LOS ANGELES – In what turned out to be a last-chance season for Ben Howland at UCLA, he wasn’t able to stabilize the storied basketball program that had been roiled by problems on and off the court.
Another early round exit from the NCAA tournament hastened his firing after 10 seasons as Bruins coach.
Howland took the program to three Final Four appearances from 2006-08 and won four Pac-12 championships, including this season.
But the Bruins were bounced out of the NCAAs with an 83-63 loss to Minnesota in the second round last Friday, and athletic director Dan Guerrero summoned Howland to his office on Sunday to deliver the news that he was out.
“As I looked at the entire program and where I felt we were, especially headed into next year, I felt like now was the appropriate time to make the change and get a fresh start,” Guerrero said in an evening teleconference.
Howland had a 233-107 record as the longest-tenured coach in Westwood since John Wooden retired in 1975 after leading the Bruins to 10 NCAA championships in a 12-year span.
Howland, who turns 56 in May, was the eighth coach at UCLA since Wooden, with the school’s only national title since then coming in 1995 under Jim Harrick. He came to UCLA in April 2003 and rebuilt a program that had fallen on hard times under Steve Lavin.
Howland won 97 games during that three-year Final Four run, more than any other coach in school history. He embraced and reveled in UCLA’s history and tradition, and kept Wooden close to the program until the legendary coach died in 2010.
“I have been blessed with the opportunity to coach at UCLA for 10 years,” Howland said in a statement through the university. “The UCLA community and fans have been unbelievable to my family and I, and it’s been an honor and privilege to represent this great institution. I look forward to what comes next.”
Howland was under contract until 2017 with a buyout of $2.3 million. Guerrero said any payout is subject to reduction if Howland gets another job.
The Bruins rallied to win the Pac-12 regular-season title earlier this month and then lost to Oregon in the tournament title game playing without freshman Jordan Adams, who broke his foot in the semifinals. His absence hurt the Bruins in their loss to Minnesota.
“We had such a depleted roster,” Guerrero said, citing that as one of the reasons he fired Howland.
There was a distinct lack of buzz around the program this season despite the Bruins’ return to a newly renovated Pauley Pavilion, with only a handful of games selling out.
“I would certainly not lay all of that on Ben’s shoulders by any stretch of the imagination, but we need to generate as much fan support as possible and get people in the seats,” Guerrero said.
Known for his emphasis on defense, most of Howland’s teams played a grind-it-out style that was criticized until he changed to an up-tempo pace this season.
Guerrero declined to name any potential candidates for the job, saying that a wide net would be cast. He planned to talk to Howland’s assistants today.
“We’re going to try to bring someone here that will excite the fan base,” he said.