UCLA is in the market for a new coach after the legendary program fired Ben Howland on March 25.
Finding the right fit won’t be easy, and the job isn’t for the timid.
UCLA fired a coach who went to three consecutive Final Fours from 2006-08 and won the Pac-12 regular season title this season. But the program has fallen from the national elite since ’08. The Bruins missed the NCAA Tournament in two of the last four years and failed to reach the second weekend on each of the last three trips. Player transfers, recruiting classes that didn’t pan out and in-team turmoil all played a role in Howland’s ouster.
Candidates may be lining up for UCLA, but here are a few Athlon Sports think could be a good fit for the Bruins.
POTENTIAL CANDIDATES FOR UCLA
Tad Boyle, Colorado
Boyle revived Colorado basketball step-by-step from an NIT in 2011, a surprise Pac-12 tournament title in 2012 and a secure NCAA at-large bid in 2013. The three-year run marked the first back-to-back Tourney appearances since 1963 and first time the Buffaloes reached the postseason in three consecutive seasons. That’s despite losing a player like Alec Burks. Boyle can win on the major conference level, but he also laid the groundwork at low-major Northern Colorado.
Mike Brown, former Los Angeles Lakers coach
Brown was fired early in the season with the Lakers and has no college coaching experience. Working in the NBA with LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, though, would give him something to sell on the recruiting trail.
Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
Cronin rebuilt the Bearcats after the end of the Bob Huggins era, leading Cincinnati to three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. He’s spent his career at Cincinnati, Murray State and Louisville, so he might be an odd fit out of the tri-state area. And if anyone’s looking for an exciting up-tempo brand of basketball, Cronin might not fit the bill.
Billy Donovan, Florida
Florida hung onto its two-time national championship coach despite two Kentucky coaching searches and got Donovan back a week after he took the Orlando Magic job. It might take a special opening to pry Donovan away from Florida. UCLA, perhaps?
Mark Gottfried, NC State
Gottfried can recruit, and he’s a former UCLA assistant. His name is being floated around for the Bruins, but the let down this season at NC State will be tough to sell.
Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
He’ll get attention in the coaching carousel as long as he’s leading Iowa State to the Tournament. But his nickname isn’t The Mayor for nothing. Iowa State gave Hoiberg his first college coaching job. If the Ames native and Iowa State alum leaves after three years, the Cyclones would be devastated.
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
After 15 seasons at Winthrop and Wichita State, maybe it’s surprising Marshall hasn’t moved to one of the major conferences yet. After three consecutive seasons of 27 or more wins, back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances at Wichita State and a Sweet 16 berth, now may be the time to jump.
Lorenzo Romar, Washington
His tenure at Washington has been up-and-down, but the Huskies have played in the NCAA Tournament six times in 10 seasons under his watch. He can recruit at a high level, and his teams are usually fast-paced. Of interest to UCLA, he was an assistant on the last Bruins team to win a national title in 1995.
Shaka Smart, VCU
The 35-year-old will be a hot name in the coaching carousel again after the 2011 Final Four and a seamless transition to the Atlantic 10. All indications are Smart is happy at VCU. After all, he turned down Illinois last season.
Brad Stevens, Butler
Stevens is even more entrenched at Butler than Smart at VCU. He’s an Indiana native who has shown little interest in moving to a new job. Also working in Butler’s favor: The job keeps getting better. The former Horizon League power will be in the Big East along with Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette, Xavier and Creighton in the coming years.
Buzz Williams, Marquette
After reaching the Sweet 16 in three consecutive seasons, Williams will be a hot commodity in the carousel. The Golden Eagles have been among the best teams in the Big East despite losing Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, and Williams has proven he can unearth talent on the recruiting trail. He turned down opportunities last season to stay with the program that rolled the dice on him five years ago.
Jay Wright, Villanova
It may be an odd sight to see Wright leave Villanova, where he’s coached since 2001. But the program has leveled off a bit since reaching the Final Four in 2009. In the last four seasons, Villanova has reached the Tournament three times and failed to reach the Sweet 16 in each trip.