"This is UCLA. The expectations are higher here than anywhere,"… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
Ben Howland’s exit interview Tuesday wasn’t a literal farewell, though some might have thought the UCLA basketball coach was on his way out after a volatile season.
In fact, just hours before Howland met with reporters for his final session of the 2011-12 season, UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero released a statement indicating that Howland would be the team’s coach next season, his 10th at UCLA.
Howland began his news conference by reading a prepared statement, something he said he didn't usually do but that he wanted to do in this case because "I'd just like to make sure I'm clear on my message and not let my emotions get in the way."
The statement began:
"This past season has been the most challenging of my 31 years as a college basketball coach. I have endured seasons with fewer wins, but none with more disappointment. The unfavorable light that is cast upon our program is my responsibility as the UCLA head coach. But we will get better, and I will get better."
He reiterated that he loved UCLA and that he'd work hard to improve.
He then answered 20 questions during a session that lasted almost exactly 20 minutes.
When asked if he ever thought his job was in jeopardy, Howland deferred and instead said: "I always think I put more pressure on myself than I feel from anywhere else."
He didn't get into the specifics of how he would improve as a coach, but he did say he's thinking about possibly allowing reporters to view at least part of one practice per week next season. Currently, UCLA's practices are closed to the media.
Howland said he wasn't surprised that the Bruins were not invited to the NIT and that he believes Stanford was selected ahead of UCLA because the Cardinal had a better Rating Percentage Index
According to CBSSports.com, UCLA finished with an RPI of 127 while Stanford's was 97.
Howland said he plans to set specific guidelines for sophomore center Joshua Smith during the off-season so that Smith, who has struggled with his weight and conditioning, can return to UCLA in better shape next season. As of now, Howland said he expects Smith to stay in Los Angeles this summer; last year, Smith returned home to Washington.
Howland said junior forward Brendan Lane plans to transfer after he graduates from UCLA this spring. He said Lane would like to pursue a master's degree at a mid-major school and play his final season there.
Lane averaged 1.6 points and 1.6 rebounds in an average of 6.6 minutes for UCLA this season.
"It was difficult," Lane said, "but I understood. We have five guys playing two positions, so it’s tough for everyone. We all fought really hard for playing time. It is what it is."
Lane said he hasn't picked a new school to attend yet.
Lastly, when asked about the level of dissatisfaction at UCLA's performance this season and the off-the-floor issues, many of which were raised in a Sports Illustrated article that portrayed the program as being out of control under Howland’s watch, Howland reiterated that expectations at UCLA are simply high.
"This is UCLA," he said. "The expectations are higher here than anywhere. The amount of success both in terms of championships and wins as well as success off the floor has been second to none in college basketball. I knew that when I took this job. I know the expectation level and no one has higher expectations than I do. And it’s been very disappointing for me.
"I’ve been very, very disappointed. You’re talking about two of the last four years, we're one game out of first place going into the last weekend with a chance to win the conference or have a share and to not get that done -- but that’s not good enough. This is UCLA."