LOS ANGELES -- Rick Pitino? Really?
Billy Donovan? Phil Jackson?
Why on Earth would UCLA want to hire one of those guys?
OK, they are all proven winners who have shown they know how to run a program with consistent success. On that level, it makes sense. Those guys are legends and maybe you want to go after the best in the business.
But this is UCLA we're talking about. UCLA makes legends, not the other way around. It is one of college basketball's meccas. It's the dream job for just about any coach in the country and the place where the coach should become a star.
Those other guys are already stars for things they did somewhere else. The stories for those coaches and others in their class have already been written. Bringing them to the Bruins would be a mercenary hire. UCLA shouldn't be looking at coaches who cemented their legacies at some other job; UCLA should be looking for someone who will cement his legacy in Westwood. UCLA should be looking for a guy who will eventually go to the Hall of Fame and there will be no doubt about what hat he chooses to wear.
Ask yourself: Is Pitino the Louisville guy or the Kentucky guy? Is Jackson better known as the former Lakers coach or the former Bulls coach? That's what you'd be asking about Donovan if he came to UCLA and won a couple of national titles the way he already has at Florida.
The coach is the face of the program, but when you see Pitino or Donovan or Jackson, you're going to see many different teams or programs. That's not something you should be seeing when you see the coach of UCLA, one of the Mount Rushmore programs in college basketball. UCLA should be looking for the guy who will become known only for leading the program back to the national elite. UCLA should be looking for the next Pitino, the next Donovan, the next Jackson.
That's why coaches like Brad Stevens of Butler and Shaka Smart of Virginia Commonwealth make so much more sense. Guys like that have cut their teeth and shown they can coach. They've taken their respective schools to unprecedented heights but haven't yet reached the pinnacle. If a coach like that came to UCLA and won a national title, they would become college basketball royalty.
Stevens or Smart have been the top two candidates on any coaching list the past couple of years, but it doesn't have to be one of them. They have in the past spurned the advances of bigger schools because of their love of small-college life. Smart looks as if he’s done it again, and if Stevens does, too, Bruins fans shouldn't fret.
There are other up-and-comers out there. Coaches such as Buzz Williams of Marquette, Tony Bennett of Virginia, Gregg Marshall of Wichita State, Fred Hoiberg of Iowa State, Scott Drew of Baylor and Tad Boyle of Colorado all fit into that category.
Even an outside-the-box hire such as Arizona State assistant Eric Musselman, San Antonio Spurs assistant Mike Budenholzer or Indiana Pacers assistant Brian Shaw could build a legacy at UCLA. Heck, Shaw and Stevens are both in Indianapolis so Dan Guerrero might as well knock out two interviews if he goes there to meet with Stevens.
Bringing in someone like Pitino or Donovan carries the risk of them using the job as a stepping stone to the coveted Lakers' coaching job. Both have shown NBA interest in the past and that is the top dog among NBA jobs. And why would Pitino or Donovan or Jackson want to take the UCLA job anyway? There is no guarantee they would succeed with the Bruins. If a coach with that kind of stature came to UCLA and didn't win, it would stain their legacy.
If one of them came here, Pitino, 60, or Jackson, 67, might very well call it a career after UCLA. Surely they wouldn't want failing to be the last memory of them. It would be Willie Mays with the Mets, Michael Jordan with the Wizards.
Granted, the risk of failure is lessened with those coaches. They have a proven track record of winning, but maybe, just maybe, they aren't as motivated to do it anymore. Certainly hiring some big-name, big-time coach would make more of a splash and create more of a "Wow!" factor than a lesser-known coach, but the rising-star type would come to UCLA hungry to make a name for himself.
He'd be the type of guy who knows he is a good coach and has proven it at one level or another but hasn't yet become a full-fledged star in the coaching world. At many of the places where these coaches currently ply their trade, that might never happen. Sure, Stevens and Smart and Williams and the others have been winning, but winning at other schools is nothing like winning at UCLA. Hang another banner in historic Pauley Pavilion and you earn an automatic spot in college basketball coaching lore.
A program with that kind of power needs the right coach with the right attitude and the proper sense for what it means to coach at a program with one of the most proud and storied histories and traditions in all of college basketball. And a program as that prestigious as UCLA deserves a coach it can call its own. A program such as UCLA shouldn't have to win with somebody else's coach.