UCLA, Minnesota coaches under pressure
by Eric Prisbell, USA TODAY Sports
AUSTIN, Texas – They have a combined four Final Four appearances and one national championship between them. But questions about job security hover over UCLA’s Ben Howland and Minnesota’s Tubby Smith entering Friday’s second-round NCAA tournament game.
Some tournament games are intriguing because of individual matchups or the potential for upsets. The UCLA-Minnesota game is compelling because of the possibility that both accomplished coaches could be out, win or lose.
Howland took UCLA to three consecutive Final Fours between 2006 and 2008. Smith, who led Kentucky to the national championship in 1998, has stewarded Minnesota to three of the 12 NCAA tournament appearances in school history. And their careers intersect Friday night as both face uncertain futures at their respective schools.
“Adversity is a part of athletics,” Howland said Thursday. “It’s a part of what we do … Real adversity is someone out there who does not have a job. Real adversity is someone who is trying to feed their kids and struggling to make it. Real adversity is having your mortgage under water.”
Before Minnesota left for Austin, Smith said, “This is a business of what-you-have-done-for-me-lately? That is the way the business operates. That’s the profession we chose. That is not up to me … As I’ve said before, I don’t apologize or defend anything, we do the best we can, we do a good job and that’s why we’re NCAA-bound right now.”
Howland and Smith took turns Thursday endorsing each other. Howland called Smith a Hall of Fame coach. Smith said Howland has done a “remarkable” job this season.
This season, the teams arrive seemingly headed in opposite directions. After a strong start to the season, Minnesota has won just five of its past 16 games. And after their non-conference performance was marred by a loss to Cal Poly, UCLA came to together and won the Pac-12 regular season title.
But the big-picture view of their tenures is more complicated.
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At Minnesota, Smith has confronted myriad challenges. His teams have typically struggled in February. And the Golden Gophers have not finished above .500 in the Big Ten in … [For more on As UCLA, Minnesota square off, coaches under pressure, click here.]