Ben Howland Fired: Ranking the Best Candidates to Replace Him as UCLA Coach

C.J. Moore@@CJMooreBRCollege Basketball National Lead WriterMarch 24, 2013

Ben Howland Fired: Ranking the Best Candidates to Replace Him as UCLA Coach

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    One of the best jobs in college basketball is now open after UCLA has notified Ben Howland that he will be fired, according to a report from Yahoo! Sports

    A source told told that Shaka Smart, Brad Stevens, Mark Gottfried, Billy Donovan and Jay Wright are on UCLA's wish list.

    More names are sure to emerge over the next week. Who is most likely to end up roaming the sidelines at Pauley Pavilion? Here is how we rank them. 

10/9. Steve Alford/Jamie Dixon

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    Both UNM's Steve Alford and Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon likely would have been on the list; however, both signed extensions in the last couple days, with Dixon's announced Saturday (per CBS Sports' Gary Parrish). That doesn't always rule out coaches, but it makes the process more difficult.

    It's doubtful either coach will be pursued or interested.

8. Josh Pastner, Memphis

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    Josh Pastner is the coach on this list probably most familiar with the Pac-12. Pastner was a walk-on at Arizona and then an assistant until 2008. He is one of the best recruiters in the country but has not quite proven himself as much as a coach in his four seasons at Memphis. 

    Pastner has led the Memphis Tigers to three straight NCAA tournaments and got his first tourney win this year. He is an extremely positive guy and would be a big personality change from Ben Howland.

    If the Bruins want to go with the polar opposite of Howland, this would be a good choice, but Pastner probably isn't seasoned enough to handle this job. 

7. Gregg Marshall, Wichita State

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    Two years ago, Gregg Marshall turned down North Carolina State and chose to stay at Wichita State.

    Marshall is considered one of the top mid-major coaches and has led Wichita State to two straight NCAA tournaments. He has never coached out West, but he should be viewed as a good recruiter considering the talent he has been able to find and convince to come to Wichita.

    If UCLA called, you would think he would listen; however, the same could have been said about NC State. 

6. Brad Stevens, Butler

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    Similar to Shaka Smart, Brad Stevens is either waiting out the perfect job or content where he is at Butler. Stevens is selective with what players he brings into his program, and he would never jump at a high-profile job just because it's a high-profile job. 

    Any program looking, including UCLA, would take Stevens in a second. Stevens could be waiting for either Indiana to open up in his home state or for Mike Krzyzewski to retire at Duke, a program that would more fit his personality and profile.

    In the meantime, Butler is gaining notoriety and is a more attractive school to attend now that it's in the new Big East. 

5. Billy Donovan, Florida

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    Billy Donovan did almost leave Florida once before. In 2007, after winning his second straight title, Donovan accepted an offer to be the coach of the Orlando Magic and then changed his mind. 

    Donovan would be a home run hire for the Bruins; however, it's hard to see him leaving a good situation at Florida. He is signed through the 2015-16 season and has been with the school since 1996. 

4. Mark Gottfried, North Carolina State

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    Mark Gottfried is the only coach on UCLA's initial wish list that has ties to the program. Gottfried was an assistant at UCLA from 1988 through 1995 on Jim Harrick's staff. 

    Gottfried is a good recruiter and has led NC State to two NCAA tournament appearances in two years.

    His team this year was stacked with talent and was the preseason pick to win the ACC, but the Wolfpack were one of the most underachieving teams in the country. This just seems like a hard one to fathom. 

3. Buzz Williams, Marquette

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    Marquette's Buzz Williams is a self-made man who did not have the usual rise up the coaching ranks. Read about that here.

    Obviously, Williams is an outside-the-box thinker—seriously, read that story—and he has proven himself as a really good coach. This season, the Golden Eagles won a share of the Big East title after losing their leading two scorers from last season.

    Williams does not have ties out West.

    He is from Texas and does have great ties in that state. Wherever Williams is coaching, it's hard to imagine that he wouldn't figure out a way to be successful. He'd be a good hire if UCLA misses on its wish list. 

2. Jay Wright, Villanova

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    Villanova's Jay Wright has been a hot name in coaching searches for years, but his stock is not quite what it used to be. Wright coached the Wildcats to a Final Four in 2009 and has not been past the Sweet 16 since. 

    Wright has spent some time in the West, as he was on Rollie Massimino's staff at UNLV from 1992 to 1994.

    Other than that, he's spent most of his career in the East.

    This would be a job that he would have to consider, but is he a hot enough name anymore to really excite the UCLA fanbase? 

1. Shaka Smart, VCU

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    Shaka Smart has been waiting for the right job, and this may be it. UCLA is a destination program, and it has been wise of Smart to wait out the perfect opportunity.

    The 35-year-old would bring his exciting "Havoc" defense and great energy.

    Smart is proven as a recruiter, and he's respected as a coach after leading VCU to the Final Four in 2011. 

    Smart does not have any West Coast connections and only has one player from California on his current roster, but his name is known nationally and he would be viewed as a wise hire. It would be a good move for Smart too, as the Atlantic 10 is losing its luster with the losses of Butler and Xavier to the new Big East.