Despite slickcd-back hair that made him look literally wet behind the ears, Lavin seemed to be a turnbuckle between the generations—"a young old-timer," as Krzyzewski has called him. Harrick had delivered the very thing that was supposed to sate these people, an NCAA title, and had gone unloved; here was Lavin, sitting down his best players, and the boosters and alumni only wanted to give that boy the job permanently. He had stayed in his stance and done right by the old school.
"If I'm trying to help you achieve a certain level as an athlete and a person, I have to hold you accountable," Lavin says. "If I don't, I shouldn't be coaching at UCLA. After some time the players realized I wasn't just concerned with winning the game. I wasn't just concerned with the end."
As brave as that sounds, each loss in late January and early February tested Lavin's faith that he would be kept on. But his girlfriend, Treena Camacho, worked in the athletic department, and she answered the phone and saw the mail. She sensed that director of athletics Peter Dalis could see that the train was leaving the station, and he wanted to book a seat. "Anytime Steve wants to sit all his starters down, for the right reason, and we lose a basketball game, it's all right with me," Dalis said on Feb. 11, when he announced that Lavin would be UCLA's permanent coach.
Of course it was important where the journey ended—that the Bruins won. But in Westwood, suddenly, attention was being paid to the trip itself. Lavin would drag the team on outings to homeless shelters and children's hospitals. He would keep a bowl in his office stocked with candy bars, to lure his guys into stopping by during the day. There was a place for laughter, too, even at Stanford. Watching the Cardinal pick off pass after lazy pass during its Jan. 9 rout of the Bruins, Cap had risen from his seat behind the UCLA bench, unable to abide the spectacle any longer. "C'mon, guys!" he screamed. "You've gotta crow-hop to meet those passes!"
Hearing him, Steve nearly broke up, less at the old-time hoops lingo than at Cap actually thinking he had a solution for what was unfolding before them. "Dad," he said, wheeling around, "we've got to do a lot of things. I mean, what are we down, 60?"
On Feb. 8, in their last game before Lavin got the job for good, the Bruins put a 19-point hurt on the french fry chefs from Palo Alto in a rematch at Pauley Pavilion, and they didn't lose again until the NCAA regional final, a streak of 12 wins. Losing by 48 to Stanford had been O.K. because—all hail process!—there's nothing wrong with falling down as long as you get up. The equivalent Capism is from A Farewell to Arms: "All of us are broken by life, but those who survive are strongest at the mended places."
Sure isn't "rote and boring," this college basketball coaching business. During the off-season, through no apparent fault of the school, UCLA lost a top recruit, Schea Cotton, when the NCAA disallowed his standardized test score, ruling that he had been improperly granted an accommodation for a learning disability. Then two projected starters, McCoy and Kris Johnson, were suspended indefinitely for breaking team rules. According to published reports, both players tested positive for marijuana.
Finally Lavin himself seemed to get up out of his stance. Even though Dalis had publicly given him the job back in February, Lavin had never signed a contract. To the four-year, $400,000-per-annum package that Dalis had tendered, Lavin wanted to add a year and more money. In July, Lavin asked a friend to look over the contract. The friend happened to be a member of the most reviled species in college sports, an agent: Arn Tellem, whose clients include Albert Belle of the Chicago White Sox and Isaiah Rider of the Portland Trail Blazers.
In Lavin's mind his demands weren't unreasonable. "Six different coaches in 21 years isn't a record of stability," he says. Having recruited well, and riding a wave of postseason good feeling, he succeeded in signing a new contract for at least $2.3 million over five years. But according to the Long Beach Press-Telegram, irritation with Lavin in UCLA's corridors of power was "the worst-kept secret of the fall." Dalis, a remorseless institutional politician and old-school AD, was said to be seething.
Dalis denies this. He says it was his idea that Lavin hire a lawyer, to make sure he understood the school's contract. Lavin disputes any notion that "I've changed and I've hired this superagent and I want to create this Pitino-Calipari persona and there's some big rift in the athletic department."