3 worst head coach hires in UCLA basketball history

The UCLA basketball program is defined by one legendary head coach, but FanSided NCAA staff writer Josh Yourish ranks the three worst head coaches in Bruins history.
UCLA Bruins head coach Steve Alford
UCLA Bruins head coach Steve Alford / Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
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In the world of college football, Kalen DeBoer has an impossible task. He was ambitious enough to follow Nick Saban, the greatest coach in college football history, at Alabama. Well, that was exactly the task that fell at the feet of Gene Bartow in 1975, who took over the UCLA basketball program from John Wooden, after Wooden’s 10th and final national championship with the Bruins. 

Bartow only stayed two seasons, and after ending UCLA’s streak of 10-straight Final Fours, he left to start a basketball program at UAB. Then, Gary Cunningham grabbed the reins of the program, still very much in Wooden’s monstrous shadow. Cunningham was out of there after two seasons too. 

Neither Bartow nor Cunningham could hack it as the head coach of the most important program in college basketball, yet Bartow went 51-10 and Cunningham posted a record of 50-8. That’s how difficult the UCLA job is to hold on to. 

Despite their failures and quick exits, neither Bartow nor Cunningham are on this list of worst coaching hires. While they may not have continued the dominance, they kept the program afloat, unlike the three worst head coach hires in UCLA basketball history. 

Walt Hazzard. 3. player. . . Walt Hazzard. 1984-88. Record: 77-47. Walt Hazzard. 518

Walt Hazzard was an absolute legend on the basketball court for UCLA, but his tenure on the UCLA sidelines is one that Bruins fans would like to forget. Hazzard was coaching at Division II Chapman College when UCLA hired him to take over the program in 1984.

He was actually hired to be an assistant to Larry Farmer and instill more toughness in the program, but Farmer was unhappy that he wasn’t allowed to hire his own assistants and resigned. So, Hazzard went to his introductory press conference, not knowing what title he was going to hold. UCLA settled on Hazzard as the team’s head coach. 

It was a massive jump, from DII to one of the blue bloods in college basketball, but Hazzard was familiar with UCLA from his playing days and most importantly he inherited Reggie Miller from Farmer. So, the Bruins went 21-12 in Year 1 and Miller led them to an NIT championship, beating Steve Alford’s Indiana team. 

After a down year in 1985-86, UCLA bounced back to take the Pac-10 regular season title and tournament but was bounced from the NCAA Tournament in the second round. Then, inevitably, Reggie Miller left for the NBA and Hazzard’s program crumbled. UCLA went 16-14 and was knocked out of the first round of the conference tournament by Washington State. 

Hazzard, the UCLA legend, was the first coach to be fired in program history.