Ben Howland Makes Sense for Rutgers' Basketball Program's Future

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Ben Howland Makes Sense for Rutgers' Basketball Program's Future
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The Scarlet Knights are getting a makeover.

After Head Coach Mike Rice was relieved of his duties on Friday (via ESPN.com), Rutgers University is on the market for a new basketball coach, and it appears the school may be interested in another recently-fired bench boss.

According to CBS Sports' Gary Parrish, Ben Howland, who was leading the UCLA Bruins until the squad's first-round exit at the NCAA tournament, has been identified as a leading target for the gig.

Sources told CBSSports.com on Saturday that former UCLA coach Ben Howland is "intrigued" by the opening, and that third-party conversations designed to gauge possible interest on both sides have taken place. The sources added, however, that it's too early to tell if the situation will develop into anything more because Rutgers president Robert Barchi said Friday the school's new athletic director will be hired before its next men's basketball coach.

In other words, the direction Rutgers goes with its search for a new athletic director will, to some degree, dictate the way Rutgers goes with its search for a new coach. But a source told CBSSports.com that Howland would have some supporters among Rutgers boosters based on his ability to recruit New York while he was the coach at Pittsburgh from 1999 to 2003, and that Howland would be interested because, quite frankly, he'd prefer to jump right back into coaching over sitting out a year.

UCLA fired Howland last month after 10 seasons.

Yeah, it's true that Howland was never able to lift the Bruins to the level that's expected of a prestigious program, but that doesn't mean that Rutgers wouldn't be getting a massive upgrade from Rice.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

In Howland, Rutgers would be welcoming in a coach who is a proven winner, one who has demonstrated an ability to lead teams on deep tournament runs, even if they haven't culminated in a national title thus far.

But that shouldn't take away from his success, as the 55-year-old has won everywhere he's gone. In fact, Howland is one of the few coaches to lead three different programs to the Big Dance, as he took Northern Arizona and Pittsburgh to the tournament prior to bringing UCLA on multiple trips.

It is true that Howland never put the Bruins over the top, but can one really fault a coach who oversaw three consecutive Final Four runs?

It's debatable as to whether he should have been fired in the first place, but after UCLA's loss to Minnesota in the round of 64, Howland's fate was sealed, but he enjoyed a successful stint in California.

At this stage, what Rutgers needs more than anything is stability, because after a traumatizing situation like the one that has unfolded around Rice, the Scarlet Knights have a tough climb back to respectability before them. 

Realistically, anything would be an improvement from Rice, at least from a PR standpoint, and Howland is a coach with a successful track record when it comes to rebuilding basketball programs.

Howland may not even lead them to an NCAA tournament berth, but that doesn't matter. What he will do is right a ship that is unexpectedly sinking fast.

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