With their pending hires, UCLA and USC will join traditional lower-division Pac-12 program Washington State with the most permanent basketball coaches since the conference became the Pac-10 in 1978.
They will each have hired eight different permanent coaches, double the amount of Arizona, which was bolstered by Lute Olson’s 24 years as head coach.
Former UCLA great Bill Walton said last night during ESPN’s broadcast of the Mercer-BYU NIT game that the Trojans and Bruins are the flagship programs of the conference. The Pac-12 is actually better off not following their practice of hiring and firing coaches.
The Bruins have fired their last four coaches, including Ben Howland on Sunday after his 10-year run. USC has fired three of its last four coaches, including former UA assistant and interim head coach Kevin O’Neill on Jan. 14. The one USC coach who was not fired in that span — Tim Floyd — resigned under pressure in 2009 amid alleged NCAA violations.
While the USC and UCLA coaching carousel continues to spin, Stanford is holding on — for now — to Johnny Dawkins, who has not taken the Cardinal to the NCAA tournament in his five years at Palo Alto. Stanford remains the only program since the Pac-10 formed in 1978 to not fire a basketball coach, although the Cardinal forced Dick DiBiaso to resign in 1981.
All of the other original Pac-10 teams — Colorado and Utah excluded — have fired at least one coach in the last 35 years.
A total of 60 coaches have coached permanently in the Pac-10/12. Arizona has the least amount with four (6.7 percent). It appears that Sean Miller, who will lead the Wildcats against Ohio State in the Sweet 16 on Thursday, will be in Tucson for as long as he desires.
With each passing year, it seems Miller is becoming more acclimated to coaching and recruiting in the West after coaching primarily east of the Mississippi before he and his family moved to Tucson in 2009. Moreover, Arizona is now one of the most attractive jobs in college basketball, thanks to the four Final Fours and national championship achieved under Olson.
Other less-established Pac-12 programs have lost coaches to other programs. The total is 10 since 1978 and includes Tony Bennett, who left Washington State in 2009 to coach at Virginia.
The Cougars have lost four coaches who made Pullman a temporary stop. The list includes George Raveling to Iowa in 1983 and Kelvin Sampson to Oklahoma in 1994. Len Stevens, who was 48-67 at Washington State from 1983-87, bolted for Nevada in 1987 before he could be fired.
Stanford has lost three coaches who were looking for greener pastures. Tom Davis left the Cardinal for Iowa in 1986 to replace Raveling, who moved back to the Pac-10 as head coach at USC. Mike Montgomery left to the NBA’s Golden State Warriors in 2004. Trent Johnson packed his bags for LSU in 2008.
Montgomery and Larry Brown left the conference for the NBA. After only two years in Westwood, one in which he coached the Bruins to the NCAA title game, Brown departed for the New Jersey Nets in 1981.
Howland’s 10 years at UCLA was out of the ordinary for the program since 1978. Including Howland, UCLA averages a coach every five years. Before his hire in 2003, the Bruins averaged a coach every 4.2 years. During Olson’s tenure at Arizona, five different coaches led the Bruins — Larry Farmer, Walt Hazzard, Jim Harrick, Steve Lavin and Howland.
That is not encouraging for a program that was built by John Wooden, who in his 27 years at Westwood coached UCLA to 10 national titles before retiring in 1975.
The Bruins won a national championship under Harrick in 1995 and went to three Final Fours with Howland, but the program will never be as dominant as during the Wooden years. Howland is the latest coach to become victimized by Wooden’s shadow. A coach that wins a regular-season conference title and leads a team to 25 victories — such as Howland did this season — is usually not on the firing block.
Miller is trying to carve his own niche with the Arizona program after becoming Olson’s permanent replacement in 2009. Two interim staffs before Miller’s hire helped decrease the expectations, but Miller and his staff realized the pressure to succeed in Tucson this season after drawing criticism from some fans despite a 20-2 start.
Olson is one of five coaches in the Pac-10/12 era who has retired. Two of them did not leave legacies at their schools because of brief stays — Raveling at USC (1986-94) and Dick Bennett at Washington State (2003-06).
Washington has achieved moderate success under Lorenzo Romar after three coaches — Andy Russo, Lynn Nance and Bob Bender — were fired following Marv Harshman’s retirement in 1985.
Oregon State longs for the years of Ralph Miller and his star players A.C. Green and Gary Payton. After Miller retired in 1989, the Beavers have floundered under Jim Anderson, Eddie Payne, Ritchie McKay, Jay John and current coach Craig Robinson.
McKay left for the opening at New Mexico in 2002. Anderson (a long-time Ralph Miller assistant), Payne and John (a former UA staffer) were all let go.
A total of 24 coaches have been fired and nine resigned under pressure since the Pac-10 formed in 1978. That’s 53.3 percent of the coaches in the last 35 years. More than half of the conference’s coaches were deemed failures when they left.
Only two coaches — USC’s Bob Boyd and UCLA’s Gary Cunningham — resigned despite having the opportunity to continue coaching their respective programs.
Boyd, who recruited Paul Westphal and Gus Williams to USC, needed time off after coaching his alma mater to a 216-131 record from 1966-79. Cunningham resigned in 1979 at age 39 after amassing a 50-8 record two years at UCLA. He cited that he wanted to go into sports administration and spend more time with his family.
Although Boyd and Cunningham left abruptly, their stories are enviable to the long list of coaches who were fired by the Trojans and Bruins.
Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner