I love myself some Bill Walton. The former UCLA great is one of the funnest guys to listen to while a game is going on. Even more so, this past season was full of Walton-delights at the expense of now-fired head coach Ben Howland. Walton called for Howland’s head on a stick more times than one person could keep track of, and eventually got his wish.
Walton’s boisterous on-air behavior, however, might end up doing the program more harm than good.
The UCLA program is as long and storied as any in the country. John Wooden started it all and now everyone has to try to compete with his ghost. The fanbase will not accept NCAA Tournament mediocrity, nor will three straight Final Four appearances buy a coach a significant amount of time. Whether that is fair or not, it doesn’t matter, as that is the reality of the situation for any coach that takes the job.
Steve Alford is the current Bruins coach and the future ex-employee. It is unrealistic to think that a fanbase such as UCLA’s will be able to live with a coach with a worse tournament track record than Howland, and are already unsure of this hiring. Alford’s name was not high on their wish list nor does it scream dominance like the other rumored names would have brought.
This brings us full-circle to Walton. The candid personality that Walton is never shies away from telling folks how he feels. He is a UCLA alum and damn proud of it, which he should be … until it prevents the program from building a perennial winner again.
Walton is clearly an impatient supporter of the program, and his expectations may even succeed those of the fanbase. Alford has a task of rebuilding the UCLA program through his own recruits. The kind of recruits that Alford lands, mind you, is not the kind of superstar, “one and done” type of guys Howland got in the previous class. Alford’s task of making UCLA a yearly power may take two or even three years.
How long will it take for Walton to turn on Alford? Walton’s broadcasting gig with ESPN gives him a national place to spew his opinions. If Alford was to have UCLA wallow in a year or two of poor performances, would Walton do the inevitable and start throwing him under the bus?
The kind of headhunting that Walton did to Howland not only did the coach no favors, but put the program in a situation where it would be harder to nail top-tier recruits.
None of that even mentions how players will feel about being scrutinized more than any other college player in the country.
Walton, who means well, has no trouble pointing out the lack of heart, abilities or overall flaws of any of the Bruin players. That is a surefire way to make the players who are currently there transfer, and keep potential recruits from committing. Do not kid yourselves. Kids care what people think of them and don’t want to be nationally castrated — an Uncle Bill specialty.
Nobody cares more about UCLA than Walton — I am not debating that, nor am I questioning where his heart is at. Clearly, Walton wants what is best for the program, although, his best intentions might prove to be detrimental to the growth of UCLA basketball.
Regardless, I cannot wait to hear the nation’s crazy broadcasting uncle on-air complaining about all things Steve Alford in two years. Hope Alford is a fan of the Dead.