Despite a denial from UCLA, the school has reportedly fired men’s head basketball coach Ben Howland after 10 seasons.
Howland amassed a 230-105 record, with three consecutive Final Four appearances in his first five seasons, but the Bruins have failed to make it out of the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend since 2009.
Yahoo! Sports first reported Howland’s expected firing, citing two sources, but UCLA issued a statement late Saturday saying, "Contrary to multiple media reports this evening, UCLA has not fired men's basketball coach Ben Howland."
However, the official dismissal is expected to be within 48 hours, according to Yahoo!.
Those same sources also said assistant coach Korey McCray will stay with the Bruins while they conduct a coaching search.
UCLA fell to Minnesota 83-63 in the second of the tournament Friday, and both Howland and Bruins athletic director Dan Guerrero refused to answer questions about the coach’s job status, as reported by Sports Illustrated. The 55-year-old had trouble with several of his most recent recruiting classes, and a report by SI suggested he had lost control of his players and the program.
According to the Orange County Register, Howland had two years left on his contract, including a $2.3 million buyout clause.
The Bruins hold the most NCAA national championships with 11, and the head coaching job is viewed as one of the best positions in the country. Guerrero will have no shortage of top candidates to replace Howland.
The OC Register also reported that Virginia Commonwealth head coach Shaka Smart may be at the top of the Bruins wish list, along with Butler’s Brad Stevens and Florida's Billy Donovan.
Both VCU and Butler have already exited this year’s tournament, which technically frees up Smart and Stevens to listen to any overtures from UCLA, but whether or not they would even consider a switch remains to be seen.
A long-time assistant before taking over the Rams in 2009, Smart led VCU on an improbable Final Four run in 2011, and has a record of 111-36.
Stevens helmed the Butler squad that ended VCU’s tournament in 2011, and has taken to the Bulldogs to the tournament every year since he took over in 2007. Butler also made the national championship game in 2010 and 2011, and won four Horizon League regular season titles.
Donovan, winner of two consecutive national titles in 2006 and 2007, is in the middle of Florida’s tournament run, and next meets Minnesota on Sunday night. After capturing his second championship, Donovan actually accepted the head coaching job of the NBA’s Orlando Magic, but a day later backed out of the deal. Since then, he’s guided the Gators to two Elite Eight appearances.