As the NCAA basketball season comes to a close with the Final Four, we should be analyzing the player and team matchups and celebrating the fact that they made it this far. Instead, with the opening of two high-profile college basketball coaching jobs at this juncture, there are unnecessary distractions hindering the tournament celebration.
On Thursday, UCLA announced the signing of former Pittsburgh coach Ben Howland to replace Steve Lavin as head coach of the Bruins. There had been so much speculation as to whom UCLA would sign in the weeks preceding the signing. With the advent of “college basketball analysts” like ESPN’s Jay Bilas and Andy Katz, it only took a few seconds after Lavin’s resignation before names like Larry Brown and Howland were tossed around as if they were unemployed.
Unfortunately, both Brown and Howland are currently employed and working in crunch time. Brown was, and is, coaching the ‘Sixers in a tight stretch that will determine playoff seeds in the Eastern Conference, and Howland was involved in getting his Pitt team through the Sweet Sixteen. The fact that these coaching rumors popped up at such a crucial point in the season for these two coaches is absolutely horrible.
These rumors put Brown and even more so Howland in precarious positions. A head coach is supposed to embody the team and to earn the trust of his players. While Howland should have been concentrating on the X’s and O’s of beating Marquette, he was instead deflecting questions about the UCLA job and reaffirming that he was staying at Pitt.
When Howland signed a seven-year contract with Pittsburgh last year, he certainly didn’t think John Wooden’s old job would be opening up anytime soon. He promised Brandin Knight, Julius Page and others that he’d be there for the long run, and he was well on his way to making former cellar dweller Pittsburgh into a top-flight Big East team.
Even though Howland did have intentions to sign for the UCLA job once Lavin was fired, there was no way he would divulge that information and thereby lose the trust of his players and staff during the postseason. Therefore, he was forced into a position to lie to the University of Pittsburgh that he was staying no matter what. And now Howland will obtain the notoriety of being a heartless, lying sell-out, when he should have been sent off on a much better note.
The same thing that happened with UCLA is now happening with the vacant North Carolina coaching position. After Matt Doherty resigned, once again a list of names of employed coaches arose. These have included Larry Brown again, and most notably current Kansas coach Roy Williams.
What we all see and hear is Williams deflecting questions regarding the Carolina coaching job in press conferences. What we don’t see is Williams having to reaffirm to his players and their parents, as well as the rest of his coaching staff that he is not leaving. This is the stuff that upsets me the most about this world of coaching speculation.
You can have some basketball analyst throw out names left and right about a coaching job without any evidence. Then, he can quickly disappear into the thick of air when these names start getting questions from freshmen and sophomores, whose college decisions were primarily based on buying into a coach’s philosophy.
This year, Williams faces a great deal of pressure as he tries to bring back an NCAA banner to Kansas. Williams is one of the best active coaches never to have won a title, and that is probably something that haunts him daily. In this most important week before facing Marquette in the national semifinals, he must now think of things other than the game.
What if Williams is interested in going to UNC and intends to coach there if offered the position? Because of the coaching rumors that say he will go there for sure, he may have to lie to the people that matter most, his Jayhawk players and staff, in order to assure them that he is staying. Then, if he does leave Kansas following the end of this season, he will be cast out as a traitor.
With the advent of basketball analysts, we now have people whose sole job is to compliment and criticize players and teams. These analysts however do not have the right to spew off random names regarding coaching jobs. Even in the case when they do have evidence, there should be something done to avoid mentioning coaches who are already employed. The criticisms of one insignificant analyst now echo much louder in locker rooms and phone conversations between players and coaches than any positive comments ever could.