Source: UCLA to fire Ben Howland

Updated: March 24, 2013, 5:55 PM ET
By Peter Yoon | ESPNLos Angeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- UCLA is expected to announce on Sunday that basketball coach Ben Howland has been fired, a source with direct knowledge of the situation said late Saturday night.

On Saturday night the school released a statement saying that Howland has not been fired.

"Contrary to multiple media reports this evening, UCLA has not fired men's basketball coach Ben Howland," the statement read.

The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday night that Howland has denied that he's been told he's been fired. Howland, a source told ESPN.com, is at his home in Santa Barbara.

Howland completed his 10th season with the Bruins on Friday night when UCLA lost to Minnesota, 83-63, in the NCAA tournament's round of 64. UCLA finished the season 25-10 and won the Pac-12 Conference regular-season title. But the blowout loss and early exit from the NCAA tournament were the latest in a line of embarrassing moments over the past few seasons that led to the end of the Howland era.

Howland will finish at UCLA with a career record of 233-107. He won four conference titles in the past eight years and took the Bruins to the Final Four in three consecutive seasons from 2006-08, but he has had a string of disappointing seasons since. UCLA missed the NCAA tournament twice in the three seasons prior to this year, had a losing record in 2009-10 and has won only two NCAA tournament games since 2008.

The Bruins have not advanced to the Sweet 16 in five consecutive years -- the longest such streak at UCLA in the post-John Wooden era -- and have not been ranked in the top 10 since early in the 2008-09 season.

UCLA went 56-43 in the three seasons before this year and missed the NCAA tournament in two of those three years. After landing the nation's top-ranked recruiting class, Howland was given this season to turn things around, but UCLA never regained its status among the elite programs. The Bruins lost games to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, USC and Washington State and had two players transfer out of the program midseason, leaving the Bruins with a rotation of only eight players.

That thin bench served only to shine a light on some of the roster difficulties in the program. UCLA has had at least 11 players transfer over the past five seasons and several others left school early for the NBA, even though they might not have been ready. Combine that with Howland's difficulty in landing top Southern California talent since 2008 and it became clear that Howland was losing his touch in running the program at the high standards expected at UCLA.

In his early days, Howland did exactly that.

He took over a program that had gone 10-19 under Steve Lavin in 2002-03 and implemented his trademark tough defensive brand of basketball. Three seasons later, UCLA went 32-7 and played in the national championship game. The Bruins played in two more Final Fours, boasting a roster filled with future NBA talent such as Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.

Recruiting misses became more common than hits over the next few years with such highly regarded players as Reeves Nelson, J'mison Morgan and Joshua Smith making more news off the court than on it, while others such as Jerime Anderson, Brendan Lane and Tyler Lamb never reached the heights projected. An embarrassing Sports Illustrated report last year painted the program as one filled with dysfunction only magnified some of the problems Howland was having with players.

Howland was under contract through 2017 and firing him now will invoke a buyout of $3.2 million, according to terms of his contract.

A source told ESPN.com that UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero has a fondness for VCU Rams coach Shaka Smart and plans are to focus first on bringing him to Westwood.

ESPN.com's Andy Katz contributed to this report.

Peter Yoon

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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