UCLA has relieved men's basketball coach Ben Howland of his duties effective immediately, the school announced Sunday night.
"I looked at entire program and where I felt we were especially headed into next year," UCLA athletics director Dan Guerrero said on a teleconference Sunday night. "I felt like now was an appropriate time to make a change and get a fresh start."
Guerrero said he made his decision on Sunday and that he met with Howland Sunday afternoon to inform him of his firing.
Howland's departure from UCLA appeared like an inevitability after 11th-seeded Minnesota beat sixth-seeded UCLA by 20 points late Friday night at the Erwin Center in Austin, Texas.
Howland did not return a voicemail and text message seeking comment. The terms of his contract will result in a $3.5 million buyout, Guerrero said ($2.3 million the first year, and $300,000 for the next four).
By the standards at most schools, Howland's on-court performance at UCLA was sterling. He reached three consecutive Final Fours between 2006 and 2008. He has more Final Four appearances than all of the other current Pac-12 coaches combined (one). He won at least 25 games in five of his 10 seasons. And UCLA is fresh off a Pac-12 regular season title this season.
Despite the success, his tenure has also been defined by significant challenges. Last season a Sports Illustrated story painted Howland in a negative light and raised questions about his relationship with players. Attendance at home games has been an issue, even at the renovated Pauley Pavilion and with a talent-rich roster.
Guerrero said he'd had a great relationship with Howland and enjoyed working with him, prompting him to give him an opportunity this season "to continue with the program and move it forward and try to get it on stable footing."
And though there were no specific benchmarks Howland had to meet this season to keep his job, Howland disappointed in a few key areas. In addition to not exciting the fan base, he also did not get his team past the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
The methodical offensive style has at times clashed with the persona of Hollywood, though the Bruins featured a more up-tempo pace this season. Former UCLA great Bill Walton even criticized Howland during a television broadcast this season.
"I know that Ben got a lot of knocks for style of play, but Ben Howland is a very good coach," Guerrero said, adding that he plans on hiring a coach who will play a "fun brand of basketball."
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SOURCE: USA Today