iOS app Android app More

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors
Ari Shapiro

Ari Shapiro

Posted: April 1, 2010 07:36 AM

Dear St. John's: Enjoy Steve Lavin. Love, UCLA

What's Your Reaction:

Steve Lavin is not a good basketball coach. No seriously, he sucks.

And since St. John's recently hired "Coach" Lavin to lead their men's basketball team after every other viable candidate (hey, is Lane Kiffin available?) turned them down, I feel the need to set the record straight.

There are currently two interpretations of Steve Lavin's career: Lavin's interpretation and the truth. Lavin's interpretation was adopted by just about every media outlet in the country after Lavin was fired in 2003, and it appears that St. John's has bought into the hype as well. Meanwhile, those of us who actually suffered through the Lavin era at UCLA are left clinging to the truth.

Steve Lavin's interpretation of his career goes something like this:

In seven seasons at UCLA, Steve Lavin's Bruins made five appearances in the Sweet 16 and advanced to the Elite Eight in 1997. The only other coach to enjoy so much success during that time was Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. Lavin signed the top recruiting class in the country in both 1998 and 2001, he signed seven McDonald's All-Americans (including three in one year), and seven of his former players are still playing in the NBA. In addition, Lavin's Bruins beat the No. 1-ranked team in the country four different times, not to mention taking out top-seeded Cincinnati in the 2002 NCAA Tournament. Yet despite this success, they expect National Titles in Westwood, so Steve Lavin was ultimately fired in 2003 after a disappointing 10-19 campaign. Poor Stevey was just another victim of John Wooden's success.

Excuse me while I go throw up.

Now, let me tell you the truth:

When Steve Lavin took over for Jim Harrick in 1996, he inherited an immensely talented team that was only 19 months removed from winning a National Title. Lavin then added the top recruiting class in the country in both 1998 and 2001, signing seven McDonald's All-Americans overall, including three in one year.

But Lavin's teams consistently underperformed.

Year after year, Steve Lavin took teams talented enough to cruise into the Final Four and helped them flame out in the Sweet 16. The only other coach to accomplish such a feat during that time was UCLA football coach Bob Toledo, and he was fired.

In fairness to Lavin, however, his teams weren't always terrible. In fact, they would usually come to play about once a year, just to show the fans how good they could be if they actually felt like playing. As a result, Lavin's Bruins beat the No. 1-ranked team in the country four different times and also took out top-seeded Cincinnati in the 2002 NCAA Tournament.

But the success of Lavin's teams against the nation's elite should come as no surprise. Because of Lavin's recruiting classes, the Bruins were made up of the best basketball players in the country. They beat the best not because Steve Lavin was able to coax a super-human performance out of his inferior players, but because he was able (one day each year) to convince his superior players to play like superior players. These victories were not flukes; Lavin's teams actually were that good.

As it should be with any self-respecting athletic program, Lavin's inability to get his players to perform at their highest level finally did him in. In 2003, after leading UCLA to its worst record in over 50 years, Lavin's time with the Bruins mercifully came to an end. In his press conference announcing Lavin's departure, UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero said, "Reaching the Sweet 16 every year with Final Four talent isn't an accomplishment, it's an embarrassment."

Okay, I'm kidding. Dan Guerrero never said that, I did. But you get the point. Steve Lavin may be a good recruiter and he may have really shiny hair, but he is not a good coach.

And yet, despite the mountain of evidence in my corner, I can already hear many of you (mainly the Red Storm fans) complaining that what I call the "truth" is nothing more than the biased, bitter ramblings of a UCLA grad who overestimated his teams and blamed it on the coach.

So just in case you're still skeptical, just in case you've bought into Lavin's interpretation, let's plan to talk again in five years. Come find me after Lavin has recruited the best talent in the country, still managed to flame out in the Sweet 16, and St. John's is again looking for a new coach.

Who knows, by then maybe Bob Toledo will be available.

 

Follow Ari Shapiro on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheCheapSeats09