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Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Ben Howland remains UCLA coach

By Peter Yoon
ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- Despite a subpar and sometime controversial season, Ben Howland will remain as the UCLA men's basketball coach, the school announced Tuesday.

Howland's job status was put in jeopardy when the Bruins finished 19-14 and missed the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons. Adding fuel to the fire was a Sports Illustrated report that alleged Howland had lost control of the program. The school, however, is standing by Howland.

"Obviously, we are aware of the recent criticisms of our men's basketball program," athletic director Dan Guerrero said in a statement. "Ben understands full well that the management and oversight of the program needs improvement."

Howland opened his weekly news conference by reading a prepared statement -- something he rarely does -- in which he acknowledged the shortcomings of the season and the need to improve.

"This past season has been the most challenging of my 31 years as a college basketball coach, Howland said. "I have endured seasons with fewer wins, but none with more disappointment. The unfavorable light that is cast upon our program is my responsibility as the UCLA head coach. But we will get better and I will get better.

"Dan and I have had lengthy conversations about how we as a program and I as a coach can improve and we are in agreement that improvements need to be made. In fact, I welcome the opportunity. I want to thank Dan for his belief in me and in our future at UCLA."

Guerrero indicated that he has done an evaluation of the direction of the program and coaches that included "a comprehensive review of the performance of the team, including its competitive success and its continued commitment to academics." He also evaluated "other aspects related to the overall management of the program."

Chief among those other aspects is the notion that Howland has made vital mistakes in recruiting, especially in the area of character, which was brought to light in a report by Sports Illustrated two weeks ago.

The report alleged that prima donna personalities were allowed to take over the program because of the failure of discipline enforcement, and hinted at a deeply divided locker room that Howland did little to try and meld.

"He has assured me that, going forward, both the character and performance among our student-athletes will reflect the University's values and the basketball program's storied tradition," Guerrero's statement said. "I believe that his overall record and performance proves he is more than capable of delivering on these assurances."

Howland's career record at UCLA is 205-96. He guided the Bruins to three consecutive Final Four appearances from 2006 to 2008 and won the Pac-10 title in each of those seasons.

He's been under scrutiny the past three seasons, however, as UCLA went a combined 56-43 and has finished fifth, second and fifth in the conference. The Bruins made the NCAA tournament last season, beating Michigan State in the first round, but failed to make the postseason in 2010 and 2012. UCLA was not among the 32 teams selected for the NIT and the Bruins did not accept an invitation from the CBI or CIT.

"Every year there is enormous pressure to have success and the pressure that I feel most comes from me," Howland said. "I always put more pressure on myself than I feel from anywhere else. That's how it's always been for me as a coach. I always feel the pressure to need for us to be successful. And not only with the wins and losses but with how we conduct our program. That will always be true for me."

Howland is under contract through 2015, and it would have taken a buyout upward of $3 million. He also has a pair of top-notch recruits signed for next season in Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams and is in the running for Shabazz Muhammad and Tony Parker -- two of the nation's most sought-after recruits.

Howland, who had to dismiss returning scorer Reeves Nelson from the team early this season because of behavioral issues, said he has focused more on recruiting character over the past two or three seasons and said he is also working on improving as a coach both on and off the court.

"Some of that has to do with technical part of coaching whether that be offensive end, defensive end, out of bounds plays, how we prepare," Howland said. "And also improve the ability to communicate, what needs to be done with our players, my staff and to be a better leader for everyone that comes under my umbrella."

Howland also said that he will raise the expectations of the players in his program and has already communicated as much in a team meeting held Monday.

"There is a heightened level of accountability and expectation both on the floor and off the floor that's going to be looked at with our current players and as I said before, we've already done that with our recruitment in terms of the kids we've been recruiting here the last couple of years," Howland said. "I think it's what's necessary for us to improve moving forward. We are on track to do that. There'll be definite things that are going to be heightened and they already understand that."

His players say they are ready to do whatever it takes to erase the memory of this disappointing season and make the decision to bring back Howland look like a good one.

"A lot of people have a lot to say about coach Howland, but he's a good coach," freshman Norman Powell said. "He knows what he's talking about. Yeah, we didn't win as many games and yeah, some people are upset at the calls he makes and timeouts and everything like that, but, I mean, he's been here

"He's been the the Final Fours, he's gotten players to the NBA. He knows what he's talking about. He knows what he's doing. He's not doing anything to hurt his players. He wants all his players to succeed so I'm really happy that he's coming back next year."