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Berry Tramel: Who is UCLA waiting on? Kelvin Sampson, Chris Beard, Billy Donovan?

Kelvin Sampson answers questions Thursday at the Midwest Regional in Kansas City. (AP Photo)
Kelvin Sampson answers questions Thursday at the Midwest Regional in Kansas City. (AP Photo)


UCLA fired basketball coach Steve Alford in December, after a 7-6 start. The Bruins have ridiculous expectations.

That’s not to say Alford was a good fit or even a good coach. I don’t know. He did at New Mexico about what most coaches do at New Mexico (three NCAA Tournaments, with two wins, and three NITs), and he did at UCLA what most coaches do at UCLA (three Sweet 16s in his five years before this season).

Because of John Wooden, UCLA thinks it’s Kentucky or North Carolina or Kansas or Duke. And UCLA is not that. Not anymore.

Heck, Alford was fired in December in large part because of a four-game losing streak. The first and last of those four losses, both at Pauley Pavilion, came against Belmont and Liberty. Sounds bad, but wasn’t. Belmont beat Temple in the NCAA Tournament and should have beaten Maryland. Liberty beat Mississippi State in the NCAAs.

But Alford was out, with a 124-63 record at UCLA. And the job hasn’t been filled.

Which is interesting. Alabama fired Avery Johnson this week and hired Buffalo’s Nate Oats. Saint Joseph’s, Nevada-Las Vegas, Tulane, Temple and George Washington all have fired and hired coaches since the end of the conference tournaments.

But UCLA has been open since New Year’s. Seems rather obvious the Bruins are waiting on someone in the NCAA Tournament, doesn’t it? I mean, Oats was coaching Buffalo last Sunday in Tulsa against Texas Tech. Now he’s a Tuscaloosa man. Ron Hunter coached Georgia State in the NCAAs; now he’s Tulane’s man. These things go quickly.

But not in Westwood. The Bruins seem to be waiting on a coach still competing. Or least hoping to lure a coach still competing. So who could that be? Here are a few candidates:

* Chris Beard: The Texas Tech coach has been mentioned at Arkansas. But UCLA would be a step up from the Ozarks, where the Razorbacks haven’t been a national force in two decades.

* Kelvin Sampson: Seems like Sampson could be in the market to move. He’s done a great job at Houston, but he had a comment a few days ago that he would “talk to Houston first” about a contract extension. Made it sound like groundwork for a potential move, and Sampson would absolutely win at UCLA.

* Buzz Williams: The former Oklahoma City University graduate has done a great job at Virginia Tech, but VPI is not UCLA.

* Bruce Pearl: Now that’s interesting. Auburn took a flier on the scandal-stained Pearl and has been rewarded big-time. These are troubled times for college basketball, and hiring a coach with a checkered past won’t be looked on kindly at a place like UCLA, but what if the Bruins are desperate?

And here’s a UCLA longshot. Billy Donovan. I don’t think Donovan is going to be fired by the Thunder, and I don’t think Donovan wants to coach college basketball anymore. The recruiting was a mess that Donovan was tired of at Florida, long before the current scandals that show what a miserable business it can be.

But I could be wrong.

What I’m not wrong about is, UCLA is waiting on someone, and UCLA has a lot to offer. Ben Howland took the Bruins to three straight Final Fours, 2006-08. Jim Harrick coached UCLA to the 1995 NCAA title. Larry Brown coached UCLA to the 1980 NCAA title game. Gene Bartow coached UCLA to the 1976 Final Four. That’s four coaches since John Wooden to make a Final Four.

So you can win at UCLA. Just be careful, because sometimes winning isn’t enough.

Related Photos
Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson speaks during a news conference at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. Houston plays Kentucky in a Midwest Regional semifinal on Friday. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson speaks during a news conference at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. Houston plays Kentucky in a Midwest Regional semifinal on Friday. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-ae12954672bb49ba963307b4294f2420.jpg" alt="Photo - Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson speaks during a news conference at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. Houston plays Kentucky in a Midwest Regional semifinal on Friday. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)" title="Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson speaks during a news conference at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. Houston plays Kentucky in a Midwest Regional semifinal on Friday. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)"><figcaption>Houston head coach Kelvin Sampson speaks during a news conference at the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Thursday, March 28, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. Houston plays Kentucky in a Midwest Regional semifinal on Friday. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)</figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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