Ben Howland bids farewell, fondly, to UCLA

Former UCLA Coach Ben Howland met with the media at Pauley Pavillion on Monday. Howland was fired Sunday, ending the longest tenure for a Bruins coach since John Wooden retired in 1975.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Ben Howland officially bid farewell to UCLA during a news conference at Pauley Pavilion on Monday, the day after he was fired as coach of the Bruins.

Howland, showing grace, character and some emotion, thanked many people, including UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, Athletic Director Dan Guerrero, and his wife and family. It was the closing act on his 10 seasons in Westwood, a tenure he called “a dream come true.”

“I’m excited about the next chapter and excited about coaching again,” Howland said. “I look forward to my next opportunity and wish all my UCLA family the very best.”


Several family members and friends of Howland attended the news conference. UCLA’s players, who are on spring break, did not attend, though Howland said he had spoken to some of them. Guerrero and Associate Athletic Director Mark Harlan also were absent.

Guerrero was moving forward in searching for a coach he hopes will fill renovated Pauley Pavilion.

Howland could attest to the pressure and expectations the new coach can expect.

“They’re going to get a great coach that will come in and replace me,” he said. “I just wish him the very best. I will always be proud and excited to be a part of this history and tradition here.”

Much of that tradition was built by the late John Wooden, whose teams won 10 NCAA championships in 12 seasons, the last in 1975.

Successors have had trouble living up to that record, but Howland predicted the new coach would come in with his eyes wide open.

“They are not going to hire a rookie,” he said. “He will be well-versed in that.”

Howland won more conference championships, four, and went to more Final Fours, three, than any UCLA coach besides Wooden. Yet satisfaction with Howland’s performance waned as the Bruins missed qualifying for the NCAA tournament twice in the last four seasons and were blown out by Minnesota in their opener this year.

“This is a historic place,” Howland said. “I had a relationship with John Wooden. I spoke at his memorial service. There are things that I will think about, that I have been a part of because I was the head coach at UCLA, that I will always cherish. I grew up loving this program as a kid.”

Howland also said there were elements to coaching a high-profile program that were “very complex.”

“Coach Wooden’s success here is unprecedented,” Howland said. “It’s a place that has such high expectations, and that’s understandable.”

Guerrero’s list of potential replacements is said to include Brad Stevens of Butler and Shaka Smart of Virginia Commonwealth. UCLA fans may have dreams of landing Louisville’s Rick Pitino, Florida’s Billy Donovan or Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, but that seems unlikely.

Meanwhile, Howland, 55, said he would coach again but offered no hints as to where.

There is, after all, an opening across town at USC.

Asked if he would be interested in that job, Howland said, “I’m just closing this chapter today, moving forward and looking at all the opportunities afforded to me.”

He sounded as if he had already surveyed the market. “There are not a lot of jobs this year,” Howland said. “There is a real lack of movement compared to other years.”

However, it takes only a couple to start a domino effect. For example, Minnesota on Monday fired Tubby Smith, whose Golden Gophers ousted UCLA from the NCAA tournament last week.

“It’s too early to say when I will coach again,” Howland said. “It could be next week. It could be next year.”

He can afford to wait. Howland received a $3.5-million buyout from UCLA. If he is hired elsewhere, his new salary will be deducted from that total.