On Friday night in Austin, Texas, the Minnesota Golden Gophers took on the UCLA Bruins in second round action of the NCAA Tournament. UCLA had just lost one of its best players, Jordan Adams to a broken bone in his foot in the PAC-12 Tournament. The 11th seeded Gophers took advantage and sent UCLA back to Westwood, with an 83-63 victory. On Sunday, Minnesota’s season came to an end with a disappointing blowout loss to Florida.
It’s funny isn’t it? These two schools, both who shared time in the top 25 of both major polls during the year, just didn’t live up to expectations. The end result?
Over the course of 24 hours after UCLA’s loss on Friday, athletic director Dan Guerrero made the decision to fire Ben Howland. As news broke, ESPN reporter Jay Bilas was shocked, even dropping an expletive on live TV late Saturday night.
On Monday morning, also within the 24-hour time period after their loss, Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague, who took over just last April, fired head coach Tubby Smith after 6 seasons. Howland went to 3 consecutive Final Fours at UCLA, while Tubby Smith reinvigorated a program that was in the dumps following violations that saw Minnesota’s 1997 Final Four vacated.
The question then becomes, when is enough, enough? What does a coach have to do to remain at their respective school? I can see UCLA’s case, but just barely. Howland did go to three straight Final Fours, but he didn’t come away with a banner to hang in Pauley Pavilion, the only banners they hang at UCLA. For the record, I thought he should have been fired last summer when the embarrassing SI report came out, detailing drug use and total lack of institutional control at UCLA.
Yet, Howland was given a second chance at UCLA, only because he had a recruiting class coming in that many had ranked #1 in America. And here he now stands, watching the rest of March Madness from home just like you and me. Is that fair?
What about fair for Tubby Smith? Smith left Kentucky, the so called “gold standard” of college basketball for Minnesota, at the time, a bottom feeder in the Big Ten. Not only did he put Minnesota back on the map in the Big Ten, but he put the Gophers back on the map nationally and Minnesota appeared in the top 10 earlier this season.
So why fire him? I’ll tell you why. It’s because Norwood Teague came in and didn’t like the direction Tubby Smith was leading his program. One of the all-time great coaches in basketball, wasn’t good enough for Minnesota. When a new AD comes in, you better win, or the new guy won’t hesitate bringing his own guy in. And that’s what happened to Smith.
Don’t read this as sour grapes. UCLA and Minnesota will both hire good guys who will have experience at either the college or professional level. Both schools will hire guys that will invigorate both the Twin Cities and Westwood. But why did we arrive here? Is Tubby Smith not good enough for Minnesota? If that’s true, then good luck to Teague in his quest for someone who is. Good luck to Guerrero with finding someone at UCLA where Final Fours and PAC-12 titles aren’t enough. It makes me sick.
Steve Lavin went to multiple Sweet Sixteens at UCLA. Howland went to multiple Final Fours. Both were fired. What is the expectation in LA? UCLA can no longer go out and get the best guys to compete for titles as seen by this years squad. The Bruins were stacked with talent, but couldn’t put it all together. How much of that can you put on Howland? Who knows?
Minnesota and UCLA could both hit home runs in their next coaches. Indiana did it with Tom Crean. Kentucky did it with John Calipari. Miami did it with Jim Larranaga. But for Guerrero and Teague, they’re in this position on their own accord. And for their sake, they better hope they were right.
Because right now, they aren’t.