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Lavin Decides to Stick It Out

After a weekend of soul-searching, UCLA coach tells Guerrero he does not plan to resign.

January 14, 2003|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

Steve Lavin followed a weekend of soul-searching with a day of resolve. The beleaguered UCLA basketball coach told Athletic Director Dan Guerrero on Monday that he did not plan to resign and intended to lead the Bruins in home games against Arizona State on Thursday and Arizona on Saturday.

Lavin held a 90-minute team meeting before practice. Several players spoke and an attempt was made to repair internal rifts caused by the Bruins' 4-7 start. After a loss to St. John's on Saturday, Lavin discussed with relatives and friends the pros and cons of resigning. It was the team's fifth loss at home -- seven if two exhibition defeats are counted -- and Lavin and the players were subjected to intense booing and pointed barbs from the crowd.

Friends told Lavin that rather than endure another two months of criticism only to be fired at season's end, he could leave now and pursue a career as a television commentator. "Steve's bright, funny and has a tremendous knowledge of basketball," said Brian Medavoy, an entertainment agent representing several sports figures who have made the jump to television. "His potential [in television] is limitless."

Medavoy, a friend of Lavin, said he had not talked to the coach in recent days but planned to call him Monday.

Lavin was unavailable for comment and will hold his regularly scheduled news conference today. Lavin's contract is structured so that he would forfeit a $1.3-million buyout if he leaves voluntarily. He gets the money should he be fired. The buyout, which was implemented by Chancellor Albert Carnesale more than a year ago, is spread over six years and any income Lavin makes during that time would be subtracted from the buyout.

However, should Guerrero determine that an early departure by Lavin would benefit the program, the buyout could be renegotiated. Lavin's agent, Arn Tellem, could not be reached for comment. An attempt by Bob Toledo, the Bruin football coach fired a month ago, to renegotiate his buyout and get a lump sum was rejected by UCLA last week. It is unlikely the school would give two fired coaches lump-sum buyouts in the same year, and doing so for one and not the other could leave UCLA vulnerable to legal action.

Guerrero fired Toledo despite the football team's 7-5 record, leading many who follow the basketball program to conclude that Lavin is next on the chopping block unless the team does a miraculous about-face. Guerrero said Saturday he will not fire a coach during the season, leaving Lavin with the choice of gutting out two more months of scrutiny and criticism from fans and the media, or resigning in the immediate future.

It is unclear whether Guerrero would want Lavin to resign, a source close to the program said. On one hand, the rapidly deteriorating climate at Pauley Pavilion could improve should the coach depart and an interim coach be named.

On the other hand, the source added, speculation on Lavin's permanent replacement -- already a topic in the media -- could grow to the point that desirable candidates currently coaching teams might be eliminated because of the timing.

For now, though, Lavin appears to be digging in his heels and trying to convince the Bruins it is them against the world. The strategy has worked before.

Two years ago, amid reports that then-athletic director Pete Dalis was courting Rick Pitino to replace Lavin, UCLA followed a one-sided loss at California with one of the program's most memorable victories -- an upset over No. 1 Stanford at Maples Pavilion.

Whether this team is capable of a similar rousing performance that could temporarily rescue a coach under siege remains to be seen. But it appears for the moment that Lavin is giving it his best shot.

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