"This morning, Steve Lavin was released from his position as head basketball coach here at UCLA. We met for breakfast, basically went through the exercise officially. I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank Steve for the twelve years of service at UCLA. There were some significant achievements during his course of time as head coach here. This year has obviously been a very trying year and Steve got through it with great dignity. From a personal perspective, I certainly wanted to wish him the very best in the future.
Our situation here, and why we're here, obviously you've all chronicled it over the past several weeks, and in some respects, over the past several years. So rather than having me talk more, I'll open it up to questions."
It was really only a matter of time, wasn't it?
"Well, I indicated at the very beginning that I would evaluate the program over the course of the entire year, the entire body of work. I've been leaning toward this decision over the past several weeks. But the decision to allow Steve to coach the entire year is an issue that was raised earlier in the year, and one that I felt very strongly about. So ultimately it came to a point that I thought we needed to move forward."
Can you outline what you want out of the next coach?
"In the press release we indicated that we'd like to see UCLA basketball rise to the level of the nation's elite. We'd like to hire a coach that can get us to that point. And what that means in a general sense is a program that offers a level of consistency, that gives us the best opportunity to get to the Final Four, and hopefully give you the opportunity to compete for a national championship. In order for that to occur, you need to have consistency throughout the year. That means in our non-conference schedule, we're firing out on all cylinders, beating some teams early that you have to beat, you need to finish at the top of your conference so you can put yourself in a position to get a high seed in the post-season tournament. And when you're playing in the Pac-10 conference tournament, obviously to do well there and get momentum for the NCAA tournament. The numbers will show that those that have had higher seeds have a best opportunity to advance in the tournament. That's pretty much what we're looking for."
Are you prepared to pay the amount of money that would be required to get a coach of that caliber?
"I don't know what that amount of money is. What I would say is, we're going to look at a number of candidates, and we're going to negotiate with that individual we feel we can get us to that level."
Will the experience of going through the football search have an affect on this one?
'I've hired a lot of coaches over the years. Certainly this is a much higher-profile search. During the course of the last several weeks, there have been quite a lot of direct phone calls to my office, e-mails, faxes, and things of that nature from individuals that were anticipating a decision would be made. Obviously, our response has been, the cards close to the vest, and that we have a coach we're hoping will succeed. So, obviously there's interest out there. Now it's my responsibility to go forward, and ascertain the level of interest from those candidates that we feel might make an impact."
What kind of time frame is there for hiring the new coach?
"It's quite possible that we won't have a person named until after the Final Four. There may be some candidates that are in the tournament, and we would have to go through the proper protocol to contact them."
Would you initiate that contact while a coach was still in the tournament?
Will the procedure be similar to the football search, where you brought in candidates to interview with the Chancellor, or will it be a different procedure?
"It could be a different procedure. The thing that will remain the same is, I would like the Chancellor to meet any candidate. I think it's appropriate that that happens. This is a high-level hire for us. And he needs to have the confidence in me that the right person is selected."
Do you have the names of the coaches you're considering?
"We are against publicly disclosing the candidates. You all do a very good job of flushing those kind of things out. I anticipate that you'll do that again."
Was there a final straw with Lavin? Or was he gone before the season started?
"No, there wasn't a final straw. And I did not come into this scenario with any pre-conceived notion other than how I wanted our team to play, which was firing out every night, being tough-minded, playing hard and obviously succeeding, to the best of our abilities. While we had a good run late in the year, it kind of reflected a pattern. Our teams really peaked late. When I talk about the kind of consistency we need to be able to reach the level that we'd like, that was not consistent."
What were Lavin's shortcomings that led to his dismissal?
"It's not really important to reveal shortcomings or things of that nature. I had to come to a decision where I had to replace him as a coach. Frankly, Steve and I have had a very good relationship during the course of this year. Another time, another situation, a different environment, maybe things might have been different. But where we are now dictated that I had to make this decision. And now just looking forward to who we might be able to bring in."
How did you react to some of things Lavin said during the last several weeks, like listing names of potential succesors?
"This has been a very trying year for everyone involved in UCLA basketball, including Steve and the players. There are a number of ways to deal with that kind of stress. Some people might become bitter. Some people might point fingers. Some people may try to turn the team against the university. Steve never did that. Steve's way of dealing with the situation was to be forthright, be accessible, in a lot of ways to be humorous. Sometimes in his attempt to be humorous, people misinterpreted that as a shot at the university, or taking a shot at the athletic director. I never saw that. Sifting through everything, what he always said is that this is a great institution and he loved the experience he's had here."
What was the tone of your meeting with him today?
"The tone was very good. I think Steve is in a good place, as good a place as you can be when you're losing your job. But we've always communicated and had a good relationship, and talked a lot during the course of this year. Always trying to find ways to make situations better. I think the fact that Steve's attitude has been so positive as we've gone through this has really helped this situation where were are now."
During the course of the season, did you give him an indication that a change would be made?
"Never. We never talked about anything but trying to keep the guys positive. Seeing if there were ways he might be able to try something different to make the team more successful. He was always focused on the here and now, the next opponent. I think Steve was well aware of the type of program that we'd like to see here, and unfortunately this was a kind of year that didn't allow for those kind of things to occur."
If there are candidates that aren't associated with a team in the tournament, will interviews go ahead with them?
"It's possible that we may have contact with some candidates that are not in the tournament."
Do you anticipate that you'll be consulting with Coach Wooden at all?
"Yes, I do. I have talked to Coach Wooden. We didn't talk much about the situation. We talked mostly about baseball. One thing that is very important to me, though, is hearing stories, such as Coach teaching his student athletes how to put their socks on. People say, 'Why would he do that?' It wasn't just about how to put on your socks so you don't get blisters, it was about paying attention to detail, the little things that make a big difference. It's making a good program very good, and a very good program outstanding, and an outstanding program great. Attention to detail. I want a coach that understands it. I don't even like to see us lose a jump ball. That's the kind of attention to detail I think is important. Because that one possession can get you a win."
Are you going to rely on advisers like you did with the football coaching search?
"I will consult with a number of people close to UCLA basketball."
Can you describe the results you'd like to see from the next coach?
"It always starts with integrity, first and foremost, that's what we're looking for in a program. In a general sense, we're talking about someone who has the kind of experience that can build and develop, that can compete at a high level nationally, that understands the kind of environment, the restraints from an academic standpoint, to recruit the type of student-athlete that will be successful both off the court and on."
Because you and Steve have such a good relationship, did that make it easier on you this morning?
"Very much so. It was, for lack of a better term, surreal. We had a very pleasant conversation. We had breakfast. We talked about a number of things outside of this particular scenario and how it would play out. I would not be surprised if we have a lot more of those kinds of conversations."
Was it almost a sigh of relief?
"It's never easy to do this. It's the very difficult job on the part of an athletic director. But I love this unversity. And I thought we had to make that decision to be able to make the basketball program the kind we all would like to see. And Steve understood that. He talked about fresh starts. He understood the nature of this business and why I had to make this decision. Obviously he's very fond of this place, fond of the kids, and believes that we have a chance to be really good in the future."
How much did the waning attendance and the overall feeling around the program weigh into your decision?
"That's a by-product, really of what transpired in terms of consistency, or lack thereof, and the effort we put out this year. Frankly, we were not a real solid team, early in the year. UCLA fans I know want to see consistently strong effort, more than anything else."
Is there anything pathological about UCLA basketball fans?
"They're very passionate."
There are many NBA names floating around. Is there any reason why someone with less of a recent college record not be as desirable?
"I'm not going to exclude anyone from the possibility of having a conversation that's relative to this position. One doesn't know until they get a chance to meet with an individual and talk to them, whether with that kind of experience they're the right fit. There are many individuals that have been in the NBA that have college experience."
How surreal has the last month been, with a coach nearly firing himself at every press conference?
"It certainly has been different. I've never experienced anything like that. As I indicated earlier, I truly believe there was never any malice on Steve's part. I think it was his way of coping."
Is this now a special opportunity, to bring in a new coach?
"It's an important opportunity. I wouldn't say special, at the expense of an individual. But it's important, and I look forward to the process."
You must have a list of coaches, obviously. Is there one that you have particularly in mind?
"I don't have a list of coaches yet. I certainly know a lot of coaches that are interested, and I'll put that list together very quickly."
How important is personality, to being able to handle the media market that you're in?
"That plays into it a little bit. But we need to hire the best coach. That's the most important thing, above all. I'm not looking for someone to be a media darling. If that happens and it's a positive for us, that's great."
Is age, hiring someone who will be here an X amount of years, a factor?
"Not necessarily. What I want to do is hire someone who will take whatever foundation is built here and improve that in the right way. So age doesn't matter."
How important are west coast ties?
"It's an asset but it's not going to be that significant."
You interviewed Ben Howland at Irvine. How much will that experience affect your decision?
"You go through a number of experiences. I've hired a number of coaches. One particular search doesn[
How hard is it to determine if a candidate is legitimately interested in the job?
"Sometimes you just never know. Some people might be genuine interested. Some may want to find out if working at this unversity or working with Dan Guerrero is the right fit for them. And others, as you indicated, may just want to throw their name in the hat to leverage their situation at other institutions. That may be the case. I don't know. But if you have an interest in someone you have to pursue it. If there's a mutuality of interest there, you might have something."
Does a sponsor deal for the coach or your affiliation with Adidas make a difference?
"Not at all."
Many say that expectations here are so high, that if you don't win a national championship fans aren't happy with the coach. What are realistic expectations?
"I don't think that's the case. There are some individuals that believe the Wooden era can be replicated. The reality is, it's not likely in our lifetime that we'll ever see that. But what is likely is that we'll see the things that made those teams successful. I think that's what our fans would like to see. A disciplined program. Fundamentally sound. Finding ways to win. Great representatives of the university. That's what's important."
Was the attention to detail something you think was one of Steve's problems?
"I think attention to detail is important for the next coach."