rollover contract in 1999. Little more than a year later, suddenly he doesn't know how to coach? Lavin is bright enough and sharp enough to succeed; someone in the administration has to stand tall.
Why not let him operate under the best of conditions? Give him all the resources to get the job done, and that includes support. If he doesn't get it done, then ultimately make the change. I have my doubts that he has the genuine support needed to run the big-time program.
Congratulations to Lavin for not letting the situation affect his preparation in getting his team ready to perform.