Ugly is the only way to describe it.
Not only was it ugly that UCLA suffered its biggest lost in Pauley Pavilion history, but there were so many other factors contributing to the ugliness.
It marks the worst start for a UCLA basketball team since 1946, which, coincidentally, is UCLA's last losing season. National television. The boos. Dan Guerrero's concerned expression. Ex-Bruin great Bill Walton watching his son playing for the team that did this to his beloved alma mater, sitting next to other stunned ex-Bruin players. Coaches blaming the players. The cheers for a basket being stronger when
John Wooden having to witness this in his lifetime.
And it made it even uglier that
We had said last week, after the
This is considerably uglier.
It is now to the point where the damage could be so deep it could do the program irreparable harm. The players could get so beaten down and their confidence so shattered, they might not be able to transition into a new coach and new system very easily. Personnel squabbling could get to the point that it might be difficult to play together in the future. If the program continues to suffer wounds like this, they very well could become deep scars, scars that leave permanent marks.
UCLA basketball is suffering deep image damage on a national scale right now. This entire episode has tarnished the UCLA basketball program nationally. Certainly it's going to tarnish the "UCLA" name in recruiting circles. It's the mere knowledge now that something this ugly could occur at UCLA. And you're going to see more and more of what Lute Olson did Saturday: relishing the chance to characterize the UCLA head basketball coaching position as something undesirable.
How much more damage can UCLA suffer?
While this was a crescendo of ugliness, it's easy to foresee more crescendos on the schedule, and more damage. UCLA travels to the Bay Area this weekend.
Now, there really isn't too much of a question on whether UCLA will have an unsuccessful season and whether it will set new marks in futility. But there is the element of: Do we really want the entire country all watching it? And do we want the spotlight permanently focused on how much uglier and how much more of a circus the Lavin situation could become?
Those who argue that an interim coach won't relieve any of the season's pain are not thinking it entirely through. It would take the media, including the national media, off the Lavin Death Watch. UCLA's lousy season and the status of its coach wouldn't be one of the major stories on ESPN, or splattered across newspapers all over the country. UCLA, if it continued to do poorly under an interim coach, would be able to finish out its lousy season in considerably more anonymity. This is good not only for UCLA's overall reputation, but also the impression taken by any potential coach that would be a candidate for the job. The uglier it gets in Westwood, you'd have to think that even the coaches who covet the job dearly might reach a point of relative shock. Because we're getting into an unprecedented realm of ugliness. Not even the waning days of Walt Hazzard compare. It would also turn the national media story from the negative "When is Lavin Done?" to the positive "Who Will be UCLA's Next Coach?"
Lavin leaving now would signify that the infection has been cut out and that it is now time to heal. There would be no more boos in Pauley. The UCLA football staff could actually not be afraid to bring its recruits to a home game. And I would bet that UCLA fans would probably show more support of the program by coming out to the game in bigger numbers. I think it's likely that UCLA fans would want to send a message that they support the move and support the players. They could root for the team, knowing that they were rooting for the players and not Lavin. The players could have an enormous weight lifted for the rest of the season. The microscope focused on Lavin's status would be removed. And psychologically they would know that it was time to move forward. As Guerrero said when he fired Bob Toledo and didn't allow him to coach the Las Vegas Bowl, he believed it was a time to move forward.
I respect Dan Guerrero for his intentions to let the season play out. It's what he had to do going into this season. And it was appropriate for him to reiterate recently that it was still his plan. But yesterday's defeat brought out a degree of ugliness that you might have been able to anticipate, but shuddered to think about. Guerrero is about honor, and doing the honorable and fair thing. That was the motivation behind allowing Lavin to have the full season. But Guerrero's honor would not be diminished by removing Lavin now. I don't think there's anyone in country, even other college basketball coaches, who would fault him for ending this now. And it's certainly the far more sympathetic thing to do for the players, and the fans.
And while you can recognize that UCLA is in a good negotiating position for Lavin's buyout, the ugliness is cutting so deep it more than likely could translate into deeper and longer term cuts into the program's revenue. Firing Lavin now very well could save UCLA money in the long run. If it maintains the terms of his buyout at the very least, it certainly isn't going to cost UCLA any more.
And that would be only the benefits if the team actually didn't improve under an interim coach. There is a chance, even a decent one, that this team could possibly turn it around. They have the talent to do it. Not turn it around to the point that they go to the Final Four, or even make the NCAA tournament. But what if they played better and won some games you might anticipate right now that they'd lose? If the players started playing better, finding a flow and a rhythm with each other, and established some positive things, it could only help them toward the future. It could only be a positive note for Jason Kapono and Ray Young to end their UCLA careers on. What if they could turn it around and pull out a winning record? If an assistant became interim coach, such as Jim Saia, there would be no worry about him winning the permanent job. And it would be a good thing for someone like Saia, who could use it as a stage to audition for other coaching positions. You would think that Lavin would want Saia, his longtime friend, to have the opportunity.
It all really comes down to this: The ultimate catalyst for making a mid-season move such as this is Lavin himself. It's irresponsible and incredibly selfish for Lavin to continue on because he doesn't want to look like a quitter. With the fate and well-being of so many other people weighing in the balance, people like the players that Lavin has said take priority, it's a very selfish act. If he's doing it so that it doesn't hurt his chances of being considered for another coaching job, as the ugliness continues to hit new crescendos, it will hurt his marketability more than help it. Any athletic director who would consider hiring Lavin for a head coaching job will be more put off by the trail of carnage that is left on the way to the end of the season than impressed by Lavin not being a quitter. And realistically, Lavin probably has a more promising future in broadcasting. Resigning early wouldn't hurt that future. In fact, just as with the impression continued ugliness could have on any athletic directors, it might damage Lavin's marketability as a broadcaster.
Could Dan Guerrero fire Lavin now? Of course. But Guerrero is doing the honorable thing by not doing it. It's now time that Lavin responded in kind and did the honorable thing himself.