UCLA Basketball: Why Ben Howland's Coaching Style Is so Polarizing

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UCLA Basketball: Why Ben Howland's Coaching Style Is so Polarizing
Harry How/Getty Images
The head coach of UCLA Baskebtall, Ben Howland

Ben Howland is an excellent college basketball coach, no matter what they tell you. He may not be the absolute best coach in America, and he may not be given a second decade to run UCLA's basketball program, but what is certain is that Howland is getting the dirty treatment from a loud, and sometimes prominent quarter of UCLA fans and alumni.

There has always been, amongst the swell of camp followers living and dying with UCLA basketball, a noisy quarter that gave off the impression of being psychotic in the way a lynch mob is far beyond the point of being reasoned with.

At the moment, this set has taken a tangible form over at Bruins Nation, a community of anonymous bloggers who—if they did not spend so much time thinking and reading and writing about UCLA athletics—might be mistaken for an especially dedicated group of double agents and anti-UCLA trolls with advanced IT degrees from Southern California or Berkeley. 

Their existence is not a new phenomenon to the people coaching UCLA basketball and administrating UCLA athletics. This aggressive collective of werewolves and other creatures of the night came together while John Wooden was still winning his 10 championships, and was not above challenging even the Wizard himself.

Wooden liked to tell the story of winning the Bruin's 10th title in 1975, and being approached by an alumnus who told him in all seriousness that the title mostly made amends for the disappointment Wooden had caused when UCLA lost in double-overtime of the Final Four the year before. That loss in '74 had ended a run of seven consecutive national championships, a completely unprecedented feat.

This community of jaw dropping fanatics make the thick scum on top of the otherwise clean water that every coach since Wooden has been forced to slog through. Gene Bartow, who followed Wooden directly, won 85 percent of his games over two seasons, lost in the title game his first year, but no national championships. Bartow was encouraged to improve with death threats.

Former head coach Steve Lavin, who succeeded Jim Harrick—the only other coach to win a national championship at UCLA—was run out of town on a pike with the village mob close behind. Lavin was not prepared for a head coaching job of UCLA's caliber, and the change the school made was legitimate, but the feeling from the howling mob was that if Lavin did not go his existence on this planet, and those who enabled it, could be in peril.  

But Lavin, despite his deficiencies as a head coach, has a sharp mind and has always been at least a keen observer of the UCLA scene. He has suggested in multiple interviews that he believes every coach will become the victim of Wooden's success and will eventually quit or be forced out of the job.

Lavin tells amazing stories of phone conversations with Wooden, who tried to make coaching after him as easy as he could for every man who got the chance. Lavin said Wooden would congratulate him after big wins and certain milestones, but would always end the conversations by reminding him, "We the alumni naturally expect more from the team."  

It was Wooden's almost spooky way of acknowledging he knew very well about the werewolves stalking the ramparts of the program. 

Leading UCLA basketball is an almost impossible situation for a head coach to be in, and once again the angry man's narrative is starting to run far ahead of the reality with Howland. This is an effort to lay out Howland's case as it is, not as the inquisition would have it seem.                             

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