- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior Writer
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They met on their way up the ladder two decades ago.
Ben Howland was a young assistant men's basketball coach at UC Santa Barbara looking for his first head-coaching job.
Dan Guerrero was the athletic director at UC Irvine, making his first major hire.
"That was sort of my first time I went one-on-one with him," Guerrero said. "I wound up hiring Pat Douglass because he had a great pedigree and I had a great relationship with him going in. But I really liked Ben.
"I remember saying, 'When he gets a shot, he's going to turn some things around.' A year later he got the Northern Arizona job. He did a great job there. He went to Pitt and did a great job there. So when I had the opportunity to make a hire, with what we had in the program at the time, and what UCLA needed, it needed an influx of a Ben Howland personality."
The question around Westwood the past couple of years has been whether UCLA still needs an influx of a Ben Howland personality.
UCLA has showed signs of life during its recent four-game winning streak, but after going 14-18 last season, the pressure to dramatically turn things around has mounted.
Not as far as Guerrero is concerned.
"I need Ben Howland. Why would I even think about looking at someone else?" Guerrero asked emphatically.
And if that isn't a public show of support, I don't know what is.
Is Howland cranky? Yes.
Could he benefit by sprinkling in a few smiles for the cameras? Of course.
But Guerrero's respect for the coach that took UCLA to three Final Fours in four seasons is evident.
"People don't really understand Ben. They don't really see him. They don't have the opportunity to see Ben Howland in practice, for example," Guerrero said.
"There's a difference between a hammer and a teacher. There's a difference between discipline and someone maintaining focus. Ben is an educator. He really is.
"By his own admission, he made some mistakes [in recruiting]. But I'm going to work with him. I'm not going to crucify him for those mistakes. Because Ben Howland is a hell of a coach, and anyone who understands basketball, anyone that's been around him, that knows the game, has the utmost respect for what he does as a coach.
"We need to turn it around, and we all get that. But we will."
Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow her on Twitter.
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