NCAA Tournament: Determining UCLA Basketball Coach Ben Howland’s Fate

It's no secret that the UCLA basketball gig could open up soon. With Ben Howland firmly on the hot seat, the likelihood that the ten-year head coach and the highest-paid employee in the University of California getting dismissed is currently a coin flip.

Indeed, because of UCLA's underwhelming season, which saw the Bruins earn signature wins and lose in embarrassing fashion to bad teams, Howland's job status lies firmly on how well he does in the NCAA tournament. A quick exit seals his fate, while a run to the Sweet Sixteen complicates things.

Let's try and figure out the possible scenarios and the likelihood that Howland is fired under each. Hit the jump already.

Scenario 1: UCLA Loses To Minnesota

Arbitrary Ben Howland Firing Probability: 99%

We can't say Howland's gone for sure if he manages to blow it against Minnesota, but we can say that we can't envision him coming back at all if that happens. As it is, the general assumption is that there will be a new head coach, and a disastrous, first-round loss will cement that belief.

Scenario 2: UCLA Loses In Round Of 32

Arbitrary Ben Howland Firing Probability: 90%

Perhaps there'd be some sadistic person in the UCLA athletics administration office that would sell Ben Howland's retention hard enough, emphasizing on the fact that the Bruins were ranked in the Top 25 to end the season and wound up with the Pac-12 regular season title in hand. However, that'd have be a helluva pitch to sway over the angry alumni, who have been asking for Howland's ousting since the Cal Poly loss. A loss in the Round of 32 is still considered a quick exit, and failing to make noise in the tournament is a problem.

Scenario 3: UCLA Loses In The Sweet 16

Arbitrary Ben Howland Firing Probability: 70%

This is where things get unbelievably complicated, and perhaps needlessly so. The Bruins will have made some noise in the tournament, but only minimally so. Meanwhile, fans still remember the vast amount of Sweet Sixteens that oft-maligned head coach Steve Lavin brought the Bruins in the early 2000s, which followed seasons akin to the Bruins' 2012-13 campaign. However, Howland supporters will point to the Sweet Sixteen appearance as some form of progress, that the team began to gel before facing a clearly superior team, before the short rotation caught up to the Bruins. The argument will be significantly stronger if Howland gets to the Sweet Sixteen. (Note: Those arguments are still stupid.)

Scenario 4: UCLA Loses In The Elite 8

Arbitrary Ben Howland Firing Probability: 49%

This is where the decision nears closest to a coin flip, because some felt getting to the Elite Eight should be the Bruins' goal for 2012-13. Indeed, an Elite Eight appearance would almost certainly have to do with some sort of coaching prowess given the Bruins are running a maximum of seven men and a minimum of six (if Howland refuses to grow a sack and sits Parker). Of course, the baseline for many fans was still the Final Four and the argument will almost certainly be made that the lack of depth at Howland's disposal was brought upon by Howland himself (see: transfers). Still, it becomes easier to envision a Howland-led UCLA team heading into 2013-14.

Scenario 5: UCLA Loses In The Final Four

Arbitrary Ben Howland Firing Probability: 25%

If UCLA gets to the Final Four, it almost becomes implausible to fire him. The argument can be made, and the minority will be vocal, but Howland would have fulfilled the baseline expectations of most UCLA fans, and the Final Four runs from 2006 to 2008 are what has kept Howland at UCLA so long in the first place. What could hurt him is the burned recruiting bridges in the local scene, something that won't be fixed so long as he's head coach. But even with that, many will overlook it and give him another year before he finds himself on the hot seat again.

Scenario 6: UCLA Loses In The National Final

Arbitrary Ben Howland Firing Probability: 10%

That vocal minority would cease being vocal and a trip to the National Final would nearly guarantee Howland sticks around for at least another year. It'll earn him a lot of goodwill and fans will try to forget how disastrous the regular season was. Recruiting bridges will still be burned, but it'll look like Howland adjusted and didn't need the local recruiting ties anyway. Any goodwill could only last a year, though, and a bad season to follow up with this one could lead to his ouster.

Scenario 7: UCLA Hangs Banner No. 12

Arbitrary Ben Howland Firing Probability: 0.01%

Not only does Howland secure his job for the following year with a National Title, but he'll also secure his job for another two or three years, because national championships tend to have that effect on a program. Clearly, no one will be upset that Howland will stick around because bringing national championships is obviously the best a coach can do in a season. However, things could go horribly awry in which Kyle Anderson, Jordan Adams, Tony Parker, Shabazz Muhammad, David Wear, Travis Wear and — nevermind, Howland would be back for another few years.