The Lavin Issues

Many sources help piece together the issues of whether Steve Lavin's job as the head basketball coach at UCLA is on the line after this season...

Rumors and speculation are swirling about whether UCLA's performance in the NCAA tournament will have an impact on Steve Lavin continuing on as UCLA's head coach after this season.

Reports out of the Morgan Center are pretty scarce, especially from sources that are willing to go on the record. There are whispers that Lavin's job is in question, but there are other reports that insist the UCLA administration is committed to retaining Lavin, at least for another year.

A loss in the first or second round of the NCAA tournament and many believe that there would be enough pressure put on the UCLA administration to consider making a coaching change.

While Lavin himself insists that he has the support of the UCLA senior administration, there are reliable sources that indicate that isn't necessarily the case. Good sources say that, even though the prevailing opinion around the Morgan Center is that UCLA is reluctant to make a change at the end of this season, Lavin's job security is probably at its most tenuous since he's been the program's head coach.

If UCLA does lose in the first or second round of the tournament it would be definitively below expectation for this year's team, expectations that Lavin himself propagated. If that happened, it will be interesting to watch the reaction from the UCLA community, and the reaction from the UCLA Chancellor's office and senior administration.

Reports are clear that Lavin's fate as UCLA's coach does not rest with out-going, lame duck Athletic Director Pete Dalis, but with Chancellor Albert Carnesale and Vice Chancellor Pete Blackman. Dalis, as everyone knows, will step down as athletic director in June and the search process for finding his replacement is currently underway. The timing of that transition could be a factor in determining Lavin's fate at the end of this season. In fact, the uncertainty of the circumstances, and the fact that you wouldn't necessarily want a new athletic director's first concern to be to replace his head basketball coach has led many to believe the circumstances help Lavin in keeping his job. Another sentiment is that Carnesale and Blackman would have the role of dismissing Lavin, while the new athletic director could be the primary impetus for hiring a new coach.

There is also the issue of Lavin's proposed increased buyout clause of his contract, which is supposed to go in effect shortly. If Lavin were to be let go at the end of this season, it would, by the new buyout provisions, cost UCLA a total of $1.2 million over the next five years. But, as was discussed in a report last week about Lavin's new buyout, Lavin receiving salary from another coaching job would mitigate at least a portion of that buyout. Good sources believe that, if Lavin did leave UCLA this year, UCLA and Lavin would settle for a smaller, lump sum buyout. It would behoove Lavin since, if he did find another coaching job, he could potentially lose a large portion of that $1.2 million over the next five years. And it would essentially behoove UCLA, since Lavin could, theoretically, not get a coaching job over the next five years and cost UCLA the entire $1.2 million.

If there was considerable pressure put on UCLA after an early flame-out in the tournament and the UCLA administration was strongly considering a coaching change, there are many close to the situation that believe Lavin could very well resign his position at UCLA. As a coach, you never want to actually get the label of being "fired." There are also some sources that indicate Lavin feels he'd be a viable candidate for other vacant coaching positions around the country, and that resigning as UCLA's head coach would present him those opportunities. There have been some stories planted in various national news sources that name Lavin as a potential candidate for some vacant positions, including the head coaching position at DePaul, which was asserted by ESPN's Andy Katz. Also, reports are that some advisors close to Lavin have told him that he should strongly consider "keeping his options open."

Another source close to the situation believes there is a possibility that if UCLA decided it wanted to make a change it could opt to give Lavin another year to prove himself while forcing him to hire new assistant coaches.

If Lavin did return for next season, it would also be very interesting to observe his recruiting this spring and summer. After this season, when his coaching abilities were again questioned, Lavin is pretty certain to face a considerable battle on the recruiting trail. There will always be prospects that like UCLA, but it could prove to be a difficult situation for Lavin as he tries to fight off the negative recruiting of other programs.

No matter which side of the Lavin debate you're on, it's almost impossible not to recognize at this point that Lavin's presence as UCLA's head coach is an issue of conflict within the UCLA sports community, among fans, boosters and donors, as well as within the UCLA athletic department itself.

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