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Rick Pitino Is A Problematic Hire But Still UCLA’s Best Option

How often do you find a Hall of Famer with nothing much to do and everything in the world to prove?

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NCAA Basketball: Duke at Louisville
Jan 14, 2017; Louisville, KY, USA; Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino reacts during the first half against the Duke Blue Devils at KFC Yum! Center. Louisville defeated Duke 78-69. 
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

After firing Steve Alford, UCLA is beginning to face up to the reality of its basketball program, according to Bill Plaschke of the LA Times:

“I never thought I would write this, but the stark reality is that coaching the UCLA men’s basketball team is not a great job...Your arena sits mostly quiet and half-empty...You don’t have the amenities of a Kansas or Kentucky, where every road trip is on a chartered plane and where the coaches recruit from private jets. You mostly fly commercial, which affects everything from practice schedules to body clocks.

“You don’t have the national exposure of a North Carolina or Duke, where every game is played in a full arena. You play home games that are scheduled at 6 p.m. during the middle of the week because of the enduring embarrassment of the Pac-12 Conference’s TV deal, and your players are virtually unknown because of the sham that is the Pac-12 Network.

“The ticket prices at new Pauley Pavilion are too high. The local perception of the program is shockingly low. The school’s support of the program has lagged such that when the Bruins traveled to Dayton, Ohio, for an NCAA Tournament play-in game last March, the pep band didn’t even make the trip...UCLA basketball is no longer UCLA basketball.”

That’s harsh but no doubt accurate. Who ever dreamed that they would miss Steve Lavin?

There is an easy answer though. UCLA is down. By Bruin standards it’s beyond down and John Wooden is not walking through that door people.

But Rick Pitino could.

Angry and wounded, Pitino has sworn off coaching college after his fall at Louisville but who believes that? He reportedly tried for the Siena job. Siena!

He’s been licking his wounds since getting fired. You can argue, as we have, that the head coach has to be accountable for his program, and there are still questions about Adidas to be answered.

But UCLA wouldn’t be the first school to ever make a questionable hire and the novelty of it would overshadow the questions. Hiring Rick Pitino to walk through that door (he’ll never escape that line) and whip UCLA back into an elite program would be a huge story.

It’d be amazing if UCLA brought him in immediately but realistically, he would need months to get his system in place because it relies heavily on supreme conditioning and he might not want to face a semester of losing.

Even so, Pitino and UCLA, both wounded and fallen, need each other. He would be keenly aware that this is his last chance for redemption, his final shot to leave Louisville behind as UCLA recovers and begins to dominate the PAC-12 as it once did.

And the Burins? They’d get a massive dose of publicity. The early stuff might be negative but that would pass. And then it would be UCLA on Sports Center constantly.

And Pitino, in his long and remarkable career, would never be more motivated to win and certainly never more motivated to avoid problems.

UCLA might be able to hire a really good coach. Then again, they might not. How often do you find a Hall of Famer with nothing much to do and everything in the world to prove?

This could be totally fascinating if UCLA actually goes after him.

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