Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Ben Howland Is out There, Waiting

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Ben Howland Is out There, Waiting

Article excerpt

In a bleak Southern California college basketball winter devoid of wow, it's the most startling of sights.

Ben Howland, sitting in a Century City restaurant in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon, showing off a smartphone photo of him reading a book to his 2-year-old grandson Ben.

"He really loves those pop-up books where the sharks and dinosaurs jump right off the pages," he says. "Pretty cool, huh?"

Yeah, and pretty weird. UCLA is struggling to sneak into the NCAA tournament, USC has lost 26 of its last 29 conference games, and the most accomplished active college basketball coach in town is hanging out playing grandfather.

His current resume includes three consecutive Final Four appearances, the educating of 18 former UCLA players who have appeared in NBA games, and a couple of questions.

How does Ben Howland still not have a job?

And, admit it Bruins fans, you sort of miss him, don't you?

It has been nearly two full seasons since he was run out of Westwood, yet the closest Howland comes to coaching is advising his numerous former players who fill one of the most illustrious contact lists in college basketball. In recent weeks he's texted Kevin Love, heard from Shabazz Muhammad, checked in on Russell Westbrook and been bearhugged at an NBA midcourt in Philadelphia by Luc Mbah a Moute.

"I don't know where people got that I didn't have a good relationship with my players," Howland says. "I'm demanding, yes, I'm on their butt, I expect 100 percent, but they all knew I loved them, I cared for them, and I'll always be there for them."

It seems like forever since Howland, who coached Pitt from 1999- 2003, walked off the floor in Austin, Texas after a first-round tournament loss to Minnesota in 2013, but the closest he has come to being involved in an actual game since then is with his work as a studio commentator on Fox Sports 1 and a game analyst for NBC Sports Network.

"The TV has been great, but it's made me miss coaching even more," he says.

Coaching has missed him. He has been offered jobs and turned them down because he didn't think it was the right fit. But coaching has also gone on without him. There are a couple of places where he has inquired about jobs but been passed over.

This is amazing when one considers this: Since the first of Howland's three consecutive Final Four appearances in 2006, there have been 23 different coaches of Final Four teams, yet Howland is the only one who is not retired and doesn't have a job.

During an hourlong lunch interview filled with hope and absent of bitterness, Howland shrugs. He's not sweating it. He says he needed time to heal from his stormy final months as a Bruin. He says he's been willing to wait for the right opportunity. He says the fact that UCLA will be paying him $300,000 annually for the next two years to finish his contract - payments that will disappear when he takes a new job - has nothing to do with his job search.

"In my mind, my next job is where I'm going to finish my career," he says. "I want to make sure it's the right situation where we have great success."

In typical Howland fashion, he then tightens his jaw and makes a promise.

"I'm really fired up about getting back into it, and I hope to do it next year," he says. "And this time around, I will do the best job I've ever done."

Considering he returned a dormant UCLA program to glory and came within 40 minutes of a national championship that today seems light years away, it's hard to imagine him doing a better job anywhere else. …

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