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

Mark SchipperContributor IIIJanuary 30, 2013

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

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    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.                             

Too Many Players Have Transferred out of the Program, Howland Has Lost Control

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    There is a vociferous school of critics who is convinced that 11 scholarship players transferring or being dismissed from UCLA's team over the last four years proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Ben Howland has lost his grip on the program.

    It is not an insane position to take if there is something there to back the assertion up; but what is there?

    There have been two bad seasons since 2009-2010. But the tack the program had taken after winning the conference three years in a row from 2006-2008 was knocked well off-line by the recruiting classes of 2008, 2009 and a piece of 2010's. It has taken most of three seasons to set it straight, with one good, promising, successful season sandwiched in the middle. 

    To hear the angry crowd howl it seems that UCLA has been lost in a decades-long darkness. But looking closely at what has transpired, without the idea of chopping someone's head off at the end, not much of it is worth firing a good basketball coach over.

    There have been transfers and dismissals all over the Pac-12, and the west has been down—way down—off of huge highs in quality around 2005-2008, when the conference was arguably the best in America and UCLA was its best team. 

    The whole league was loaded with talent, and then everyone who had been there was gone. Many of those players are still in the NBA or playing professionally overseas.

    UCLA's class of 2008 included Jrue Holiday, J'Mison Morgan, Drew Gordon, Jerime Anderson and Malcolm Lee. They came in to play with what was left of Howland's second and third classes that had battled for the school and brought UCLA aggressively back into the top tier of college basketball. 

    Holiday was a one and done college player from the outset. He was not a great fit in Westwood. Other than playing high school basketball in Los Angeles and wanting to continue at the local flagship program, it is hard to know why Holiday picked UCLA, beyond Howland's excellent reputation for getting players into the NBA in a ready-to-go condition. 

    The Bruins had an established, disciplined system being run by three and four year players, and Holiday as a freshman was not going to get to run the point over Darren Collison, one of the great four year players in the history of the school. Holiday played off the ball on the wing and never got comfortable. Then—35 games later—he was gone.

    It was Gordon and Morgan that marked the real beginning of the bad ballasting within the program. Morgan was dismissed from UCLA after his sophomore season, and has just been kicked off of Baylor's basketball team as a senior.

    Morgan was a miss for everyone evaluating him, and Scott Drew, the excellent young coach at Baylor, found out the same thing Howland did, Morgan does not have the character or commitment to basketball it takes to reach his potential.

    Gordon was 17-years-old when he came and was a bad fit at UCLA. He was also not the huge impact player scouts across the west thought he was going to be. Gordon had a good career in the Mountain West Conference at New Mexico after transferring from UCLA in 2010. He worked hard and made his college career a positive experience. 

    Gordon said his time at UCLA just did not work out and that Howland's personality did not mesh with his. There have been multiple reports that Gordon was insubordinate at UCLA, arguing and challenging Howland's orders regularly. 

    Has it really reached the point where fans of the program want to think a sophomore in college knows more about where he ought to be on the basketball floor than his head coach who played the game at the college level and professionally, and had been a head coach for 15 seasons at that point?    

    "There are people who you just butt heads with, and I'm sure everyone reading this can relate to that in their own lives," said Gordon. "It's not about someone being right or someone being wrong. It's just a difference of personalities and opinions."

    Fine, Gordon didn't like his coach and left; that time period is over and gone. Gordon is playing professional basketball somewhere on the other side of the world from the NBA, and both parties were better off without each other.

    Brendan Lane, from 2009, left as a senior because he was not going to win a part in the show. Lane was hurt during his career and never got it going. He left UCLA with no animosity.  "It's hard," Lane said to ESPN. "I've been here three years and the coaches have been supportive and my teammates have been supportive. It's been a really tough decision, but I've got to make the decision that is best for me."

    Anthony Stover, another 2009 recruit, was not good enough to get onto the floor, could not handle the course work at UCLA, flunked out of school and over the summer was dismissed from the team. That is not on Coach Howland.

    Stover thanked those who supported him, according to Sporting News, and issued an apology: "Most of all, I would like to apologize to my coaching staff, teammates and all of Bruin nation. Please forgive me.” 

    De'End Parker, a junior college transfer, went back to San Francisco to live with his sick and possibly dying mother.  

    But then there is Mike Moser, also from 2009, who has turned himself into a good player after transferring to UNLV. Moser was not mature enough to handle playing low minutes early in his career at UCLA, and he was an undersized front court player while he was in Westwood. 

    Moser was getting time at small forward at UCLA, weighing what looked like 175 lbs at 6'7'', though he was listed at 185 lbs. At UNLV he has been a big rebounding power forward listed at 210 lbs. He has spent a good part of this season injured.  

    Moser chose to leave UCLA because he wanted more playing time early in his career and perhaps because Reeves Nelson was hounding him at practice. Moser may have gotten to be a big contributor at UCLA, but he left before anyone saw what he could become.

    Chace Stanback, who came in with Kevin Love in 2007, was a swing player and not good enough to contribute to Howland's system. He left after the 2008 season, his freshman year, to play at UNLV.  Stanback played 28 minutes a game his senior year, scored 12.5 points a game and grabbed 4 rebounds.

    That was a personal choice Stanback made with his career in mind. How many Bruins' followers are going to say in earnest that Howland was wrong not give Stanback, a freshman about to become a sophomore, all the minutes he wanted to remain in the program?

    Matt Carlino, who came in 2010 out of Bloomington, Ind., is playing a good third wheel at BYU. At UCLA, Carlino had a concussion that kept him out of his first three games, then he didn't practice so he couldn't play in the next two games. Carlino spent one game healthy on the bench against Montana, and UCLA lost. 

    Carlino then transferred. It was eight games into his freshman season.  

    It would be nice to have Carlino as a back-up point guard, but the program will be fine without him. Carlino may have been chased out by Nelson, too, who apparently stalked him like a psychopath during practice and tried to hurt him.

    Nelson is the one real piece in all of this that seemed to poison the well for everybody.

    I think, when everything is boiled away, Howland can be criticized for keeping Nelson, part of the 2009 recruiting class that was considered the best in the conference at the time, and one of the ten best nationally.

    This class, along with two players from the 2008 class, were basically a disaster, and more than anything else the toxic reaction of Nelson on everyone around him, and Coach Howland's handling of it, undid much of what had been built by the superb character classes of 2004-2007.  

    So the big mistake was allowing Nelson to stay into his junior year when it became clear he was totally immature and borderline criminally violent, if the piece Sports Illustrated wrote last year is to be trusted. 

    The thrust of the post-2009 roster problems was that young, very big ego players came into a system that had been built by a corps of excellent, humble players and high caliber people. The underclassmen did not want to pay their dues like the group before them had, but instead wanted to sit down on the bridge of the ship and start sailing. 

    Howland can legitimately take some criticism for making poor recruiting evaluations. He has already acknowledged that himself. 

    Perhaps it was here that Howland showed a weakness in handling prima donnas, and in dealing with people outside of a basketball framework. It would not be the first case of someone obsessed with their profession being seen as an anti-social or awkward person in other places, which anonymous sources in the SI piece claimed Howland was.  

    Does anyone want to blame Howland for Josh Smith? Smith ate his way out of basketball and it has been his problem since he was a sophomore in high school

    We will see what happens with Smith at Georgetown, a very slow playing half court team; but it looks clearly like Smith does not love basketball enough to get in shape to play the game.

    Tyler Lamb made a personal decision to transfer that surprised his teammates. Coach Howland said it was straightforward. Lamb, a good defensive player and someone who was working hard on his offensive game, did not think the minutes or shots would be available to him with the quality of the freshmen class just arrived at Westwood.

    The frank assessment hast to be that it was just a short, bad patch for Howland and UCLA. The irony of it is that Rick Majerus, who everyone agrees was an exceptional basketball coach, had 47 of 80 players he recruited to play at Utah, fully 59 percent, transfer out of his programMajerus had six players leave after a single season. 

    Howland has already accomplished more in the tournament than Majerus did in six fewer seasons, and if he keeps coaching he will blow by Majerus's career win total.  

    "I don't think it really affects anything," Norman Powell told the Los Angeles Times."The people transferring, they probably have personal decisions. You can’t make your recruitment decision on, 'Oh, people are leaving the program.'

    "UCLA is a great program. It has great tradition, great players who have come out of here and went to the NBA and made a name for themselves.

    "UCLA alone is going to stand for something good about basketball, and that’s going to attract players no matter who's in the program or who's leaving. It doesn't really matter or affect anybody’s recruitment."

Response: A Rebalancing Has Been Underway Since the 2009-2010 Season

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    It has not been a steady deterioration of UCLA basketball since the third Final Four in 2008, which an entire stratum of self proclaimed Bruins' fanatics and glib critics have been trying to trade publicly like some sham stock. 

    The 2008 recruiting class combined with the last remnants of the Final Four teams did not reach a great chemistry, but they played into the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It was a difficult year after what people had gotten used to, but if that was a wretched season that shook confidence in the coach after three consecutive Final Fours then coaching at UCLA truly is an impossible job.

    The 2009 class brought in Reeves Nelson, the most destructive single player UCLA has ever had. There have been comparisons to Sidney Wicks, a difficult individualist player with a big ego who John Wooden had managed to control.

     There is almost no comparison between Wicks, a know-it-all, selfish but sleek scoring machine, and Nelson, a grinding, physical player with an ugly game, a violent temper and prone to major insubordination.  

    The 2009-2010 team was the worst of Howland's UCLA tenure, and the players were the worst mix he had ever had. UCLA finished with its third losing record in more than 50 years and missed the tournament. The major difference, looking back on it, was in the quality and maturity of the players on the roster; what they had as their essential characters. 

    Look who Howland brought in during the first years after 2003-2004 with Jordan Farmar, Aaron Afflalo, Josh Shipp, Darren Collision,  James Keefe, Michael Roll, Alfred Aboya, Lorenzo Mata-Real, Luc Richard MBah a Moute, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love, and how they treated the game and conducted themselves compared to the groups that followed. 

    Howland is clearly capable of selecting and recruiting high quality players with excellent character and personal drive and a commitment to basketball. In a difficult game, Howland and his staff had a few bad misses with recruits after years of bringing in almost perfect groups. 

    Howland's fifth and sixth year classes were 17 and 18-year-old kids that quietly revolted over not getting big minutes at one of the country's premier basketball schools, and chose to drink, dope, sulk, fight amongst themselves, break into factions, and fail to improve themselves as players and people during their time at UCLA. 

    Given the way great teams police themselves, Howland cannot be hung out to dry for all of that. He deserves some scrutiny and criticism for not instilling into those groups the core values of the program, and for not watching more closely over the dynamics of the team.

    But if the veteran teammates—Collison, Mata-Real, Roll, Shipp, Keefe—could not do that in practice or afterwards through their example, how could Howland by screaming at them? 

    Responsibility for the bad season in 2009-2010 goes to Howland on several levels, and he has acknowledged recruiting poor fits for the program. It has become fairly clear that Howland is a far better basketball coach than a player psychologist. He did not handle well, or maybe even perceive for some time, that he had a fractured team after 2009 that was feuding seriously with itself. 

    It does not look like that is going to happen to Howland again, and if anything close to it did it would cost him his job without any doubt. Those players are gone and Howland was given an embarrassing public chastisement. People who are in an elite class at what they do are smart; and smart people learn quickly from their mistakes. 

    But what is not spoken of by the irreconcilably angry group is the favorable wind that began blowing behind the team during the 2010-2011 season, when Josh Smith came in and Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt along with Reeves Nelson took the team to the second round of the tournament.

    UCLA beat Michigan State—a top tier team that Howland has owned at UCLA—in the first round, and lost a close, competitive game in the final minutes of the second round to a Florida team that many analysts had picked to play in the Final Four.   

    That group, just a year after the disaster season, had been positioned again to make a deep run into the tournament. But Lee and Honeycutt had intense personal ambitions towrard professional basketball. It is clear from the interviews they gave after the draft that it was not UCLA they were running away from, but the opportunity to play in the NBA that they were running toward. 

    It was something of a shock for almost everybody to get the news.

    Both players would have been so well served with another year developing in UCLA's program, and at the college level, generally. From the outside, it looks like agents or mediocre "friends" must have had their ears, because each player was drafted well into the second round, meaning non-guaranteed contracts and a tough road to making a team.

    Both players have been sent to the NBA Developmental league and neither are making much of any impact on the league. Lee has injured his knee and is lost for the season.  

    UCLA would have been one of the top teams in America with both players back in 2011-2012.

    So a promising team broke apart, and 2011-2012 was spent wandering the earth. It was like catching a virulent flu after being wasted by mono for four months the year before. Pauley Pavilion was being renovated, UCLA did not have a home for practice or games, and then the Nelson disaster came to its crisis, making it a lost season. 

    But Howland's 2012 class—Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker—was another top ranked group. This time, unlike 2008, it is made up of high character, humble players who clearly take a personal pride in themselves as people, as basketball players, and in the program they are representing. 

    This is the first season with the new batch, and all the bad and misfit remnants of the past gone to follow their own paths. UCLA is playing at their renovated home, and with an exceptionally young team it is going well, with the regular setbacks of a group new to major college basketball. This is another strong foundation to build on top of.  

    There is no doubt Howland should be given the opportunity to continue as the architect of the program next year, when another strong recruiting class may make it again one of the best in America.  

They Say Ben Howland Does Not Know Basketball or Understand the Game

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    There is actually a serious group of the know-it-all UCLA followers who believe Ben Howland does not understand basketball. 

    For those curious fans who might be following this from a distance, these are the credentials of the man who does not know or understand basketball. 

    Howland played in the California State finals in 1978 as a member of the Santa Barbara City College team. 

    From 1978-1980 he played at Weber State, one of the premier basketball schools in the Big Sky Conference, where his teams won two conference championships and played in two NCAA tournaments. 

    Howland then played one year of professional basketball at the top level in South America.

    After a decade of apprentice work as an assistant coach, Howland became a first time head coach in 1994 at Northern Arizona, a team that had never reached an NCAA Tournament. Howland stayed five seasons. By his third year a losing program had won the first of back-to-back conference championships. 

    The Lumberjacks were first invited to the NIT, and then reached an NCAA Tournament after winning the Big Sky conference tournament, the first NCAA appearance in school history. The Lumberjacks finished second place in the conference during Howland's final season. 

    A Northern Arizona team that had gone 7-21 in the Big Sky during Howland's first two seasons, finished 37-6 in his final three, and took home two conference championships. That is a high-end rebuilding effort in a venerable mid-major basketball conference. 

    Howland then went east in 1999 to coach at Pittsburgh. In the five years preceding Howland, the Panthers had reached one NIT, and lost in the first round of the Big East Tournament every year except one, when they were beaten in the second round. There was not a single NCAA Tournament trip.

    Howland took one year to rebuild Pitt's program. In his second season there, Pitt played into the championship of the Big East Tournament, and was invited to the NIT. 

    In his third and fourth years, the Panthers tied for two regular season league titles, played in their second and third consecutive Big East championship games, and crushed UConn in the 2003 title game, 74-56. It was Pitt's first ever Big East Conference Championship.  

    Pitt reached a #2 national ranking under Howland, and played in back-to-back NCAA Sweet 16s. Howland was the national coach of the year in 2001. 

    Howland left the program to Jamie Dixon, his assistant going all the way back to Northern Arizona. The program, operating what is Howland's system as imparted to and understood by Dixon, is enjoying the best decade of its basketball history. 

    The Panthers spent 19 weeks ranked #1 in 2009, and reached an Elite Eight. 

    At UCLA, where Howland arrived in 2003, he inherited a team coming off the worst year perhaps in the program's history, and a down to the bone roster in terms of talent. 

    Howland had one losing season in 2004 before his recruits joined what was left from Steve Lavin's era, and reached an NCAA Tournament. In his third through fifth seasons the Bruins won every regular season Pac-12 conference title, won two out of three conference tournaments, and reached three Final Fours. 

    In his sixth season they reached the NCAA Tournament's second round with the doomed 2008 recruiting class and the last of the Final Four group before the real short term problems began. The Bruins missed the tournament in 2009-2010 and had a losing season. 

    The next year, 2010-2011, the team was again rising with a promising core of young players. The Bruins finished in second place in the conference, and lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It had taken one disaster season and UCLA again looked like a contender.  

    But then Malcolm Lee and Tyler Honeycutt left for the NBA, Josh Smith couldn't keep his weight down and Reeves Nelson had a complete psychological implosion.

    This was also the season, 2011-2012, spent shuttling around the Los Angeles basin to practice and play home games. It was a hellish, crazy season, and has left Howland in the vulnerable position he is in now. 

    But the angry crowd will tell you that the two bad seasons and the missed recruits show clearly that Howland does not know basketball. It is hard for reasonable people to comprehend.

Ben Howland Is Simply Not the Coach for UCLA, No More Reason Needed

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    Another regular complaint, which is apparently aesthetic in nature, is that Ben Howland is simply not the right coach for UCLA. There is often not much more said, but that seems to be enough for the people who do not like the style of Howland's teams. 

    Who is the right coach, then?

    It is sometimes interesting to wonder how closely the bad-noise-crowd has looked at UCLA's head coaches between John Wooden in 1975 and Ben Howland in 2003. Before Jim Harrick came in 1988-1989, Steve Lavin in 1996-1997, and now Ben Howland, not one of their five predecessors lasted more than four years at UCLA.   

    There was one excellent coach, Harrick, who unfortunately did not care enough about the program or himself to adhere to NCAA rules. Even worse, from an employment security perspective, Harrick did not regard telling the truth to his bosses an important virtue, and got himself fired.

    Harrick ruined his own career at UCLA, or he might still be the head coach. 

    In the years after Wooden, until Howland came, a span of 28 seasons, UCLA reached a grand total of three Final Fours. The 1980 Final Four was later vacated, leaving behind two for the record books, in 1976 and 1995. That is two Final Fours in almost 30 years following Wooden, until Howland took the team to three more on his own.

    If you talk to the sane people who followed the program about those years after Wooden left, they will tell you that every coach was essentially run out of town by the fans of the program and UCLA alumni. Outside of Walt Hazzard, who was fired, literally every coach left Westwood by their own choice. 

    There was a dark, violent Wooden fanaticism that chased them out.  

    But truly, a quick look at the tenures of those coaches may astonish those who have not taken the time to do it. 

    Gene Bartow stayed two seasons, from 1975 to 1977. He was an excellent coach. Bartow went 52-9 with two tournament appearances, and a third place national finish the season after Wooden left.

    But Bartow did not appreciate the severe criticism he took after two excellent seasons but no title. It had taken Wooden 15 years to win his first, and Bartow knew that well. 

    After receiving death threats Bartow literally just walked away from Westwood to coach at Alabama Birmingham, where he stayed until 1996, compiling a 340-203 record, and a 647-353 career total. He later became president of the group that founded and controlled the Memphis Grizzlies.

    Gary Cunningham coached the next two seasons for the Bruins, from 1977 to 1979. Cunningham was 50-8 with a Sweet Sixteen and an Elite Eight appearance. He left coaching after the second season and took an administrative position at Western Oregon State. That, to Cunningham, was a better place to be than head coach of UCLA basketball.

    Larry Brown—the great Brown who won a national championship at Kansas, and an NBA championship with the Detroit Pistons— finished fourth and third in the Pac-10 in 1980 and 1981 during his two years, and had a 42-17 overall record. His first year team went all the way to the championship game, where it lost to Louisville.

    (As an interesting side note, the Cardinals team that beat UCLA was coached by Denny Crum, a former Wooden player and then recruiting coordinator who would win two championships for Louisville). 

    Brown's Final Four season was later vacated by the NCAA for violations around Sam Gilbert's interaction with the program. Gilbert was the dark ghoul behind the scenes at UCLA for most of Wooden's run, and who Brown said tried to dominate the program from the outside while he was coaching there. 

    Larry Farmer followed Brown, from 1982-1984. Farmer finished 61-23, was on probation his first year, lost on the first weekend of the one tournament he qualified for, and missed the NCAA tournament in his final year. Farmer was given a contract extension but then simply resigned.

    Walt Hazzard finished 77-47 in four seasons, from 1984 to 1988. He made one NCAA Tournament and two NITs. His team won the 1985 NIT championship. Hazzard went 16-14 in his final season, missed the tournament and was fired by the school. 

    Jim Harrick was a great coach from 1988 to 1996, but there were the other problems mentioned earlier. Harrick made the tournament in all eight of his seasons. He won UCLA's only championship after Wooden in 1995, and finished with a record of 192-62. Harrick won three conference championships and reached one Elite Eight along with the championship season Final Four. 

    But even Harrick's teams lost five times on the opening weekend of the tournament over eight trips, including one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history when Princeton beat UCLA as defending champions in the first round in 1996. There was one Sweet 16 trip to balance out Harrick's tournament appearances.  

    Steve Lavin had one year with Harrick's players playing in Harrick's memory in 1996-1997, when the Bruins reached an Elite Eight. The rest of his tenure was madness. Lavin was run out on a pike in 2003 with the villagers howling behind him. He finished 145-78, and his final season was 10-19, the first losing season at UCLA in more than 50 years. 

    These are the untouchables that Howland is apparently not qualified to succeed. Or maybe it is that UCLA basketball has just never been able to find someone to replace Wooden. And the truth is it never will. No one will, and the landscape of the sport is vastly different than the one Wooden coached in. It is quite literally impossible for anyone to even approach again what Wooden accomplished.

    The three Final Fours angle in favor of Howland's acumen has been beaten hard, and it is not a panacea for defending him. I have tried not to overuse it. But consider for a moment the truly legendary college coaches who never reached a single Final Four.

    Gene Keady comes immediately to mind, Lefty Dreisell, John Chaney, Norm Stewart, Pete Carril, Ralph Miller. These are hall of fame coaches, hugely influential and successful people, and they were not once able to bring their fans to college basketball's final weekend. 

    Howland is one of two coaches in the entire Pac-12 who has taken a team to the last outpost of the tournament. Mike Montgomery, who now coaches Cal, took Stanford to a Final Four back in 1998. There is no one else. 

    And just for comparison, over the same time frame, let's look at Arizona's Sean Miller, the can't miss kid from Xavier. Miller is an excellent young coach, and this is not meant to cast aspersions on him or his program.

    But during Miller's first three seasons in Tucson, Arizona missed the tournament twice, and twice finished in fourth place in the conference. 

    In Howland's third year, UCLA was regular season and conference tournament champions, and advanced all the way to the national championship game. Had the Bruins not met Florida twice, one of the most powerful college teams of the last 30 years, it could easily have been two new banners hanging in Westwood, and not Gainesville. 

    It is amaz