Howland has only himself to blame - NBC Sports

Howland has only himself to blame
Marquee talent meant expectations were high and it cost UCLA coach his job
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Ben Howland was saddled with marquee talent that didn't mesh well together at UCLA.
March 26, 2013, 4:03 am

Ben Howland was axed as head basketball coach at UCLA on Sunday, primarily because he wasn't deemed enough of a front man for the program. He once took the Bruins to three straight Final Fours, so his ability to coach the sport is not the issue.

He was pushed out of Westwood because enough alumni didn't like his cold, gruff exterior, and didn't think he had the sort of magnetic personality that will attract recruits, which then theoretically would translate to victories and more Final Fours.

But Howland had the best recruiting class in the country last year. The issue might be the types of players Howland brought in. Sometimes a coach can get too focused on bringing in blue-chippers when lunch-pail guys will work harder and achieve more. Sometimes a coach can stray from his own mission statement.

As this year's Lakers have proved, just throwing together talent is not enough. It has to be the right mix. The San Antonio Spurs illustrate that year after year. Kentucky won the NCAA title last year; this year's group got bounced in the first round of the NIT.

Howland probably would have excelled with Butler's talent, or Wichita State's talent. Because those kids would listen and do what they're asked to do. Instead, Howland was saddled with marquee talent. And when you have marquee talent and don't reach the Sweet 16 at John Wooden's school, the natives get restless.

Anybody can be considered a people person. He just has to surround himself with the right people.

Hot Heat

Unexpected: The astonishing winning streak of the Miami Heat, now up to 27.

Expected: The mind-boggling reaction.

The discussion now is whether the Heat should be mentioned in the same breath with the team that holds the NBA record for the most consecutive victories, 33, set by the 1971-72 Lakers. Former Knick great Walt Frazier added to the chatter recently by declaring that this Heat team isn't even among the top 10 teams of all time.

What is central here is that any streak of that magnitude is such a tremendous achievement that it puts both the '72 Lakers and '13 Heat in the same rarefied class, on equal footing.

Lots of streaks occur in sports, and the NBA. The Los Angeles Clippers had one earlier this year that went 17 games. The Denver Nuggets had one that has gone 15 games. They're all impressive in their own way.

But when you have a team that has either a record ('72 Lakers) or one that is approaching one ('13 Heat), it has earned immunity from petty sniping.

Putting together such streaks in either era requires such intense focus under the threat of mental fatigue that comparisons involving talent levels, overall strength of the leagues at those times, media intrusion and travel demands are irrelevant.

What's exactly the same is the night-in, night-out challenge of winning. That's what makes the 1971-72 Lakers and the 2012-13 Heat inseparable.

Where's the respect?

The New England Patriots and Chicago Bears aren't wrong. It's just that Wes Welker and Brian Urlacher are more right.

Anyone, in any profession, wants to be appreciated. He or she wants to know that the higher ups have some regard for that person's ability to do the job. It's just human nature.

The Patriots didn't make a mistake from a business standpoint in what they offered Welker. It's the way that they did it. They didn't show the love. They didn't make Welker feel that his contributions to the Patriots' success were valued. So when they made him what was a fair offer, it felt to Welker like he was being stiffed.

The Bears made a similar gaffe. Urlacher is a 34-year-old linebacker coming off a bad year. He couldn't have expected an overly generous offer. But what he did expect was respect, and he didn't get it. He got kicked out the door.

It may not mean much in the grand scheme. The Patriots and Bears will replace those players and move on. They may even have outstanding seasons.

Yet from a business standpoint, it adds to the perception that those franchises are unfriendly parties with which to do business. And it intensifies a feeling among players that those teams will someday offer the same treatment to them. That can affect performance.

If it were me, I would have taken the player in question to dinner, let him order whatever he wanted, then explain that this is all we can offer, but we'd really like to have his leadership and presence on the roster. Then if the player declines, everybody walks away with some degree of satisfaction.

I don't see how the creation of ill will helps either side in the big picture.

Sore losers?

Costa Rica is not too happy. It lost, 1-0, in a World Cup qualifier played in a snowstorm in Commerce City, Colo., on Friday. Apparently the Costa Ricans don't play much in snow, didn't bring shovels or galoshes, and found themselves at a disadvantage.

Costa Rica has lodged a protest with FIFA, the governing body of soccer, to have the match replayed because it claims the "physical integrity" of players and officials was compromised, that ball movement was near impossible, and that field markings were obscured.

FIFA is taking a look. Really what it comes down to is not that officials let the game continue, but rather whether Costa Rica took the required steps to stop it.

There are procedures in place that Costa Rica had to follow in order to make its displeasure known, like lodging an immediate complaint with a referee in the presence of the other team's captain, and also written protests within a certain time frame.

FIFA is investigating. But I have to think that someone on the Costa Rica side must have said at one point during the blizzard, "This is ridiculous," and then was advised by some official what then had to be done to halt the game or protest.

Instead, from the outside it appears as though Costa Rica went through with the game, then after it lost it cried foul. If that's the case, FIFA will then take a rubber stamp that says "Sore Losers" and slam it on the cover page of Costa Rica's paperwork.

This isn't American football, which is played in just about anything save for an earthquake, tornado or tsunami. It's soccer. If a snowstorm is making the conditions treacherous or impossible, somebody needs to say something.

It appears Costa Rica didn't until it lost. Suggesting otherwise is probably just a snow job.

A game of pepper

  • Can't wait to see if the Ravens and Elvis Dumervil play against the Broncos in 2013. If the Ravens are home, they might have a promotion where they give every fan a fax machine. If the Broncos are home, they won't.
  • Watching the first half of Kansas-North Carolina on Sunday was like playing a basketball video game and having your screen freeze.
  • The Yankees are working to acquire Vernon Wells. He's poised to become New York's most overvalued aging disappointment in stripes since Bernie Madoff.
  • I predict UCLA will keep firing head basketball coaches until the process of cloning a human has been perfected and it can then create a new John Wooden.
  • Watching Sergio Garcia up a tree on Sunday reminded me why I carry 13 clubs and a chain saw in my bag.
  • I saw a headline that said "Angry Drivers Fight After Sprint Cup Race" and I thought, "Shouldn't it be `Angry Drivers Fight After Sprint Cup Race Roundup'?"

Michael Ventre is a regular contributor to Follow him on Twitter

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