Future of the Program: Part I

Uncertainty around the future of Arizona’s program continues to fester towards a boiling point that a sweep of the Washington schools and a 3-game winning streak are an insufficient salve. No winning streak, in-game heroics, or even a PAC-10 crown will resolve the issues that the program faces, but at least they can appease our apprehensions and make the current predicament more enjoyable. Jim Livengood and the Wildcats must designate a successor to the Arizona program after the sudden health-related retirement of Lute Olson. In doing so they will shape the face of basketball in Tucson for many years to come. Who will be hired? A defensive-minded coach? A family guy? A critical coach like Bobby Knight was during his career?

John Wooden & Lute Olson both firmly believed the program came first.
John Wooden & Lute Olson both firmly believed the program came first.




 Sure, there are times when the coach rises to an elite level that upon retirement there is a feeling of rebuilding rather than retooling. That will always be the case when a guy like John Wooden, Dean Smith, or Lute Olson retire from their posts. What made these coaches the elite coaches they were is that the program always came first. It wasn’t about self-promotion or promoting a player or even favoring a player over another. It was strictly about the program and striving to make it the best they could. That is the greatest attribute I believe that a coach can and must have, and whoever Livengood declares to be the head coach in a few short weeks absolutely must hold this value.

A coach’s program first mentality dictates everything the coach does from how they present themselves to how the recruit and which type of players they sign. If a coach lacks this type of mentality you the program is bound to be surrounded by on and off-court strife. On the other hand, if a coach permits this mentality to dictate their decisions they will find perpetual success and greater consistency from year to year.

Perhaps the most notable way we see this mentality played out is with the players who are recruited. The coach will willingly sacrifice recruiting some of the elite players like O.J. Mayo and Brandon Jennings – who were merely using a given program as a stepping stone into the NBA – for the sake of the program. Instead they will recruit players like Kyle Fogg, Michael Roll, or James Harden who will put aside their own egos for the sake of the team. Which leads me to my second desire from a coach – the ability to continue the family tradition at Arizona.


I’m sure Arizona will see its fair share of one-and-done players in the near future until the NBA age-restriction is lifted or modified, but the players that are recruited must buy into a system and play within the team rather than with an agenda. The future coach of Arizona must have a track record of pursuing players who aren’t playing for themselves or the NBA scouts. Although the number elite recruits with the proper mentality are beginning to dwindle, there are still enough to ensure this is being done without sacrificing talent. Arizona State’s James Harden is the perfect example. He was clearly capable of turning pro last season and is by far and away the best player in a Sun Devils’ jersey this year. But he conducts himself in a respectable manner and looks to make the players around him better as well.


One of the greatest ways a coach can recruit players like that is to instill that mentality throughout the program. To accomplish this the coach must exhibit that same characteristic in how they conduct themselves. A great example of this would be Mark Few, who has put together a great group of classy players because they see the success the program has had. During his time at Gonzaga, Few has had numerous job opportunities for larger, more historic programs but has remained because he’s not doing the job to put himself in line for a better, more desirable position but to have success where he’s at. In turn, he is capable of attracting the players who want to be a part of something great on the college level and not just put in their time en route to a high paid NBA contract.


If Arizona is to continue their success Livengood needs to hire a coach who puts the program before the players and himself. This dedication is far more important to maintain the level of success that has been seen in Tucson than the style of offense or defense that is played, than the individual players that are recruited, and the coaching style a successor might bring.

So many other questions come to mind and I probably won’t touch on all of them. But before I start talking about coaches I would like to see roaming courtside in Tucson, I need to talk about what direction I would like to see the program headed. After all, in the scheme of things it is the coach who guides the direction of the program but the program is what should hold more value.





8 Responses to “Future of the Program: Part I”

  1. 1 Mike C February 5, 2009 at 10:56 am

    How about Steve Lavin? Not once have i heard his name for this job even though he did a great job with UCLA a couple years back. He has a great ability to recruit and is under 50 years old.

  2. 2 naterb February 5, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Are we talking about the same Steve Lavin? The reason why he’s not mentioned for the position is the same reason why he’s been an tv analyst for the past several years – he’s not suited for a head coaching job at a major program.

    Frankly, his coaching ability is on par with his ability to announce a game without being bias towards UCLA.

  3. 3 Mike C February 5, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    I believe taking a team to the elite eight is a great accomplishment. He also had the number one recruiting class for 4 years straight.

  4. 4 Todd February 6, 2009 at 8:13 am

    When I think of Lavin, I think of a AZ-UCLA game at Pauley where we absolutely blew them out. Lavin essentially gave up on the game midway through the 2nd half and cleared his bench. He put guys out there who only get off the pine when the team is up by 30 with two minutes left. I suppose you could see this as giving bench guys valuable experience, but to me it looked like giving up long before the game was over. I think Lavin does a decent job as a commentator, but I agree with Naterb that he is not an Arizona quality coach.

    Few seems like a really good guy and a great coach. The one bad thing I can say about Few is that part of his success is due to the fact that he coaches in the WCC. He has built a program that dominates his conference, but the Zags also have a tradition of bailing out early in the NCAA’s. I wonder, if given the opportunity to coach in a major conference, he would rise to the challenge of an increased level of competition. My hunch is that he probably would.

  5. 5 Mike C February 6, 2009 at 9:55 am

    So are you saying that Arizona is above UCLA? Because we aren’t and never will be. If Lavin was a UCLA quality coach then he is automatically a Arizona quality coach.

  6. 6 naterb February 6, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    I would say that Arizona is a program that deserves to be better off than UCLA was during the tenure of Steve Lavin.

    Lavin may have had some good recruiting classes, but if it is as you say that he had 4 consecutive #1 recruiting classes, they should’ve turned the tables when he was there, if he was any kind of a decent coach. But that kind of recruiting success and only one Elite Eight to show for it is not a good sign.

    I’m also not sold on the fact that consistently getting the best recruits (based upon high school performance) translates into perpetual success. Sure, those guys have their place, but I believe the mid-level recruiting is far more important than the top tier guys. I’ll discuss that more when I get into my next look into what I want to see in Arizona’s future.

  7. 7 Pac10Rivalry.com February 7, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    Lavin went to the Elite 8 with a group of Jim Harrick’s players. That’s not to say he didn’t do well as a coach, because I think he did for the most part.

    But, taking a program like UCLA and coaching them to their first losing season in 50-some years doesn’t bode well.

    Also, I believe you are incorrect in saying Lavin had 4 straight No. 1 recruiting classes – I do believe he had only two No. 1 recruiting classes and they were a few years apart from one another.

  8. 8 David February 10, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    Naterb who are the top three coaches that you want?

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February 2009
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