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Are College Basketball Fans' Expectations Becoming Unrealistic?

Howland and Smith are great coaches. Neither have jobs.

Last week, Ben Howland and Tubby Smith were getting their teams ready the square off against each other in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This week, they are both looking for work. Despite Howland guiding his Bruins to the Pac-12 regular season title and Smith leading his Gophers to an upset of UCLA, both schools have decided to start anew.

Coaches seem to get fired all the time in major college sports. As salaries have ballooned, so too have expectations, leaving coaches with a short period of time to turn their struggling programs into success stories before feeling the pressure from fans and athletic administrators. Is this culture really conducive to sustained success?

Tubby Smith took Minnesota to three NCAA Tournaments in six years, including the first time in 15 years the school had made consecutive appearances. This season, the Gophers finished in the middle of the pack of the toughest conference in the nation, but proved their worth with a dominant performance against UCLA. In Smith's six years on the job, his teams only failed to reach 20 wins in a season once. Minnesota was never really a contender for a national or conference title, but the Gophers were not totally irrelevant either.

Ben Howland's situation is slightly more complicated. Upon first glance at his resume, one might think he would have a lifetime contract locked up. Seven NCAA Tournament appearances, four conference regular season titles, two conference tournament championships, and three Final Fours, all in ten years. But John Wooden still looms large at UCLA, and so does the high bar he set with the ten national championship banners he put in the Pauley Pavilion rafters. Success for many in Westwood means more banners, something Howland obviously failed to deliver.

These two high-profile firings are a sign of the times in college basketball. Patience wears thin rather quickly, and schools are always looking for the next great coach to carry their program to national prominence. Striving for greatness is admirable, and no one should suppress that, but sometimes greatness just takes some time to develop. The big knock on Howland was his inability to attract local talent. There were also many reports that he had alienated high school coaches across Southern California with his gritty, defense-first coaching style. Ultimately, the three Final Fours were too distant of memories to justify keeping him around for another year.

It's no secret that Tubby Smith and Ben Howland are great coaches, and they will probably find solid jobs in the next few years when they are ready to coach again. Minnesota and UCLA decided that these two men weren't great enough for their basketball programs, at least going forward.

It took Mike Krzyzewski eleven years before capturing a title at Duke. John Wooden won his first championship in his sixteenth year at UCLA. Jim Boeheim went a whole 27 years at Syracuse before finally winning it all in 2003.

People will argue that these three coaches began their careers in much different times compared to the present day, and thus the comparisons are unfair. I agree, in that a lot more is expected of coaches now because of higher salaries and more attention garnered by college basketball than ever before. But in this era of the one-and-done freshman phenom, great seasons can be had before a game is even played. As Kentucky showed last year, all it takes is one standout recruiting class and a team can be right back on top.

Howland and Smith have worn out their welcomes at their respective schools, and sadly, nowadays, it's become common for coaches of their caliber to be shown the door prematurely. Every school wants an elite basketball program, but I think it is worth giving a good coach the benefit of the doubt before going off in search of a "better" one who may not exist.