Ben Howland kept it classy in departing as UCLA basketball coach on Monday, thanking the athletic director who had fired him a day earlier while noting the high expectations that come with running a program that owns a record 11 national championships.
Howland was applauded by supporters as he walked into a news conference at Pauley Pavilion for the last time. The 55-year-old coach expressed gratitude for his 10-year run in Westwood, the longest tenure since John Wooden retired in 1975 after 27 years on the sideline.
Howland had a 233-107 record that included three consecutive Final Four appearances and four Pac-12 titles, including this season, when the Bruins were 25-10. Their season ended with a 20-point loss to Minnesota in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
"As a coach, you always remember the losses way better than the wins," he said.
Howland said he's excited about his future and wants to coach again, although he doesn't know where or when that will happen.
"It's where the best opportunity is," he said afterward. "I can live anywhere. I want to compete at the highest level."
He said he took the unusual step of meeting the media after his firing because he wanted to publicly thank his current and former players and staff. He recited a laundry list of names, including his wife, Kim, who kissed him after he finished.
No senior athletic department officials attended, including athletic director Dan Guerrero, who fired Howland in a meeting on Sunday.
Howland declined to discuss details of what was said.
"I enjoyed our working relationship, his support and his regard for all we accomplished," Howland said, reading from a prepared statement he had worked on after being dismissed.
Howland sidestepped a question on whether he was treated fairly, considering the Bruins won the league's regular-season title and lost in its tournament title game playing without freshman Jordan Adams, who broke his foot in the semifinals.
Howland's four league titles were the most by any UCLA coach since Wooden.
"We had a great year. I was so proud of our players and coaches to win the Pac-12 championship," he said. "I feel very good about leaving here with a good nucleus."
However, Guerrero cited "a depleted roster" as one of the reasons he let Howland go.
Attendance lagged at games this season despite a $138 million renovation of Pauley Pavilion, and UCLA missed the NCAA tournament twice in Howland's last four seasons. The Bruins haven't reached the final 16 since 2008.
"It's very complex," he said about coaching at UCLA. "There's a lot that goes into it."
A national search is under way for Howland's successor.
"They're not going to have a hard time finding a great coach to come in here. They're not going to hire a rookie," he said. "I just wish him the very best."
When he arrived in April 2003, Howland said there would never be another Wooden, who remained close to the program under Howland's stewardship until he died in 2010.
"It's a place that has such high expectations and that's understandable," Howland said, calling UCLA "the premier athletic program in the country."
Howland pointed out that every player who stayed four years with him went on to graduate.
He said he either met with or spoke by phone with his current players, who are on spring break this week.
"I've encouraged them all to continue to work hard and to develop," he said. "I'm nothing but supportive of these kids and their futures here at UCLA."
Standout Shabazz Muhammad is expected to declare for the NBA draft and fellow freshman Kyle Anderson might follow him out the door.
Howland is already gone, out of a job but unwilling to express any public negativity.
"I will always feel great about my experience here," he said. "I'm just so lucky and feel so blessed."