Lavin Ponders Resignation

Times Staff Writer

Embattled UCLA basketball Coach Steve Lavin has had discussions with confidantes about resigning before the Bruins play another game, sources close to the program said Sunday.

Rather than continue to endure the criticism of fans and the lifeless play of his 4-7 team, Lavin believes it might be best to leave voluntarily before Athletic Director Dan Guerrero has a chance to dismiss him.

The Bruins' next game is Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion against Arizona State.

After the Bruins' 85-70 loss to St. John's on Saturday, Guerrero said he would not fire Lavin during the season. However, everyone from players to fans to Lavin himself realizes a change is probable once the season finale is played.

Responding to questions Saturday, Lavin said he has no plans to resign. But his friends believe he has decided that departing at this time would be best for him and the team.

Lavin did not return calls on Sunday.

By resigning, Lavin would beat Guerrero to the punch. Before taking any action, Lavin or his agent, Arn Tellem, would meet with Guerrero in an attempt to modify the buyout terms of Lavin's contract, which currently stipulates that any income he makes after leaving UCLA would be subtracted from his $1.3-million buyout.

The buyout is structured the same as that of Bob Toledo, the Bruin football coach fired in December. Lavin would get his salary of $578,000 next season and about $150,000 the following five years.

In exchange for bowing out now, he would negotiate to get as much as possible in a lump sum.

Lavin's advisors, sources said, have assured him that he would probably be able to work as a television commentator before the end of the season.

The normally buoyant Lavin told his three assistants before UCLA played USC on Wednesday that he was pessimistic about the Bruins' chances and that players were no longer responding to his leadership.

A source who spoke to Lavin on Saturday said he has never seen the coach so dispirited. Lavin, the source said, believes his loyalty toward inconsistent veteran players Jason Kapono, T.J. Cummings and Ray Young has angered the freshmen and sophomores.

Sophomore forward Dijon Thompson and sophomore guard Cedric Bozeman, in particular, have privately voiced frustration that Lavin seems more concerned with keeping the peace than with laying down the law and insisting on a team effort.

UCLA has lost five of seven home games and may not make the NCAA tournament for the first time in 14 seasons. The Bruins could end up with their first losing record since 1947-48.

Lavin, who is in his seventh season, is one of the nation's most successful coaches. He led the Bruins to five Sweet Sixteen appearances in his first six seasons and has a record of 139-66.

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