The chosen one
Pittsburgh's Howland officially named UCLA head coachPosted: Wednesday April 02, 2003 9:45 PM
Updated: Thursday April 03, 2003 3:29 PM
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- For Ben Howland, it was an easy decision: UCLA beckoned, and he's from California.
"It's great to be back home with my mom, my dad," Howland said Thursday at a news conference to announce his departure from Pittsburgh. "It's so exciting for my family and all my friends. It's a dream I've realized."
Howland signed a seven-year contract with UCLA with a base guarantee of $900,000-plus per year. It includes unspecified bonus provisions that could push his salary over $1 million.
"The bottom line is we got our man," UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said. "We expect big things from this hire, and no more than what Ben expects."
Howland will try to rebuild the battered Bruins, just as he led Pitt from Big East doormat to national championship contender in four years.
"I want to make it clear how hard it was for me to leave the University of Pittsburgh," Howland said. "I can't imagine myself leaving Pittsburgh for anywhere except UCLA."
The 45-year-old Howland succeeds Steve Lavin, fired March 17 after the Bruins went 10-19 for their first losing season in 55 years.
Howland said the day Lavin was fired he had no plans to leave Pitt, but everything changed once the Panthers were eliminated by Marquette in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
He met with Guerrero and associate athletic director Betsy Stephenson on Sunday in Santa Barbara. Howland's parents live in the city 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles, and Howland was an assistant at UC Santa Barbara for 11 seasons.
He was a UCLA fan while playing basketball at Cerritos High.
"Having grown up in Southern California as a Bruin fan, watching the televised replays of the games was special for me," he said. "To now be the head coach of this program is something I dreamed about but never thought possible. I have an appreciation for what these four letters mean in the world of college basketball."
Howland just completed the first year of a seven-year, $5.9 million contract at Pitt that included incentives and a buyout of about $750,000. Pitt officials expressed a willingness to improve his contract, but it wasn't enough to keep him.
Guerrero seemed to target Howland from the start of his two-week search. From all indications, he was the only man interviewed for the job. Guerrero, in his first year at UCLA, knows Howland from when he interviewed the coach for a job at UC Irvine.
"Ben understands that championships are built on defense, intensity, teamwork and fundamentals and those elements are the foundation of his philosophy," Guerrero said.
"His teams come to play every night and they do an outstanding job on both ends of the floor. We are excited about bringing Ben back to the West Coast and we are excited about the future of Bruin basketball."
Howland has a 168-99 record in nine years as a head coach -- five at Northern Arizona and four at Pitt.
He took the Pitt job before the 1999-00 season, succeeding Ralph Willard. When Howland arrived, the Panthers had managed only one winning season in the previous six and hadn't played in the NCAA tournament since 1993.
Pitt was 13-15 in Howland's first season, but went 19-14, 29-6 and 28-5 in his final three.
The Panthers reached the final 16 of the NCAA tournament the last two years and Howland won a school-record four tournament games. Pitt sold out the new 12,500-seat Petersen Events Center for every game this season and the Panthers were 16-0 at home.
Howland becomes the eighth coach at UCLA since John Wooden retired in 1975 after leading the Bruins to 10 NCAA championships in a 12-year span.
UCLA has won only one title since Wooden retired -- under Jim Harrick in 1995.
"We should be competing for the Pacific-10 title and a high seed in the NCAA tournament year in and year out, and I look forward to that challenge," Howland said.