On the first Monday after the end of the regular season, NFL front offices make their cuts. Coaches and General Managers are promptly fired for one reason or another, often causing a domino effect on the coaching carousel.
Major college basketball programs are sticking with that theme after the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and after underwhelming seasons and disappointing tournament runs, UCLA and Minnesota have fired their long-tenured head coaches, Ben Howland and Tubby Smith.
Howland, the longest tenured coach in Westwood since the late John Wooden was let go Sunday night. Howland finished with a record 233-107 record and led the Bruins to three Final Fours during his 10 years with the program. Despite winning this years Pac-12 regular season championship, the Bruins had an underwhelming season, entering the NCAA tournament as a No. 6 seed and losing in the first round to — ironically — No. 11 Minnesota 83-63.
“We went into the season with high aspirations of winning the conference championship and making a run in the tournament,” Athletic Director Dan Guerrero told the Los Angeles Times. “We were successful at the former, but not the latter.”
Although Minnesota reached the Round of 32 after winning its first tournament game under Smith, it was not enough to save his job. After six seasons with the Golden Gophers, Smith was let go Monday afternoon. He will receive a $2.5 million buyout.
Smith, a former national champion with the Kentucky Wildcats, was brought to Minnesota to resurrect and otherwise forgotten program in the Big Ten. He finished with a record of 124-81 overall but just 46-62 in the Big Ten. The Golden Gophers won at least 20 games in five of Smith’s six seasons and made the NCAA tournament in three times, but were knocked out in the first round in 2009 and 2010.
Said Smith in a statement:
“I want to thank the University of Minnesota and the people of Minnesota for giving me the opportunity to lead the Golden Gopher basketball program for six years. Our staff did things the right way and will leave knowing that the program is in far better shape than when we arrived. The people of the State of Minnesota embraced Donna and me from the beginning and we will always be grateful.”
The question now is where will these two big name programs begin their search, where will Howland and Smith — both highly regarded around college basketball — find jobs and how will it all effect the ever-changing landscape of college basketball.
According to the Los Angeles Times, UCLA has VCU coach Shaka Smart and Butler’s Brad Stevens at the top of their list, but no contact between the two has been reported. Both Smart and Stevens, the faces of their programs, will likely not be pried away easily, even if it is for a glamorous program such as UCLA.
This makes matters even more interesting and thickens the connection between these two firings. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Gophers also have Smart and Stevens at the top of their wish list. Other candidates include Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, Marquette’s Buzz Williams and Jay Wright of Villanova.
For UCLA, this is a very important decision. Between new renovations to Pauley Pavilion totaling over $138 million and a lack of attendance at games over the past few seasons, the Athletic Department is set on reinventing the program to fill the seats.
“We will look for someone who plays a fun brand of basketball,” Guerrero told the LA Times. “We don’t want to bring in a coach who averages 50 points per game.”
And whoever Minnesota has on its radar better be ready to compete with the nest of the ranks. The Big Ten arguably has the strongest collection of head coaches that are a nightmare for new the inexperienced, including: Tom Izzo, Thad Matta, Tom Crean, Bo Ryan and John Beilein.
Izzo, Matta, Crean and Beilein will be coaching in this weeks Sweet Sixteen, the most of any conference remaining.
Ben Baroff is a basketball journalist who blogs for SheridanHoops.com. Follow him on Twitter here.