With the recent dismissal of head coach Ben Howland, the UCLA Bruins are in search of a basketball coach that can live under the shadow of the extreme expectations in Westwood — in the shadow of everything that John Wooden did to make the program one of college basketball’s best.
Could that man be former UCLA star and NBA Hall of Famer, Kareem Abdul Jabbar?
According to reports this morning, Abdul-Jabbar has formally expressed interest in the position to the UCLA administration, including Athletic Director Dan Guerrero about securing an interview and stating a case as to why he would be successful as a candidate to replace Howland, in spite of his lack of head coaching experience. This isn’t to suggest Abdul-Jabbar has no coaching experience, however, as he has spent time with the Los Angeles Clippers, Seattle Supersonics (prior to their move to Oklahoma City) and the Los Angeles Lakers, as an assistant coach, typically in a defined role helping out a developing big man.
The 65 year old Abdul-Jabbar has been denied head coaching positions in the past, including with the Milwaukee Bucks and at Columbia University, but this by no means suggests he wouldn’t be a fit for a UCLA program that is reeling given its lofty standards, and who needs someone to inject some life and confidence into a program that once had it in reserve.
UCLA’s struggles in recent years can’t be easily pinned just on Ben Howland — by almost all accounts he’s a quality coach who was just in over his head — and, in the same respect, it wouldn’t be fair to suggest that Abdul-Jabbar could step right into Westwood and suddenly make magic happen without extreme support not only from the UCLA administration, but also from a fan base that has lost its patience with mediocrity and is demanding success.
How patient would UCLA fans be with Abdul-Jabbar? Does his stature as a UCLA legend buy him time? Would the school be willing to take a monumental risk that could have an equally monumental payoff?
More importantly, why wouldn’t UCLA take the risk?
It could be the best one they’ve taken in years, and if it fails, fans can’t say they never tried.