There has been a lot of chatter, mostly from unknowing national media, that the UCLA basketball fan base has unreasonable expectations. Once and for all, they do not. Bruins fans just want their program to stay relevant.
The UCLA basketball program is one of the most storied in college hoops. It all started when John Wooden brought 10 national championships to the university between 1964 and 1975.
The winning ways continued in 1995 when Jim Harrick captured the school’s 11th national title. Two coaches later, the Bruins once again found success under Ben Howland who took them to three straight Final Fours.
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When an entity such as UCLA finds success, the goal is to sustain that success, yet many pundits that do not take the time to properly analyze the situation with the program make unwarranted and grandiose statements about what they believe is going on. The most fallacious is that UCLA basketball fans have unreasonable expectations about their program.
I am here to say that, NO, UCLA basketball fans do not have unreasonable expectations, they just want their beloved team to stay relevant the way most other powerhouses do.
It is unfortunate that UCLA is labeled in this way. You never hear this being said about programs like Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and so on. At elite schools like these, if they were to ever fall into mediocrity as UCLA has often done since 1975, the narrative would be “why can’t they sustain their success” rather than “their fans have unreasonable expectations”.
That way of thinking has been especially prevalent in the last five and a half season in Westwood, the time that former coach Steve Alford was in charge. Alford is not an elite coach and proved it on many occasions. His predecessor, Howland, had one national championship game appearance, three Final Fours, four Pac-12 regular season championships, and two Pac-12 Tournament Championships.
Alford had one Pac-12 Tournament Championship and never went past the Sweet 16. There is clearly a stark difference in the coaches. Yet those outside the program mocked UCLA’s fanbase who wanted Alford out (or chastised the athletic department for hiring him in the first place).
They claimed that the Bruin faithful can never be satisfied unless the program repeats what Wooden did and brings in championship after championship. This is false.
What UCLA basketball fans want is for the program to stay relevant and be competitive every year. Howland never captured a championship, but Bruin fans were happy that he brought them back to national prominence. Bruin fans were happy that they were dominating the Pac-12. The reason Bruin fans turned on Howland is that he turned on them, not because he was incapable of winning another banner.
Howland’s downfall was his hubris as he became too big for his britches. Howland had burned bridges in the SoCal recruiting scene, played favorites among his players, recruited head cases rather than hard workers and that all culminated with three underwhelming seasons before his last in Westwood. At that point, UCLA once again became irrelevant and that is what irked the fan base.
The ire of the Bruin faithful grew with Alford, who did nothing to raise the status of Bruin hoops outside of that one season with Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf. Again, if this happened at any other elite college basketball program, the narrative would be that they need to find a coach that keeps them elite, not that the fans expect too much.
It is not hard to win at UCLA, especially now. The program has a plethora of resources afforded to them, facilities that rival some of the best in the country, money that can lure in a great coach, and a ton of support from the fan base. So when outsiders talk about how expectations are too high and could potentially scare off coaching candidates, believe me when I say that they truly do not know the inner workings of UCLA, especially in 2019.
It is a different era of UCLA Athletics and the basketball team will once again be elite. If they can hire a coach like Chip Kelly for the football program, then you can bet they will hire a coach of elite magnitude for the basketball program. That is all Bruin basketball fans want.