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#pounditThursday, January 27, 2022

Articles tagged: UCLA Basketball

Report: UCLA offered to double Jay Wright’s salary

Jay Wright

UCLA tried hard to bring in as big of a coaching name as possible to replace Steve Alford, even doing what they could to dangle mega money in front of top candidates. In fact, one report says they offered to double the salary for Jay Wright to get him to leave Villanova, but that didn’t help.

The Los Angeles Times’ Ben Bolch on Monday published a comprehensive look at UCLA’s search for a new head basketball coach. According to the article, the Bruins went after some of the most successful coaches in recent college basketball history, like John Calipari, Brad Stevens, Billy Donovan, Tom Izzo, Mark Few and Tony Bennett. Wright, who has won two championships in the last four years, was among their targets.

UCLA senior associate athletic director Josh Rebholz ran most of the hiring process and kept big donors updated on the progress. In one update, he told them through text message that they had made a big offer to Wright that mattered little.

“We would have loved for Jay Wright to walk out on the floor, but even when we offered to double his salary, he still wasn’t coming. Nothing we can do about that. But I am proud of our effort. We didn’t assume anything, took our shots and I believe will end up with a solid coach who will embrace UCLA and build a program we all can be proud of and root for.”

According to USA Today, Wright makes around $3.9 million a year. Doubling his salary would have put him just under John Calipari, who struck it rich by dangling UCLA’s offer in front of Kentucky.

The article details just how close the Bruins were to hiring Rick Barnes and also what the issues were with Jamie Dixon. UCLA ended up with Mick Cronin, who left Cincinnati and signed a six-year, $24.5-million contract with the Bruins.

Report: UCLA AD never asked Tennessee for permission to talk to Rick Barnes

Rick Barnes

UCLA was pursuing Rick Barnes for its head coaching vacancy prior to the 64-year-old finalizing a new contract with Tennessee on Monday, and it does not sound like the Bruins went about things in the classiest fashion.

Mike Wilson of the Knoxville News Sentinel reports that UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero never reached out to Tennessee to ask for permission to speak with Barnes. UCLA reportedly offered Barnes a contract worth $5 million annually, which Tennessee countered on Monday to keep Barnes with the Vols.

Barnes is coming off a season in which he was named the Naismith Coach of the Year, so it’s possible he was never actually interested in UCLA and was just trying to capitalize on an opportunity.

UCLA is now stuck still looking for a coach, and they already passed on one candidate because of his hefty buyout. Between that and contacting Tennessee’s coach without getting permission first, UCLA’s search has gotten ugly in a hurry.

Report: Rick Barnes torn between Tennessee, UCLA

Rick Barnes

The mutual interest between Tennessee coach Rick Barnes and the UCLA Bruins appears real, but departing Knoxville is proving to be a bit difficult for him.

According to Chris Low of ESPN, Barnes is “wrestling” with the decision to stay at Tennessee or move to UCLA, and is expected to make a decision within the next day or so. The 64-year-old is very happy in Tennessee, but the chance to finish his career at UCLA with the chance to restore the program to prominence is very tempting to him.

UCLA would reportedly be willing to offer Barnes up to $5 million per year to move west. He has had some preliminary discussions about an improved deal at Tennessee as well.

Reporting about how sold Barnes was on UCLA is clearly overstated, as it sounds like the school is hoping he will take the job. He’ll have to decide if his comfort in eastern Tennessee outweighs the chance to rebuild the storied UCLA program.

Lon Kruger denies report linking him to UCLA job

Talks surrounding the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball job continuing to heat up, though one coach is distancing himself from the position.

On Sunday night, 247 Sports’ Evan Daniels reported that Tennessee’s Rick Barnes was a serious candidate for the position. Later in the evening, the Los Angeles Times’ Ben Bolch reported that Barnes and Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger are coaches of interest to UCLA. He says both interviewed for the job.

“I have not interviewed for the job at UCLA, nor have I had any contact with anyone from UCLA,” Kruger said in a statement.

Kruger is 66 and has been at Oklahoma since 2011. He has previously coached at UNLV, Illinois, Florida and Kansas State. Kruger makes about $3.2 million per year and has a nearly $4 million buyout.

Report: Rick Barnes is ‘serious candidate’ for UCLA job

Rick Barnes

A surprising name has emerged in UCLA’s search for a new head basketball coach.

According to Evan Daniels of 247 Sports, Tennessee coach Rick Barnes is considered a “serious candidate” for the job that has been vacant since Steve Alford’s firing on Dec. 31.

Barnes just completed his fourth year at Tennessee, where he has built the Volunteers into a formidable program fresh off a 31-win season. Throughout his career, Barnes has been plagued by criticism of his perceived NCAA Tournament underachievement. That criticism arose again in 2019, as the Volunteers fell to third-seeded Purdue in the Sweet 16.

Barnes has a $5 million buyout after signing a new contract last year that makes him the second-highest paid coach in the SEC. It would be a somewhat surprising move for him to make in light of that, especially at 64 years old and fresh off making Tennessee a leading program.

UCLA’s search has been a long and winding road, and another leading candidate may be out on account of his buyout. Barnes’ buyout is lower, but not by that much.

Report: Jamie Dixon out as UCLA candidate due to buyout price

Jamie Dixon

UCLA may be changing directions in their coaching search due to Jamie Dixon’s significant buyout.

Dixon was believed to be the coach UCLA was targeting to fill their vacancy. However, his $8 million buyout was always a hurdle, and it may be too much for the Bruins’ taste.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Drew Davison reported on Friday that TCU was not budging on a buyout price reduction UCLA was seeking, which was a stumbling block. Later in the day, the Los Angeles Times’ Ben Bolch reported that barring a change, Dixon is out as a candidate due to the buyout.

Bolch says UCLA may now turn to Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, who was also considered a top target, or one of their fallback options, like Saint Mary’s Randy Bennett, Texas’ Shaka Smart, or former Bruin Earl Watson. Smart finishing the season strong by winning the NIT may appeal to the Bruins’ brass.

Stories like this will not change the perception that UCLA is cheap, though the reality is they may feel Dixon is just not worth that kind of money. After all, they were offering big bucks to John Calipari, helping him to land his lifetime deal with Kentucky.

Report: Jamie Dixon trying to negotiate lower buyout to leave TCU for UCLA

Jamie Dixon

Jamie Dixon appears to be high on UCLA’s list of potential men’s head basketball coaches, but there may be a big financial obstacle standing in the way of them hiring him away from TCU.

Reports on Tuesday indicated that Dixon is nearing a deal with UCLA, but he has a hefty buyout with TCU. Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times was told that buyout is worth $8 million, and Dixon is trying to negotiate it all the way down to $1 million.

Buyouts exist for this exact reason, and there is no reason TCU should have to give up $7 million of what was a previously agreed upon arrangement. The idea of a buyout is to discourage a coach from leaving a program, so Dixon and UCLA should have to pony up if he wants to leave TCU after three seasons.

For what it’s worth, Stadium’s Jeff Goodman reports that Dixon and UCLA are confident the buyout can be sorted through.

Dixon was asked about the UCLA rumors recently and did not exactly issue a denial, so it could be just a matter of time before he’s announced as the next coach at UCLA. If the two sides are committed to it happening, the buyout is unlikely to be a deal-breaker.

Is Jamie Dixon headed to UCLA?

Jamie Dixon

The chatter surrounding Jamie Dixon and UCLA seems to be heating up.

Dixon was mentioned by the Los Angeles Times Monday as one of the top two candidates for the Bruins head coaching job, along with Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin. Cronin could be a candidate for Virginia Tech, while Cincinnati reportedly will make an effort to keep him. As for Dixon, he didn’t issue a denial when he addressed the reports on Monday, and he’s free now that TCU lost in the NIT semifinals on Tuesday night.

That led Go Joe Bruin to report that Dixon is nearing a deal with UCLA.

Similarly, Bay Area News’ Jon Wilner predicted Dixon would be named the Bruins’ head coach by Friday.

If this is indeed the direction they are going, I would hope it comes only after they were outright turned down by Tony Bennett and Chris Beard, whose teams are in the Final Four.

Dixon is not an exciting name, and some may bristle over his connections to previous Bruins coach Ben Howland, under whom he coached at Pitt and Northern Arizona. However, he won at Pitt and has done a pretty nice job of improving things at TCU. Though he’s unlikely to have the kind of success at UCLA that Howland did, he should be able to improve and stabilize the program if hired, which is necessary.

Report: Jamie Dixon, Mick Cronin are top targets for UCLA job

Jamie Dixon

UCLA appears to be closer to concluding its search for a new head basketball coach.

The Los Angeles Times’ Ben Bolch reported on Monday that the Bruins have narrowed their focus to Jamie Dixon and Mick Cronin for the coaching job. Cronin is currently the coach at Cincinnati, while Dixon is at TCU.

The Bruins apparently view Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett, Texas coach Shaka Smart, and former Suns coach Earl Watson as backup candidates. They reportedly want to have a coach in place next week before candidates start getting hired for vacancies.

John Calipari apparently actually met with UCLA and was offered a 6-year, $45 million contract, but he may have just used that as leverage to sign a lifetime deal with Kentucky. Bolch says Calipari was the only big-name coach who granted the Bruins a meeting.

By floating this information out there now, UCLA seems to be trying to manage the expectations for their fan base over the impending hire. Just over the weekend, I wrote that the Bruins were conspicuously quiet about their search and said they should be going after Virginia’s Tony Bennett and Texas Tech’s Chris Beard.

Though we cannot completely dismiss the possibility of Beard or Bennett — the Times says some coaches wanted to wait until after the Final Four before talking about the job — the report about Dixon or Cronin seems designed to let UCLA fans know they’re likely getting a B-list candidate.

Cronin, 47, has gone 296-147 over 13 seasons at Cincinnati. He had more success once the program moved to the weaker AAC compared to the Big East. A concern with him is that he’s never advanced beyond the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. I have my doubts about his ability to accomplish more with the program than Steve Alford did; they seem to be of similar ability. He also seems like he wouldn’t have too favorable handling with the media.

Jamie Dixon took over his alma mater, TCU, which had slipped badly under its previous coach. He turned them into an immediate winner and has put together three straight winning seasons. Prior to that, he took over the Pitt program when Ben Howland left for the UCLA job and took the program to the Tournament in 11 of 13 seasons. He had more middling levels of success when Pitt moved to the more difficult ACC compared to when they were in the Big East and mostly dominant.

Between the two, Dixon is a better option to me as he’s more accomplished, has enjoyed more postseason success, and has competed in more difficult conferences consistently.

Bennett or Beard would be miles ahead of either candidate though, and that’s who the Bruins should really be focusing on.

Report: UCLA interviews Earl Watson for head coaching vacancy

Earl Watson

The chatter surrounding UCLA’s search for a new head basketball coach has been oddly quiet, though we now know of at least one candidate to interview for the job.

Former Bruin Earl Watson interviewed for the job, according to ESPN’s Jordan Schultz. Schultz says that Watson would include former UCLA head coach Larry Brown as an assistant on his coach staff.

Watson, 39, played at UCLA from 1997-2001 and went on to enjoy a 13-season NBA career. He went into coaching immediately after retiring and quickly climbed up the ranks in Phoenix, where he became an interim head coach after Jeff Hornacek was fired in 2016. Watson went 33-85 in parts of three seasons and was fired after an 0-3 start to the 2017-2018 season.

Watson was linked to the UCLA job two years ago when Steve Alford was still the coach. He has been a popular candidate among the program’s former players.

Though Watson’s popularity among the alumni is a nice selling point, UCLA needs a more experienced and proven head coach. They really should be targeting Chris Beard and Tony Bennett for the job.

The rumors about John Calipari suggest the Bruins are aiming high.