Mar 19, 2015; Louisville, KY, USA; UCLA Bruins cheerleaders celebrate after the UCLA Bruins defeated the Southern Methodist Mustangs 60-59 in the second round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at KFC Yum! Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Why did Ben Howland lose his job at UCLA? After all, he did win the Pac-12 regular season championship in 2013, his final year. But after bowing out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament he was let go after a decade of success (233-107, four regular season conference championships, two conference tournament championships, seven NCAA Tournaments and three Final Fours). What caused UCLA to terminate such a successful coach?
First off – UCLA is the most successful program in college basketball history, so their definition of success is different that most anyone else in the country. But the program had missed the big dance in two of four seasons, and most notably, it appeared that Howland was losing control of the program.
It didn’t take long for the Rick Stansbury comparisons to come out.
That’s an Ole Miss fan by the way, so I wouldn’t take it too seriously. But there’s no doubt there are some similarities (the biggest difference, however, being that Howland knows how to win in March and has coached 7-8x as many future-NBA players).
Stansbury gradually lost control of the program until the inmates were running the asylum by the end. It was a recipe for disaster as an incredibly talented team collapsed in 2012, and fans were fed up with the effort and attitude of the team.
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Reports of Howland’s approach to discipline where that he’s hands-off. He didn’t get too involved, and even ignored players abusiveness towards others. That lead to losing control of his team and ultimately his demise at UCLA.
So is it a risk to hire Ben Howland? Maybe – but there is a high reward considering his sizable trophy case.
What has Howland learned over the past two years? In this article from USA Today, published in February, Howland explains how badly he wants to coach again, and admits he’s learned from his mistakes…
"Admitting he made some mistakes at UCLA, Howland says he’s learned from them and is optimistic about the future."
During his time off he’s probably spent countless hours recounting what he should have done differently at UCLA, and what he’ll do differently at his next coaching opportunity.
I believe the same is largely true for Rick Stansbury….but Howland has the championship pedigree that gets hired a lot quicker with a checkered past. And that’s what happened today in Starkville – Ben Howland will be the next coach at Mississippi State, and it’s a fresh start for everyone including a re-energized fan base.