UCLA Coach Ben Howland instructs his team in a game against Arizona. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
the great unknown -- approaches quickly.
UCLA's basketball coach has a contract that runs through 2015 but has received no indication from his bosses about what his team must accomplish for him to stay on the job.
Is reaching a regional enough? To get to the Sweet 16, the Bruins would have to beat Minnesota on Friday in Austin, Texas, and then probably an old nemesis, 14th-ranked Florida, on Sunday.
There's also a chance that job security lies even further down the road to the Final Four.
The Bruins (25-9) won the Pac-12 Conference regular-season championship and reached the conference tournament final before losing to Oregon without injured Jordan Adams, their second-leading scorer. Those are signposts along what has been a good season, but Howland either doesn't know or isn't acknowledging what and whose expectations the Bruins must meet.
Asked Sunday how important it was to the program for UCLA to perform well in this year's NCAA tournament, Howland said, "I think you should contact Dan."
Asked how important the tournament was for him, he said, "Contact Dan. I am not going to make any comment."
Dan is Dan Guerrero, UCLA's athletic director, and attempts to contact him Monday were unsuccessful.
A request to speak with Guerrero through athletic program spokesman Nick Ammazzalorso prompted this email reply: "His schedule is very tight with the shortened week before we head to Austin."
Guerrero has publicly offered only brief comment on Howland's job security. In February, he declined to discuss the situation in detail because he said there was "a lot of season left to play." However, he did say that with the nation's No. 2 recruiting class, "there were high expectations when the season began. Those expectations remain high. The coaches know that, the assistant coaches know that and the players know that."
If actions speak as words, consider this: When UCLA beat Washington in January, Associate Athletic Director Mark Harlan greeted Howland with a hug and a pat on the back following the postgame news conference. That was the last public display of approval toward Howland by a senior athletic department official.
Guerrero was absent from the postgame celebration after UCLA beat Washington in Seattle on March 9 to clinch at least a share of the Pac-12 title, even though he had sat behind the Bruins' bench the whole game.
Guerrero and Harlan were in UCLA's locker room after the Bruins' games against Arizona and Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament.
Buying out the rest of Howland's contract would cost $2.3 million -- one season's salary.
Winning a couple of NCAA tournament games would surely help Howland's chances of staying -- especially if one of the victories came against Florida, which defeated UCLA and Howland in the 2006 national championship game and, a year later, bounced the Bruins in a national semifinal. The Gators also beat the Bruins in a 2011 second-round game.
Or, it could be that a decision has already been made that 10 seasons are enough.
Howland has 401 wins as a college coach and a record of 233-106 at UCLA. His Bruins teams have won four conference titles and gone to three Final Fours -- more than under any UCLA coach not named John Wooden.
The flip side: The Bruins did not qualify for the NCAA tournament in two of the three seasons before this one.
And winning is only part of the equation at UCLA.
The university needs renovated Pauley Pavilion to be a revenue producer, and the basketball team drew only five crowds of more than 10,000 this season despite a marquee freshman recruiting class and the Bruins' success playing an up-tempo style.
New season-ticket sales or upgrades are especially important because those purchases require a donation to the Wooden Athletic Fund -- starting at $100 for locations near the rafters, to $17,000 for courtside seats.
The root of sagging ticket sales can be debated, but it won't be by Howland, who has other things to worry about.
Asked for his reaction to various reports that he might not return next season, the coach replied, "Is this a new question?"
He added, "As I have said before, I'm just focused on coaching my team, focused on trying to help them be the very best they can be. I can't respond to reports like that."
We'll see if his now-short-handed team does.