Pointing out that recently deposed UCLA head coach Ben Howland is the only man other than John Wooden to lead the Bruins to 3 consecutive Final Four appearances, Atlanta Journal-Constitution scribe Jeff Schultz considers the former’s sacking, “lunacy”. He might well have a different perspective had he witnessed the way Howland’s charges quit on him last Friday night in Austin (or if he’d considered the manner in which Howland has allegedly buried the program with Southern California’s top recruits). Schultz also takes exception to Minnesota’s termination of Tubby Smith, pointing out the former Kentucky head coach’s Gophers campaigns, “came at a school that accomplished only 10 other 20-win seasons in its 118-year history, and all of those came amid academic fraud, paying players, a ticket-selling scandal and an almost cartoon-like 100 NCAA violations in one particularly horrific four-year span. (Thank you, Bill Musselman.)” In the case of both firings, Schultz rails against a March Madness climate that creates new coaching stars overnight while reducing others’ hard-fought careers to rubble.
The knee-jerk firings and hirings are driven by the tournament. Previously unknown coaches such as Florida Gulf Coast’s Andy Enfield are suddenly cast as everybody’s savior.
Norwood Teague, the athletic director at Minnesota, suddenly believes the Gophers can do better than Smith. Smith won and didn’t cheat. He beat UCLA by 20 points in the first round before losing to Florida (possibly a Final Four team). He succeeded despite playing and recruiting against Indiana, Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State — in hoops, not hockey.
Teague is going after Shaka Smart, whom he hired at Virginia Commonwealth. I’m sure there are guys who went to middle school with Kate Upton who think they’ve got a chance with her, too.
UCLA is high-profile. It could land Smart or another good coach, but firing Howland is nonsensical. Howland brought in the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class and was 25-10 this season. He also didn’t cheat. The early tournament exit doesn’t suggest the foundation under Pauley Pavilion is crumbling. Somewhere in heaven, Wooden is covering his eyes.