UCLA fires coach Ben Howland
LOS ANGELES -- UCLA basketball coach Ben Howland has been relieved of his duties after 10 seasons at the helm of the Bruins, athletic director Dan Guerrero said Sunday.
Guerrero, after talking it over with university chancellor Gene Block, said he met with Howland on Sunday afternoon at UCLA and delivered the news.
"As I looked at the entire program and where we were -- especially headed into the next year which is obviously where we need to look at this point in time, I felt that now was the appropriate time to make the decision to make a change and to get a fresh start," Guerrero said.
A statement sent by the school said Guerrero informed Howland of the decision on Sunday afternoon.
"I want to thank Ben for all that he has done for UCLA in his ten seasons in Westwood," Guerrero said in the statement. "He embraced our tradition and culture and produced some terrific teams and coached a number of wonderful young men. We wish Ben and his family all the best as they move onto a new chapter in their lives."
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.
"As we went into this season, there were aspirations to compete for a conference championship and to make a run in the tournament," Guerrero said. "Certainly we were successful in the former and not as successful in the latter part."
Howland finishes 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 before this year, had a losing record in 2009-10 and has won only two NCAA tournament games since 2008.
As we went into this season, there were aspirations to compete for a conference championship and to make a run in the tournament. Certainly we were successful in the former and not as successful in the latter part.” -- Dan Guerrero, UCLA AD
"I have been blessed with the opportunity to coach at UCLA for 10 years and I will always be grateful to Dan Guerrero and Chancellors Block, [Norman] Abrams and [Albert] Carnesale for the opportunity to coach and teach our players and work alongside tremendous coaches," Howland said in the statement. "The UCLA community and fans have been unbelievable to my family and I, and it's been an honor and privilege to represent this great institution. I look forward to what comes next."
Howland has a news conference scheduled for Monday at 4 p.m. ET at Pauley Pavilion.
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.
An injury to second-leading scorer Jordan Adams last Friday left the Bruins with a seven-man rotation for the Pac-12 tournament final against Oregon and the NCAA tournament game Friday against Minnesota. Had Adams stayed healthy and UCLA won those games, he might have stayed, but Guerrero said the lack of depth only served to emphasize one of the issues Howland was having in managing the program.
"When you look at that particular injury and what was left of our roster in just a general sense, I think it's important to note that the fact that we had such a depleted roster is in part a reason for -- one of the reason for -- making the decision," Guerrero said.
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.
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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, but Guerrero gave Howland one year.
Howland had signed such standout players as Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson and UCLA was re-opening Pauley Pavilion after a $136-million renovation. UCLA began the season ranked No. 13 in the country and hopes were high.
Guerrero said he didn't have a specific goal in mind for what the team needed to accomplish in order for Howland to remain, but clearly saw enough to decide that that the program was not moving forward under Howland.
"I wouldn't say there were real tangible benchmarks," Guerrero said. "I felt that I wanted to give him the opportunity to continue with the program and try to move it forward and see if we could get it on stable footing and so that's what I did."
Guerrero said Howland was under contract through 2018 and firing him now will invoke a buyout of $3.5 million, Guerrero said. The money would come from the athletic department budget, Guerrero said, and would be subject to mitigation should Howland land another job.
A source told ESPN.com that 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.