Ben Howland thanks UCLA

LOS ANGELES -- Ben Howland made a graceful exit from UCLA on Monday, when he held a news conference in Pauley Pavilion to address getting fired from his dream job a day earlier.

He thanked as many people as he could, including the chancellor who hired him and the athletic director who fired him and expressed his gratitude to a laundry list of players, support staff, medical personnel, academic advisors and even the media.

It was emotional at times, with Howland getting especially choked up as he thanked his wife and two children. The 25-minute session included some nostalgia as he reminisced a bit about his 10 seasons at UCLA and also included a look toward the future.

"I'm just so thankful of all the support I received in my tenure here," Howland said. "I'm really, really thankful for the opportunity to represent such a great school, a great university and an unbelievable program."

Dressed in a sport coat and a UCLA blue shirt, but no tie, Howland entered the news conference to a round of applause from athletic department personnel. Senior administrators such as athletic director Dan Guerrero and associate athletic director Mark Harlan -- very visible at games the past few weeks -- were notably absent.

He didn't have to hold a news conference so soon after he was let go and Howland, who had the longest tenure as UCLA coach since John Wooden, could have used the occasion to rail against the unfairness of getting fired despite taking the team to three Final Fours and winning the Pac-12 title this season. Instead, he kept it classy even when pressed on such issues.

"I'm proud of the Final Fours that we went to, I'm proud of the Pac-12 championships we won and I'm really proud of the players," he said. "I will always feel great about my experience here at UCLA, and I'm just so lucky and feel so blessed. I feel really good about it, really proud of it and I'm really excited about the future and looking forward to what comes next."

What comes next is another coaching gig if Howland has anything to say about it. He said he would like to continue coaching, even if it means taking a perceived step down from a prestigious job such as UCLA. Several jobs have already come open and more are surely on the way, but Howland said he hasn't thought that far in advance just yet.

"I'm hopeful that I'll have an opportunity to get another good job," Howland said. "This was my dream job because I grew up watching UCLA basketball, but there are a lot of fine institutions and situations that I think have a lot to offer a coach."

Howland certainly has a résumé that will draw interest. He had a record of 233-107 during his 10 seasons at UCLA and took the Bruins to the Final Four in three consecutive seasons from 2006-08. UCLA also won four conference titles in the past eight years.

"I feel like I've got a lot to offer," Howland said.

He will also take with him a lot of on-the-job training. He spent the past 10 seasons running a program that boasts one of the proudest and most accomplished histories in the country. He never backed down from the pressures of trying to live up to past success at UCLA, even embracing it most of the time, and said he will bring those lessons to his next stop, wherever that might be.

"I feel that I'm better for the experience," Howland said. "There's no question that in my next job, I will have benefited so much from this opportunity that it's really going to help me be better.

"It's all encompassing what you learn on a job. This is a historic, unbelievable place to represent. I had a relationship with John Wooden. I spoke at his memorial service. I have things that I cherish that I've been a part of because I've been the coach at UCLA."

Howland said he was happy to be able to leave a legacy as a coach who had success in such a prestigious program and said he felt he was leaving it in a good place with "a good nucleus" and a newly renovated arena.

He also wished no ill will on his successor, saying that he has no doubt the next UCLA coach will take the baton and carry it far.

"They're going to get a great coach," he said. "There will be a great coach that will come in and replace me, and I just want to wish him the very best. They're not going to have any problem finding a great coach to come in here and do a good job."

And, Howland said, the next coach would be well aware of the expectations for winning at UCLA and the idea that regular deep runs in the NCAA tournament and regular appearances in the national top 10 are required to keep your job in Westwood.

"They're not going to hire a rookie," Howland said. "I think whoever they hire will be well-versed in that."

When he finished answering questions on the podium, Howland stepped down to do one-on-one interviews. He was given another round of applause, shook a lot of hands, shared some hugs and laughs and then made one last graceful exit from Pauley Pavilion.