With highly sought-after names like Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens staying put at their respective mid-majors, the UCLA basketball program is still without a coach nearly a week after firing Ben Howland.
Smart was reportedly athletic director Dan Guerrero‘s first target, but the fourth-year Virginia Commonwealth head coach used the Bruins’ bidding as a bargaining chip. Instead of heading West to revive one of college basketball’s bluebloods, Smart restructured his contract to remain with the Rams through the 2023 season. The decision to stay wasn’t hugely surprising, since Smart and his family love their situation in Richmond, but it was still disappointing for hopeful UCLA fans.
After Smart’s decline, the attention turned toward Stevens, coach of the perennial Cinderella Butler Bulldogs. The sixth-year skipper has seen all kinds of unprecedented success in Indianapolis, leading Butler to back-to-back national title games in 2010 and 2011.
If Stevens could lead the Bulldogs to runner-up finishes in the Big Dance, imagine what he could do with a few recruiting classes at UCLA. Yeah, the thought of it had the Bruin faithful amped up for good reason. Unfortunately, Stevens went the way of Smart, and will be hanging around Hinkle Fieldhouse for the foreseeable future.
So, with high-profile coaches choosing the likes of VCU and Butler over UCLA, a question arises: will the Bruins ever find a new head coach?
Obviously the answer to that ridiculous inquiry is yes, but it’s safe to say the search hasn’t gone quite as planned so far. After whiffing on his two top targets, where will Guerrero turn to find the next UCLA coach?
A number of names have been tossed around, including former Bruins assistants Lorenzo Romar and Mark Gottfried, but the list seems to be getting thinner and less impressive as the days pass by. After all, Howland has 10 NCAA Tourney teams on his resume, including three Final Fours while at UCLA. Is it really possible for Guerrero to find a more established coaching talent at this point?
The perks are there…always have been, always will be. UCLA boasts the most national championship banners, a great location and beautfiul campus centered in fertile recruiting grounds and a newly-renovated Pauley Pavilion. And yet, the Bruins have been hard-pressed to find a coach willing to step up to the plate in Westwood.
No one knows what Guerrero is up to right now, but you have to imagine he is working day and night to put UCLA basketball back on the map. Guerrero got lucky when Jim Mora fell into his lap during last year’s football search, but can we expect the same this time around? For his own sake, he better hope his next hire inspires some confidence in his abilities as AD. Otherwise, head basketball coach may not be the only vacancy in UCLA’s athletic department.