(CBSLA/CBS Local) — The UCLA Bruins fired head basketball coach Steve Alford just prior to the new year after the team went on a four-game losing streak in late December. Assistant coach Murry Bartow was named the interim for the rest of the season, while the search for the next coach begins in earnest. UCLA is, of course, one of the highest-profile jobs in the sport, and with that comes high expectations.
However, as fans and media alike banter about who the Bruins should target for the position, CBS Sports insider Jon Rothstein isn’t sure that the school will be able to lure a top candidate from a power conference. The main reason? Standards for success have gotten a bit out of whack in Westwood.
“This is one thing that I want to point out, and I want to be very clear when I say this. I don’t see any reason whatsoever why a head coach in a power conference that has a good situation, would leave to be the next head coach at UCLA. It doesn’t make any sense,” said Rothstein in a phone interview on Wednesday.
“Look at the history. Two of the last three coaches, Steve Lavin and Steve Alford, went to multiple Sweet 16s in their tenure. They weren’t retained. Then, you look at the other coach in Ben Howland, who not only went to three consecutive Final Fours from 2006-08, but he also won the Pac-12 his last year there. He beat Arizona three times in the same season.”
Despite those successes, all three coaches were let go. For Rothstein, that fact, combined with the state of the Pac-12, makes it difficult to see any of the top coaches that might normally be targets in a UCLA coaching search taking the job.
“The truth of the matter is, you’re going to a league right now that is on a downward trajectory,” said Rothstein. “You don’t charter. There is no guarantee for private planes for recruiting. Why would [you] be in a situation where you would take that job?”
Now, that all being said, there are still plenty of coaches who would be willing to take on the challenge of building the next great team in Westwood. Rothstein has a couple of guys he sees as potential options.
“One is Eric Musselman at Nevada and the other is Fred Hoiberg, the previous coach of the Bulls and Iowa State. Those two guys are people who made their bones in college by taking transfers.”
Rothstein mentions that last point for a reason. The UCLA program has been seen over the years as one that doesn’t take transfers. However, as he rightly points out, they have taken several that turned into key contributors on their teams in the last 10 years. David and Travis Wear, Larry Drew, and Lazeric Jones all transferred into the program at different points and were big parts of strong Bruins teams. If those guys don’t tickle your fancy, there are two others who he says come to mind when looking at the opening in Westwood.
“Kelvin Sampson at Houston. He would understand all that comes with replacing John Wooden. He is somebody that has always had a reverence for the game,” said Rothstein. “Somebody else who has done an unbelievable job is Buzz Williams. He has taken one of the worst programs in the ACC in Virginia Tech and made it into a Top-10 team. He understood what it was like to coach at a basketball-rich program when he was at Marquette.”
As the coaching search plays out over the next several months, we’ll see which, if any, of these guys will be targeted. Whoever it may be, Rothstein’s main point still looms large. It’s going to be hard to lure a top-flight coach to a program that has found itself with outsize expectations due to its history.