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Can UK Fans Commiserate With UCLA in Firing Ben Howland?


They both look just so happy to be there.

There was a time when Ben Howland could do no wrong.  With three straight Final Four appearances under his belt, and successful pros like Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook to point to as a recruiting tool, life for the coach out of the University of Pittsburgh seemed to be going pretty well for a while.  Until he was fired last night after losing by 20 to Tubby’s Minnesota team.

In a way, it’s only fitting that Howland lost to Smith, who left Kentucky amid some mild controversy after having some huge success with the Cats earlier in his career.  They both had eye-popping starts at two of the best college basketball jobs… ever.  But the lustre wore away after a while, and Howland seems to be Tubby revisited; albeit perhaps minus the classy character that everyone agrees Tubby has.

But ultimately, Howland combined two of the worst traits of Kentucky’s last two pre-Cal (P.C.?) coaches: he had Tubby’s tapering tournament success, paired with Billy’s practice problems and lack of team control.  Though Howland had those three Final Fours, which are nothing to sniff at, his success in the five years since has been erratic, to say the least.  This year looked to be the start of something of a turnaround, but the loss to a perplexing Golden Gopher squad sealed the deal: his teams just hadn’t performed.  In 2009-10, he finished sub-.500.  To UCLA, that’s unheard of.  Imagine: in Kentucky, this is one of the worst years in recent memory.  And we won 20 games.  To win 14 games at UCLA is understandably frustrating.

But probably the more damaging factor, even above the lack of success on the floor, was Howland’s behavior off of it.  You might remember an article from Sports Illustrated from about this time last year that decried Howland’s failure to run his program “the UCLA way.”  You might remember the murmurings of player dissatisfaction, lack of discipline, et cetera, that surrounded the Shabazz recruitment; it was of particular interest to Kentucky fans looking for reasons to pick the Cats.  It’s good to take SI’s articles with a grain of salt (seeing that they employ Pete Thamel), but to dismiss the article entirely seems a bit slapdash.

Why then, despite all this, are folks saying that Howland deserved to stay?  If you listen to ESPN Radio, which I have a lot over the last couple of days with the tournament going on, you’ll hear people say they feel for Ben Howland.  One even said that Howland will be better off without UCLA.  Why?  Kentucky fans know firsthand: if you behave badly and don’t produce at one of the best coaching positions in college basketball, you don’t deserve that job.  Is Howland a good coach?  Sure.  Three Final Fours do speak volumes.  But did he really need to be at UCLA?  Probably not.  If Kentucky fans weren’t happy with Gillispie or Tubby (unanimous for the former, debatable for the latter), how much more disgruntled should UCLA fans have been with Howland?

Maybe our perspective is a little different, but who do you feel for: Howland, or UCLA?  I’m going with UCLA; Howland had his chance.

Article written by Corey Nichols

37 Comments for Can UK Fans Commiserate With UCLA in Firing Ben Howland?

    9:06 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    How did this get here I am not good with computer

  2. Goodmorning
    9:12 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Yikes a whole article on KSR about Ben Howland and UCLA. I guess UK was tied into the article unnecessarily but overall wow that post was boring.

  3. Rob Bromley is a Beast
    9:14 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    I doubt that you could find many UCLA “fans” that have an opinion one way or another. Most are too chilled out and casual to get worked up over UCLA bball.

  4. Seriously
    9:15 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    They fired him because he lost to Tubby in the tournament.

    Isn’t Howland the only coach who has lost in the tournament to Tubby’s Gophers since Tubby has been there?

  5. Wall2Cousins
    9:18 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Tubby should go to UCLA!!

  6. so i pulled my adjectives ... or is that an adverb ?
    9:21 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    i agree , seems a bit slapdash

  7. robuk
    9:21 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Shabazz picks UK we are still playing and Howland had a whole year to find a new job.

  8. LA1B4
    9:21 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Even though he lost, Howland thoroughly out coached Tubby.

  9. jerespive
    9:21 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    #4 – I believe you are right. The Gophers had been to a couple of NCAA tournies under Tubby before this year but lost in the first round in both of them.

    That, in and of itself, is enough to fire Howland.

    UCLA will hire Smart from VCU.

  10. lakesidecatsfan
    9:22 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    I’d like to see Shaka Smart get that job.

  11. lakesidecatsfan
    9:22 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    or bruce pearl, when will his show cause be finished?

  12. Reality Check
    9:24 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    UCLA had success during a very short time (60s & 70s) due to the school’s basketball team being racially desegregated during a time when most power schools were not (UK included), a very dirty booster (Sam Gilbert) and John Wooden a willing accomplice. Their success will never be duplicated again as the competition for entertainment dollars is very difficult in that market. Should have kept him, they will do much worse without him.

  13. EasyE523
    9:27 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Screw UCLA

    F G C U !!!

    C’mon BBN, you know that little retirement town can’t give this team the fan base they need.

  14. Me
    9:31 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    I heard Howland was caught skinny dipping with waitresses from the Merrick Inn

  15. James
    9:36 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Ben Howland’s situation at UCLA and Tubby’s situation at Kentucky could not be more different. Starting with the fact that Tubby was never fired at Kentucky. Horrible post.

  16. Blue
    9:37 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    12…You hit the nail on the head. What other blue-blood programs like Kentucky, UNC, Indiana, and Duke have that UCLA doesn’t have are strong fanbases that truly care about the program, and sustained success over long periods of time. Let’s face it…Aside from the 60s and 70s, UCLA has been a mediocre basketball program, with the only real exceptions being 1995, and 2006-2008. You could argue the 1995 title was tainted, much like the other 10 during the Wooden era (based on what happened with Harrick after the fact), but regardless…UCLA will never match the success, or even come close, to what they had 40 years ago. Just ain’t gonna happen. Their fans don’t care…Los Angeles has too many other distractions to care that much about USC and UCLA basketball. Their facilities are lacking. They haven’t kept up with the Joneses, so to speak, and until they make a conscious effort to do so, will continue to fall behind the rest of the traditional powers. I don’t necessarily disagree with them firing Howland…I thought he was going to get fired last year. But, if you’re a guy like Shaka Smart, do you leave VCU to take that job, when you’ve already proven you can sustain good success, to take over a program with a crazy AD and a fanbase as fickle as a 16-year-old girl? Shaka Smart will be at the top of every school’s wish list, and he can afford to wait for the right opportunity to come along. I highly doubt UCLA is it.

  17. Rocky
    9:40 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    It’s not debatable for Tubby. He should have been fired several years before he was “forced” to move on.

    Most of my fellow UK fans in Western Kentucky (especially the ones I hang with) had lost confidence in Tubby by the end of 2002. I stated at that time (actually in 2001) that UK would go ten or more years between final fours.

    His six years at Minnesota should put to rest the unfounded assertions that Tubby belongs among the great or even good coaches.

  18. crazycatfan
    9:44 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Who cares? I’m just happy they are out of the tournament. Don’t want them to win anymore championships until we pass them up with #12!

  19. FLASHY
    9:49 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Can we hear more about HEART MONITORS? What are they? And how did Coach Cal invent them?

  20. Smiley Pete
    9:53 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    @17 – You had soured on Tubby in 2001? Good lord, you sound like one of those people who are just plain awful to watch a game with.

  21. Unit to tha G
    10:04 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Tubby should have been sent packing long before. That title he won was a gift from rick. Look at how that team played. Fast paced, up and down the floor, pressing…etc. You could tell that Tubby just said, yall go play how Rick played and win me a title. Notice as soon as Tubby got HIS players, and HIS system implimented he didnt do crap. 4 overall #1 seeds and you cant get back to the final four? Getting beat by the likes of UAB, USC… Recruiting classes consisting of Bobby Perry, Sheray Thomas, Orbzut and Shagari Alleyne. Averaging 10 losses over his last 5 seasons… I mean cmon, the man chokes when it comes to the “big tournament”…I cant stand it when ppl say Tubby is a high caliber coach… UGA had come off of 2 sweet 16 appearances and tubby never got back there during his tenure at UGA…so spare me the “tubby is a good coach” talk. I have never and will never buy into that. EVER.

  22. Big Dog
    10:05 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Tubby took over a top notch program and overseen its demise including and partly because of playing Saul all of the time.

  23. Bubba Earl
    10:05 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Model wife, young family, exciting basketball, FGCU coach is an up and comer!!

  24. cracka
    10:06 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    in tubby’s 6 years at minny, he has not had a single winning record in conference … it is amazing they have made the tournament at all … the 3 times they’ve made it, their big 10 records were 9-9, 9-9 and 8-10 … a combined 46-62 in 6 years, yuck

  25. Dee W
    10:22 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    #21 – utter nonsense. Tubby’s coaching in that tournament in 1998 was masterful – especially the final 3 games against Duke, Stanford, and Utah. He did not just “let them go” – you weren’t watching if you think that. We also came within a whisker a number of times of getting to the Final Four…unfortunately we did not, but they were great seasons. It doesn’t happen even if you have potential – witness 2010.

    Your post also contradicts itself – you say the teams with just his players “didn’t do crap” at the same time you acknowledge multiple #1 seeds – you don’t get awarded those seeds if you “didn’t do crap”.

    “UGA had come off of 2 sweet 16 appearances and tubby never got back there during his tenure at UGA”

    That is not correct – Tubby did indeed get them to the Sweet 16. He was only at Georgia two years. In addition, at Tulsa before going to Georgia in his last two years he got them to the Sweet 16.

    As for Minnesota, what were they? 9-22 before he took over? Their record now is back to as good as it has ever been – Minnesota doesn’t exactly have a history of being a top recruiting draw. He just got them their first NCAA win since 1990. Those grumbling about him now are apparently remembering the days of the mid to late 90s which were literally fake from all of the cheating – worst collegiate basketball scandals in history.

  26. Rajon4rondo
    10:28 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Remember when Tubby took UK to the NIT? Yea, me neither.

  27. Blue
    10:29 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    21…I by no means loved what Tubby did in his later years, because it was apparent his ability to run the program faltered in the last few years of his tenure…But you only point out the last little bit and fail to even mention any of the previous 7 seasons. You can argue that he won a title because of Pitino’s players, but Tubby’s coaching job in the Duke game that season was nothing short of masterful, and he truly demonstrated why he was a great coach in that game and both Final Four games. He brought in the likes of Keith Bogans and Tayshaun Prince, two all-time greats to ever suit up for Kentucky. He went 19-0 in the SEC in 2003, a year in which the SEC was easily the strongest league in the nation…Something that even John Calipari can’t say. He reached the Elite Eight 3 times in addition to the title in 98, and if not for Keith Bogans spraining his ankle, likely wins a second championship.

    I realize that you, and many other Kentucky fans, are always going to despise Tubby, for whatever reason. But you cannot ignore what he did for the first 6 or 7 seasons…Just because we fell short a few times doesn’t take away the success he was able to bring. Sure, I was ready for him to go, just like everybody else, but the last couple of years under Smith were not indicative of the entirety of his tenure. There were some wildly successful teams, but in a one-and-done scenario, sometimes you just don’t get it done. Even Calipari’s teams are evidence of that (2010).

    I don’t care what Tubby has done at Minnesota, quite frankly. I’m not the least bit shocked he hasn’t had nearly as much success there as he has here, because…It’s Minnesota. But, while at Kentucky, he was very successful for the majority of his time, and it all worked out for everyone in the end.

  28. Rajon4rondo
    10:30 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    #25- just stop man, you’re making too much sense for our fans to understand.

  29. UCLA Hires.....
    10:43 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    I bet UCLA will get Rick Pitino

    10:50 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    as a bruin fan i always get a good chuckle when i hear UK fans bragging about all time wins or how many championships they have or any other obnoxious wannabe factoid that gets tossed around. You do realize that UK was established (or at least began accumulating basketball stats) a good 15 years before UCLA right? Since UCLA basketball began we have SMASHED every team in the country in wins, championships, most undefeated seasons, most consecutive seasons with a championship, best coach to ever set foot on a basketball court, i could go on….and on….and on….. Yet somehow all you rednecks think you are kings of the world….laughable at best…and dont worry about our coaching situation, no matter who we hire, you guys will never catch us as long as cal is there, great recruiter, below average coach (i know, i know, he teaches kids how to pass the ball to one another so hes a coaching mastermind genius…lawl). you guys enjoy bragging about being the 2nd greatest program of all time, 2nd place is just the first loser, hardly worth bragging about…. 🙂

  31. Dee W.
    10:59 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    “partly because of playing Saul all of the time.”

    Saul wasn’t there all the time – you don’t stay eligible to play for 10 years, you know.
    Anyway, here is Tubby’s actual record at UK – whether you want to say it was good or bad, what you say needs to actually be factual:

    Tubby Smith record at Kentucky
    1997 – 1998 – 35-4 overall, 14-2 SEC, SEC regular season champions, SEC tournament Champions, NCAA Champions

    1998 – 1999 – 28-9 overall, 11-5 SEC, SEC tournament Champions, NCAA Elite 8

    1999 – 2000 – 23-10 overall, 12-4 SEC, SEC regular season Champions (tied), NCAA 2nd round

    2000 – 2001 – 24-10 overall, 12-4 SEC, SEC regular season Champions (tied), SEC tournament Champions, NCAA Sweet 16

    2001 – 2002 – 22-10 overall, 10-6 SEC, NCAA Sweet 16

    2002 – 2003 – 32-4 overall, 16-0 SEC, SEC regular season Champions, SEC tournament Champions, Granted #1 seed NCAA tournament, NCAA Elite Eight

    2003 – 2004 – 27-5 overall, 13-3 SEC, SEC tournament Champions, Granted #1 overall seed NCAA tournament, NCAA 2nd round

    2004 – 2005 – 28-6 overall, 14-2 SEC, SEC regular season Champions, SEC tournament runner-up, NCAA Elite Eight

    2005 – 2006 – 22-13 overall, 9-7 SEC, NCAA 2nd round

    2006 – 2007 – 22-12 overall, 9-7 SEC, NCAA 2nd round

  32. Chas
    11:05 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Hey 30,

    Need to look in the record books my friend. Kentucky Basketball is by far the most consistent program ever in it’s entire history, not just a ten year run.

    I respect UCLA but by no means does it compare to Kentucky!

    And yes, Caipari will catch you!

  33. John Ellis
    11:07 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Tubby’s UK tenure still isn’t really appreciated as it should be. He’s the ONLY UK coach who won a title with a team that shouldn’t have, in fact shouldn’t have made the FF. He beat a Duke team that had the greatest number of pros on it in Bball history, similar to the ’96 and ’12 UK teams. It was a huge upset. And those last two teams were screwed up by Rondo first and then Morris’ suspension for half the season. You look back at who Tubby had coming for that next year – Morris said he was coming back because of the harm he’d done, Bradley, Meeks, Patterson coming, Crawford, that would have been a very dangerous team. Those two years UK’s seed was also down due to being in the same sub-division as the national champs Florida, as well as FF worthy Tennessee and Vanderbilt teams. Cal just has a much worse year in a much weaker SEC.

    Ten years now is about all you can expect at UK before the coach is burnt out, and Cal has said that’s it for him. He saw what happened to Tubby. It should be remembered also Tubby left, and because Barnhart would not let him hire Sal as an assistant. He wasn’t fired like Howland.

  34. John Ellis
    11:11 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    PS UCLA’s championships were bought, every one of them, Sam Gilbert was the winner of those Wooden titles. Harrick ditto. They should all be vacated. It is galling when UCLA fans brag about their dominance, it was a dominance of the checkbook. And this is open public knowledge. Imagine if that came out about UK. Wooden resigned rather than be disgraced, but he should have been any way. He was a .500 coach before Gilbert started buying players for him.

  35. Dee W
    11:17 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    #30 Bruins FTW: You might have a point, but for the fact your winning percentage is 7 points lower than Kentucky’s. Nice try, though.

  36. Dee W
    11:20 am March 25, 2013 Permalink

    #28 – I think most of our fans do understand…they just aren’t all as noisy.

  37. Gail
    12:11 pm March 25, 2013 Permalink

    Calapari’s name was mentioned on Yahoo as a strong consideration from the UCLA boosters’s deep pocket club. Could that affect this years recruiting class?