Conventional wisdom has it that UCLA men's basketball coach Ben Howland got fired this week because his teams haven't been winning enough games the past few seasons. While that's part of the reason, the bigger reasons surfaced in a Sports Illustrated article published on March 5, 2012 about the disturbing and gradual derailment of the program.
The article reveals characteristics of Howland that sound odd and curious and seem to suggest deeper issues. Consider this: He had a player on his team a few years ago, Reeves Nelson, who was consistently injuring his teammates in practice, bullying them, berating them, even causing one of them to transfer. He psychologically tormented his teammates by intimidating them.
What's more, the player belittled members of the team staff. He was a talented player, one of the key starters, and Howland allowed this to continue, according to the article. Virtually all college basketball coaches would stop their players from injuring others on a consistent basis. It's common sense and also beneficial to the team to have more players healthy. What was Howland thinking by allowing this to occur repeatedly? This alone is reason to seriously question whether he should be coaching any college basketball program no matter what his credentials.
Howland wouldn't show up for practice until just before things got started and left early while players took foul shooting practice. Seems strange. He was gone. Obviously he didn't want to spend any extra time with them. Maybe he just didn't like being around them and, if that was the case, maybe he shouldn't be coaching college basketball players.
It seems a normal college coach would like to arrive early and talk to his players, get to know them better, and then help them improve their foul shooting. These are just normal things most coaches would do. What was Howland doing? Didn't he realize this would send a message to his players that he didn't want to be around them any more than he had to be? It's just common sense. Yet Howland was apparently not thinking this through or, if he was, making decisions detrimental to his program and job security.
And then there's this: Howland would rarely take serious action at any misbehavior involving his team. Only one thing really got to him: When a player questioned his coaching ability and knowledge. Supposedly, you could do a lot of things in his program but you could not question how smart a basketball mind he has. This was evidently of paramount importance to him. Sounds a bit egomaniacal and myopic in thought processes. A good coach is open to criticism and ideas from others. Good leaders respect the views of those who work for them. Evidently, Howland thought he was the basketball Encyclopedia Britannica.
What was going on with Ben Howland? Was he frustrated that going to three straight Final Fours wasn't enough for UCLA fans who enjoyed hanging seven national championship banners under former coach John Wooden? Was he just too tired to discipline his players who, in addition to fighting, were regularly partying to excess including during the season, according to the article? Was he having some issues in his personal life? That's none of our business but it makes you wonder. He evidently treated his team managers and assistant coaches with disrespect and condescension. Why was he doing this? Was the pressure of coaching college basketball just too much for him to handle emotionally? What was going through his mind while all this was happening, the unraveling of his basketball program?
I don't know the man so can't speak to his emotional or psychological state or family life. But I do know this: The reason he got fired was not only about a declining won/loss record and not living up to the John Wooden national championship standard. He was behaving in a puzzling and disturbing way for a college basketball coach. So many of them are Type A control freaks who are hypercompetitive and paranoid about losing their jobs. They yell at their players so they can keep their jobs and make lots of money. But what Howland was doing--or more precisely not doing--was off the charts, downright strange.
Maybe he wanted to get fired, didn't want the hassle and pressure on his plate anymore. And this was his way of ensuring that would happen.