Q&A: Former USC coach Tim Floyd praises and defends UCLA’s Ben Howland


So, another Southland college basketball coach is taking heat.

Tim Floyd was here three years ago, when the former USC coach was accused of handing an envelope of cash to one of the hangers-on around star Trojans guard O.J. Mayo.

Floyd, angered that then-Athletic Director Mike Garrett wasn’t supportive with a roster weakened by the NBA departures of DeMar DeRozan, Taj Gibson and Daniel Gibson, resigned in June 2009 and has now moved on to Texas El Paso. The NCAA never found he had engaged in the alleged cash exchange.


Now, from a distance, he empathizes with the pressure thrust upon UCLA Coach Ben Howland, who last week was depicted in a Sports Illustrated story as having lost control of his Bruins (18-13) as they prepare for this week’s Pac-12 Conference tournament at Staples Center.

What were your thoughts on the way Howland was described in the story?

“He’s one of the three best coaches I’ve ever coached against [alongside Eddie Sutton and Boyd Grant] in my 25 years. We weren’t close. We were adversaries. We didn’t exchange Christmas cards. But I left [USC] with great respect for the man and felt he pushed me to be the best coach I could be. Look, nobody’s coached as long as I or Ben have without someone testing positive [for illegal drugs]. And everybody who’s been associated with the UCLA program, from team managers to players, has left there thinking they’d be either a great coach somewhere or an NBA player. So when those things don’t happen, it’s never their fault, it must be the coach’s, and, to me, that explains the unnamed sources in that story.”

UCLA isn’t itself, though. Why?

“There’s been a tremendous void of talent in Southern California over the period of their decline, particularly among backcourt players. There are no [Jordan] Farmars, [Russell] Westbrooks, [Darren] Collisons, [Jrue] Holidays or [Arron] Afflalos. Throw in that tremendous void in talent with the fact we’ve all made mistakes in recruiting character, and there it is. I would challenge anyone at UCLA or the UCLA faithful to find anyone better than Ben Howland. There’s no one better for that program.”

So you don’t think Ben’s lost control?

“That’s from unnamed sources. I can tell you I’ve never played against a more disciplined team. I just don’t buy that. And treating Reeves Nelson differently than others? I’m sure John Wooden treated Bill Walton different than Lynn Shackelford. I know I have done that. As far as Ben hanging in there with Reeves … it’s really easy to run guys off. It’s harder to stay with them and give them a chance. He was accused of staying with him too long. All he did was give all he could to a first-team, all-league player. All they need now is better guards and they’ll be up and running again. It’s no different than what North Carolina went through a few years ago. You just gotta hang in there and let the talent cycle change. And it will. I can tell you first-hand: I recruited against this guy [Howland] and didn’t like it. He’s terrific.”

What does it say that the Bruins swept the Washington schools this weekend while under this negative cloud?

“This is not a negative cloud as much as not being in the Final Four in the last few years, or not having the type of guards they want. But they will get them. They’re UCLA. They’ll be back. I’m telling you, these last three years have been the biggest void in backcourt talent perhaps in history. You’re seeing it throughout the conference. It’s why the Pac-12 is so down now. But it’ll turn, and the first place those guys will want to go is UCLA. None of those guys that Ben had — Westbrook, Afflalo, Collison — were top-50 players coming out of high school. But look how they were when they left. That’s what coaching is. And those were high-character guys, but when you can only call [recruits] once a week — once a month during their junior year — there’s only so much you can know about their character when they step foot on your campus.”

You’ve told me before you didn’t envy Ben because everyone thinks the next Kareem is going to be walking through the door?

“He’s one of only three coaches to take three straight teams to Final Fours. He’s worthy of that position. The only thing that’s changed for him is that he doesn’t have those same quality of players in the backcourt. People view UCLA with false expectations. So when it doesn’t happen like they think it should, the coach is the easiest target. But patience is a virtue here.”

So you’re telling the UCLA fans to give him another chance?

“You’ve got the right guy, yeah. It’s ridiculous that there’s even an evaluation going on. Every time I turned on the film trying to beat Ben, figuring out how to score and stop them was just so immensely difficult. They are the gold standard.”

I see you’re 14-16 at UTEP, with your Conference USA tournament starting this week. How’s it going there for you?

“We stink. They’re going to be evaluating me here pretty quick.”