The majority of the national media still believes that the UCLA basketball program, along with the entire AD, is stuck in the past, but fans of the blue and gold know differently. Things have changed in the last decade and that is setting the foundation for UCLA to be a major threat in not just basketball, but all sports.
When you ask someone what they think about UCLA basketball, chances are they will bring up John Wooden, the 11 banners, Lew Alcindor, Bill Walton, Ed O’Bannon, Tyus Edney, and Ben Howland, just to name a few. It is a very storied program with a lot of tradition and a panoply of hardware.
There is no doubt that it is one of the blue bloods of all college sports. Unfortunately, that has not been the case in recent years (decades to some).
UCLA basketball won 10 championships under Wooden between 1964 and 1975, cementing him as one of the greatest basketball coaches and UCLA as the greatest program. In 1995, Jim Harrick added to that narrative, giving UCLA their 11th total basketball championship. But since then, there has been little to cheer about.
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Ben Howland brought excitement back to Westwood with three consecutive Final Fours, but his tenure floundered and was eventually replaced with a coach that was brought in to re-elevate the Bruins to national prominence. Unfortunately, he has also been terminated.
Steve Alford was brought in during a botched coaching search and as many expected, failed to live up to expectations. He was recently fired after it had been proven that he did not have what it takes to lead a Power 5 program, let alone the most storied program in history.
Because of this, the perception of UCLA basketball has not been a good one, especially since this blue blood has not won a national championship in over 20 years.
What makes that perception even worse is that the UCLA football team has paralleled the basketball program’s ineptness. Those Bruins have not won a national championship since 1954, have not won a Rose Bowl since 1985, and have not won a Pac-12 title since 1998.
The football program has had four coaches since that conference championship. Like basketball, the AD did not do everything they could to bring in elite coaches. Instead, they settled for Karl Dorrell and Rick Neuheisel who only continued to bury the program. Though Neuheisel was expected to turn things around, basing that assumption off of his success at Colorado and Washington, he failed to turn UCLA into anything significant. The same was expected of Jim Mora, who started off with a bang, but his tenure ended with a whimper and was terminated in December of 2017 after two losing seasons.
This has done nothing except tarnish the image of UCLA and its athletics department, especially with the perception that UCLA cannot hire top tier coaches or is willing to spend a lot of money. That might have been true in the past, but what the national media is not aware of (or cares to research) is that the UCLA AD, especially in the last decade, has done a lot to change that narrative.
This is not your granddad’s UCLA. This is an athletic department that was falling behind in the college sports arms race but has since stepped up their efforts to make the Bruins a national competitor across all sports, especially basketball and football.
The biggest complaint I have heard, especially in the last week with rumors that Kentucky’s John Calipari entertained the idea of taking over the basketball program, is that UCLA cannot offer coaches a competitive salary. Calipari makes over $7 million a year in Lexington and the media that is out of the know continues to spew falsehoods about what the athletic department can and cannot do.
Many have stated that UCLA cannot afford this type of contract. This is untrue. Not only can they afford it, but they have been able to afford an array of high-priced contracts and projects in the last several tears. Here are a few examples:
Costs of Major UCLA AD Projects of the Last Decade
- Wasserman Center – $55.5 million
- Mo Ostin Center – $31.9 million
- Pauley Pavilion Renovation – $136 million
Selected Gifts to the Athletic Department
- Wallis Annenberg Soccer Stadium gift -$5 million
- Mo Ostin Academic Center for Student-Athletes gift – $15 million
- In the last seven years, 28 gifts of $1 million+
- In the last seven years, received 9 of 11 largest gifts in UCLA history
Not only is UCLA spending an immense amount of money, but they are bringing in massive numbers from donors. And as for spending money on coaches, well it seems as if not a lot of critics have been paying attention to what the athletic department has done in the last few years.
When Jim Mora was bought out, it cost UCLA over $12 million to make him go away. Then they went after Chip Kelly, a bold move in and over itself, and gave him an estimated $23.3 million for 5 years. The same goes for basketball.
On December 31, 2018, the AD had enough of the underachieving from Steve Alford and bought him out at a cost of $3.6 million. Not as much as Mora, but the terms of their contracts differed. And that leads me to believe that when they look for the next basketball coach, they will not only throw Calipari-type money at the next head man, but they will offer all the amenities they request.
So yes, UCLA is spending a lot of money and a lot of that has to do with the support of donors, boosters, alumni, and fans. UCLA generates a lot of money on its own, but they would not be where they are at today if it was not for the fundraising efforts of the athletic department which is bringing in millions upon millions of dollars into the department every year.
While researching these numbers, a beautiful nugget of information dropped into my lap from the Wooden Athletic Fund Twitter account supporting all of this.
And there you have it. “UCLA Fans are COMMITTED”.
For a public institution like UCLA, it is a lot harder to galvanize the support of the base than it would be at a private school, but UCLA has excelled in this in the last decade, which is not only setting a strong foundation for the future, but it shows that one of the greatest institutions for academics and athletics is dedicated to staying on top.
It will take time for all of this to manifest into success, but let it be known that UCLA is on the rise. This is what the national media has to understand.