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Ben Howland Fired: The Highs and Lows of Ex-Coach's Tenure at UCLA

Avi Wolfman-ArentCorrespondent IIMarch 23, 2013

Ben Howland Fired: The Highs and Lows of Ex-Coach's Tenure at UCLA

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    According to Jeff Eisenberg and Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports, UCLA has fired head basketball coach Ben Howland, ending his 10-year reign in Westwood.

    The move comes less than 24 hours after UCLA lost 83-63 to Minnesota in Round 2 of the NCAA tournament and just five years after Howland led the Bruins to their third consecutive Final Four appearance.

    The latter should tell you just how bad this last half-decade has been for the once-proud program and how polarizing Howland was as a public figure.

    In the slides ahead, we'll look back at Howland's Jekyll-and-Hyde tenure as the Bruins head man, from modest beginnings to dazzling heights to, well, here.

High: The 2004 Recruiting Class

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    Howland flexed his recruiting muscles early, bringing in a 2004 freshman class that included Lorenzo Mata, Josh Shipp, Jordan Farmar and future All-American Arron Afflalo.

    All four players hailed from Southern California, an early harbinger of Howland's singular ability to attract local talent.

    SoCal natives Jrue Holiday, Russell Westbrook, Tyler Honeycutt and Darren Collison would all go on to star for UCLA during Howland's time at the helm.

Low: The Inaugural Season

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    Even the impressive play of freshman Trevor Ariza and Steve Lavin-era holdover Dijon Thompson couldn't save the Bruins during Coach Howland's first year in Westwood.

    Coming off a 10-19 year that culminated in Lavin's termination, the Bruins took their lumps.

    Despite beating Michigan State early and winning is first five conference tilts, UCLA lost 14 of its final games to finish the season 11-17.

    The back-to-back losing seasons were UCLA's first since the 1940-41 and 1941-42 campaigns.

High: Beating Memphis in the 2006 Elite Eight

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    Based largely on the strength of Coach Howland's 2004 recruiting class, UCLA went 32-7 during 2005-06, setting a program record for wins in a single season.

    There were signature moments aplenty that year for the Bruins, including a barnburner against Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. UCLA's upset win over top-seeded Memphis—which at the time featured Chris Douglas-Roberts, Shawne Williams and Rodney Carney—stands out in terms of symbolic significance.

    The 50-45 win vaulted UCLA to its first Final Four in over a decade and reintroduced the Bruins as a national power under their new head coach.

    The run would end with a loss to Florida in the national title game.

Low: The Second Consecutive Tournament Loss to Florida

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    UCLA fans can only imagine what could've been.

    If not for Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer and the rest of a Florida team that would go down as one of the greatest in college basketball history, Ben Howland might have an NCAA championship on his resume.

    Maybe even two.

    One year after falling to the Gators in the national championship game, UCLA's season once again ended at the hands of Billy Donovan's crew, this time with a 76-66 loss in the Final Four.

High: Signing Kevin Love, Making Third Consecutive Final Four

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    In July 2006, Coach Howland scored his greatest recruiting coup yet, poaching blue-chip big man Kevin Love from the University of Oregon—his father's alma mater.

    Love averaged a double-double during his first and only year as a Bruin. Along with Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison, UCLA reeled off 35 wins and sent the school to its third consecutive Final Four appearance.

    Howland became the only coach in program history to win 30 or more games in three straight seasons.

Low: The Blowout Loss to Memphis

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    Three years after the Bruins trumpeted their resurgence with an Elite Eight upset over Memphis, John Calipari got his revenge, leading the Tigers past UCLA in the 2008 Final Four.

    Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts combined for 53, and the Memphis front line held Kevin Love to just 4-of-11 from the field.

    Although it didn't seem like a bookend at the time, the 78-63 loss would ultimately mark the end of Coach Howland's halcyon days as the Bruins head coach.

Low: The 2009-10 Season

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    Coach Howland's seat first began to warm during a wretched 2009-10 season that saw the Bruins go 14-18. The season was lowlighted by non-conferences losses to Cal-State Fullerton, Portland and Long Beach State.

    The team's .438 winning percentage was its third worst in the post-John Wooden era.

    Adding to the gloom, UCLA's legendary former coach would pass away the following summer.

High: Bouncing Back in 2010-11

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    UCLA recovered from its disastrous 2009-10 with an encouraging 2010-11.

    Sophomore Tyler Honeycutt emerged as an All-Pac-10 performer, and freshman center Joshua Smith showed flashes of dominance down low.

    The Bruins finished 23-11, earned a No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament and gave the second-seeded Florida Gators all they could handle in the round of 32.

    UCLA hadn't regained its prior dominance, but things were at least looking up. Few could question the collection of talent Coach Howland had assembled.

Low: The Sports Illustrated Report

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    The momentum gained in the 2010-11 season would prove to be short-lived.

    The Bruins went 19-14 the following year. In March 2012, Sports Illustrated released a scathing investigative report called "Not the UCLA Way." A good chunk of it focused on Coach Howland's idiosyncratic disposition and apparent lack of disciplinary control.

    Sources told SI that Howland gave preferential treatment to star freshmen Reeves Nelson and Drew Gordon. There were also reports that players drank and used drugs during the season, sometimes even before practice.

    Overall, the article framed Howland as a prickly, pandering figure whose lust for top talent overpowered his better coaching judgment. I'm not sure his reputation has ever recovered.

    The primary cause of Howland's firing was his inability to win games. But at UCLA—a place where the rigid moralism of John Wooden still abides—SI's report was certain to have a particularly damning effect.

High: The 2012 Recruiting Class

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    Maligned by the SI report and firmly on the hot seat, Coach Howland made his final stand with a 2012 recruiting class that, on paper, may well have been his best.

    Rivals.com rated Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson as two of the nation's top three players. Tony Parker and Jordan Adams also appeared regularly in top 50 lists.

    ESPN declared UCLA's incoming class to be the nation's best. Rivals.com and Scout.com slotted the Bruins at No. 2.

    It was a bold move for an embattled coach accused of freshmen favoritism, but one that no doubt excited the Bruins fanbase heading into the 2012-13 campaign.

Low: How the 2012 Recruiting Class Performed

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    Individually, UCLA's star freshmen performed relatively well.

    Jordan Adams was the team's second-leading scorer. Kyle Anderson flashed tremendous playmaking potential and rebounding acumen. Shabazz Muhammad scored more points per game than any other true freshman in the nation.

    And yet collectively, the team wasn't quite talented enough to overcome its youth.

    Muhammad's early-season skirmish with the NCAA truncated UCLA's gestation period, and Jordan Adams' late-season foot injury was an obvious blow.

    Any other year, those circumstances might have excused UCLA's embarrassing round of 64 exit and perhaps saved Coach Howland's job.

    But the accumulated turmoil and ill will in Westwood demanded an exemplary season. Howland couldn't deliver, and now the Bruins are moving on.

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