As expected ...
UCLA's Lavin fired after worst Bruins' season in 55 yearsPosted: Monday March 17, 2003 1:34 PM
Updated: Tuesday March 18, 2003 1:41 AM
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Steve Lavin was fired as UCLA's basketball coach Monday after the team's first losing season since 1948.
Lavin, who took the Bruins to the final 16 of the NCAA tournament five times in six years, was told about the expected move in a meeting with first-year athletic director Dan Guerrero.
"We went through the exercises officially," Guerrero said during a brief news conference on campus. "It was almost surreal. We had a very pleasant conversation. He talked about fresh starts for both of us."
UCLA went 10-19 overall and 6-12 in Pac-10 play. Its season ended with a 75-74 loss to Oregon in the Pac-10 Conference tournament semifinals Friday night.
It was a stunningly poor year for a program that has won a record 11 national championships: 10 under John Wooden in the 1960s and 1970s, and one under Jim Harrick in 1995 -- when Lavin was an assistant coach.
Lavin was promoted to the top job in November 1996, when Harrick was fired, and went 145-78 overall.
"I take the long view, and I am grateful for the experience of teaching at one of the world's great universities," Lavin said in a statement. "I will remember most the lasting friendships I've made, and I remain optimistic about the bright future of the program."
Lavin had five years remaining on his contract. He will receive a buyout of one year of his full salary of $578,000, and four years at the base salary of $153,000.
Guerrero noted Lavin's accomplishments, including his teams' NCAA tournament showings. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski is the only other coach to take a team to the NCAA tournament's round of 16 in five of his first six seasons.
Lavin's best showing was reaching the final eight in 1997, the year the team won his only conference title.
"I've been leaning toward this decision over the last several weeks," Guerrero said. "Ultimately, it came to the point where I felt we needed to move forward. There was not a final straw.
"We frankly were not a real solid team early in the year. UCLA fans want to see a consistent effort. They're very passionate."
During the past few months, Lavin didn't hide the fact that he expected to be fired. The Bruins had not had a losing record since going 12-13 under coach Wilbur Johns 55 years ago. Wooden replaced Johns the following season.
This season's record was the worst for the Bruins since 1942, when they were 5-18 under Johns.
Guerrero said he planned to consult with the 92-year-old Wooden concerning Lavin's successor. The athletic director said he received several e-mails, phone calls and faxes from interested candidates as the season unraveled.
"It's quite possible we won't have a person named until after the Final Four," Guerrero said. "This is a high-level hire for us."
The Final Four will be played April 5-7 in New Orleans.
Guerrero refused to identify potential candidates.
In January, when criticism of Lavin reached a peak, Guerrero said he would evaluate the coach at the end of the season. At that time, Lavin denied he had considered resigning.
Guerrero fired football coach Bob Toledo in December after seven years.
The men's basketball season began with two rare exhibition losses, and then an overtime loss to San Diego in the opening game before defeats to Duke, Kansas and Michigan.
It looked as if Lavin might have rescued his job with wins at Washington and Washington State to start the Pac-10 schedule, but a nine-game losing streak followed. Other lows included being swept by crosstown rival Southern California for the first time in 10 years, and a 10-game conference losing streak.
There were 10 losses at Pauley Pavilion, the most ever in a season, and the average attendance of 8,348 was the lowest since 1993 in the 12,819-seat arena.
At times, the Bruins were booed off their home floor, and fans wore T-shirts that said "Lose Lavin" and "Fire Lavin Immediately."
Of course, the school's fans expect to reach the Final Four or win a championship every year. That's been the burden for the six coaches who followed Wooden. The first four after him resigned, and the next two were fired.
For weeks, Lavin had spoken in the past tense about his 12 years at UCLA, including five as an assistant. He never displayed the anger or bitterness of a coach whose job was in jeopardy. Instead, he offered gratitude for being given the opportunity in the first place, and he praised his players for sticking together.
"Steve acted with great dignity through some very difficult times," Guerrero said.
Lavin's teams were known for being unpredictable and unable to close games against opponents they should have beaten.
For all the exhilarating victories during Lavin's stay, including four upsets of No. 1-ranked teams, there were losses to Ball State, Cal State Northridge, Detroit Mercy, Northern Arizona, Pepperdine and Tulsa.
And in his final game, the Bruins were outscored by Oregon 13-1 in the last three minutes.