I was sorry to see Ben Howland get fired by UCLA, although it didn’t surprise me. I don’t have much of a connection to Howland, but I did enjoy a nice phone conversation with him in 2006 when Kyle Singler was being recruited by all the top programs. We were doing advance work for Singler’s announcement (ultimately he chose Duke over UCLA, Kansas, Arizona and North Carolina) and I called Howland for some info. He didn’t speak directly about Singler, as per NCAA rules, but we chatted amiably about Howland’s program and background and such.
I wasn’t aware, but he was born in Lebanon — a community I covered while with the Albany Democrat-Herald for 10-plus years. He moved to California before his high school days, but he clearly has a fondness for the Willamette Valley and Oregon in general. We talked of a former Lebanon childhood star, Andy McCloskey, who walked on at Oregon State and became a decent contributor and fan favorite. I remember Howland bristling a bit when I suggested former OSU coach Jimmy Anderson, who succeeded Ralph Miller after serving as Miller’s right-hand man, was better suited to being an assistant coach. Howland defended Jimmy (a wonderful guy, by the way) and I said simply his job as a head coach was made harder because Jimmy Anderson didn’t have Jimmy Anderson as his chief recruiter and overseer of so many aspects of the program. I think that got me out of hot water with Howland.
What I especially remember is I reached him while he was on his way home from UCLA. At one point, five minutes into the conversation, he went through a canyon and we lost contact. To my surprise, the phone rang 10 minutes later and we talked for another 10-15 minutes. I think he enjoyed talking about things related to his home state. I’m not sure a lot of head coaches in his position would have bothered to call back. We were only a few months removed from him guiding the Bruins to their first Final Four in 11 years; they lost to Florida in the title game.
Anyway, he’s kind of a no nonsense coach with a bunch of good qualities and here’s hoping things work out for him going forward.