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A Firestorm at UCLA

Harrick: From Title Banner to Pink Slip

November 07, 1996|From Associated Press

Jim Harrick was clearly a winner. For the most part, everything was wonderful in his eight years in Westwood.

Until now.

Harrick's firing Wednesday for an alleged NCAA recruiting violation and misstated expense report ended a run in which he had become UCLA's second-winningest coach with a 191-63 record.

Only John Wooden was better with his 620-147 mark in 27 legendary years, including 10 NCAA championships in a 12-year span. He retired in 1975, and his first five successors all had their difficulties.

Then came Harrick, who became the first UCLA coach to guide the Bruins to eight straight 20-plus win seasons and as many berths in the NCAA tournament. Only four other schools -- North Carolina, Arizona, Indiana and Arkansas -- have gone to the tournament more consecutive times.

Harrick was the only UCLA coach who followed Wooden to last longer than four seasons. He finally stepped out of Wooden's shadow when the Bruins won their 11th NCAA title in 1995 -- and first since Wooden's last championship 20 years earlier.

That title stopped the incessant comparisons of Harrick and Wooden, who have been close friends for 30 years. Wooden did not immediately return a telephone call Wednesday seeking comment.

The championship also ended much of the Harrick bashing that reached a crescendo when the Bruins lost to Tulsa in the first round of the tournament in 1994.

"I really had a honeymoon the first four years. There was not a negative word ever said," Harrick said during the 1995 NCAA tournament.

It helped that Harrick won consecutive Pacific-10 Conference championships in 1994 and '95 to go with his first conference title in '92.

Even when the Bruins again stumbled in the tournament last season, going out in the first round with a 43-41 loss to Princeton, the fans were in a forgiving mood.

That loss culminated a season in which the Bruins struggled to settle down after winning the national title the year before. Harrick had trouble reigning in some of the boisterous players, including Charles O'Bannon and then-freshman Jelani McCoy.

O'Bannon received three technical fouls during the season, and McCoy alternately preened and pouted as his performance went up and down. In addition, the Bruins were plagued by turnovers. At times, sheer talent alone got them through tight games.

Harrick received a jolt about a month before the end of last season. Assistant Lorenzo Romar announced he was leaving to take the head coaching job at Pepperdine.

As the chief UCLA recruiter, Romar was responsible for bringing in top talent, including the O'Bannon brothers, Tyus Edney and McCoy. Romar's departure prompted omm'A Givens to leave UCLA for Pepperdine.

Harrick leaves the responsibility for one of college basketball's most storied programs to 32-year-old Steve Lavin, who took over Romar's recruiting duties.

The biggest advantage to having Lavin step in is the players won't have to adjust to a new coach two weeks before the start of the season.

Lavin has been at UCLA for five seasons, although he was just starting his second season as a full-time assistant. Previously, he had been the restricted-earnings coach.

Under Lavin, UCLA led the Pac-10 the last two seasons in field-goal percentage defense and rebound margin.

Despite his youth, Lavin has worked for and studied under some of the nation's top coaches, including Bob Knight, Gene Keady, Mike Krzyzewski, Jerry Tarkanian and Pete Newell.

The Bruins' immediate future looks promising, with all five starters returning from a team that went 23-8 last year before losing to Princeton in the tournament.

UCLA is expected to be ranked among the country's top five teams when The Associated Press preseason poll is released next week.

No telling, however, what this development will do.

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