UCLA currently leads the NCAA with 11 national championships to its name. 10 of those belong to John Wooden…1 belongs to Jim Harrick. In 1995, after 20 years, UCLA won its 11th national title under Coach Harrick with a staff that included Steve Lavin, Lorenzo Romar, and our own Mark Gottfried. Wasn’t long before all three had the chance to step out and become head coaches on their own. They had been born out of a championship pedigree…having been under the tutelage of a highly successful, great coach in Jim Harrick while always under the watchful eye of seemingly omnipresent John Wooden. There is no denying that these three were given the mentorship and tools to spark their own success at the highest level. What happened instead was sparks of success eventually leading to nothingness.
Steve Lavin had the fortune to get the UCLA job after Harrick left under dubious circumstances. In his first season he won the Pac-12 and made the Elite Eight. The next few years he’d make 4 Sweet Sixteens but never won the conference again. UCLA’s standards did not find this acceptable and Lavin flamed out his final season, missing the NCAAs and losing his job. Similar to another coach we’ll discuss, Lavin went into broadcasting and eventually got a redemption tour when he was hired at St. John’s. Lavin famously recruited highly to the struggling program but failed to get them any traction outside of 2 NCAA appearances. Mostly, Lavin’s poor health led to the bulk of his struggles but ultimately he parted ways with St. John’s having failed to finish higher than third in conference with no deep NCAA runs to speak of.
Fellow championship assistant, Lorenzo Romar spent some mediocre years at Pepperdine & St Louis before somehow landing the job at Washington where he’s been for 15 (!?!?!) years at this point. Lorenzo seemed like he’d be the apple to land closest to the tree when in his first 10 years he won the conference 4 times and made 3 Sweet Sixteens. It was only a matter of time for him to break through and make UW a national power. Yet in the past 5 years his Huskies have missed the NCAAs and this year, despite having a guaranteed Top 5 NBA Lottery, Pick they will miss the tourney again barring a miracle (sound familiar?). Romar’s seat is officially on fire and Washington will likely have to make a move soon.
Now we could talk about Mark Gottfried, but we know Mark Gottfried. The point here is that a major aspect of Gott’s resume when he was hired was this connection to his time at UCLA. Whether that be a championship on his resume, his devotion to the UCLA High Post, or, early in his State tenure, keeping Jim Harrick around as an unofficial assistant, all of these factors highlights his reliance on his years in Westwood. In the analysis of Gott and his contemporaries we see a familiar pattern of occasional second weekend runs in the tourney, scattered conference titles, and elite-level recruiting. What we also see is the inability to elevate good programs to greatness, disastrous incidents that derail whole seasons, and complete meltdowns towards the latter half of their tenure.
I imagine UCLA in 1995 was magical place. To be a historically significant college basketball program who hasn’t won a title in decades only to experience that feeling again has to be rejuvenating for a program and fanbase. All credit goes to Jim Harrick and his staff’s wonderful job of getting them there…we’d hope the past would be prologue but unfortunately the track record of his protégés show that they will never be able to provide that magical experience for any program moving forward.