BE MY GUESTNot that I'm asking you to, Sandy...after all, it has been a rough season what with the injuries and all. But if you want to make the change...if a guy is out there who you think is an upgrade, well, Sandy what can I say?
Go ahead and fire Ben Braun.
It'll be hard, I know, Sandy. The coaching fraternity will close ranks, just like they did when Bob Bockrath had the guts to can Campanelli ('bout the only good thing he did, by the by). They'll cry in their coffee and Dicky V will wail at the injustice of letting a man go after his team struggled with three key injuries. They'll point to the record of achievement: 200 wins! Tournament appearances! A Sweet 16, for crying out loud! And all this at Berkeley, to boot! The best coach at Cal since Pete Newell!
Yes, yes - Ben Braun is a better basketball coach than the Dicks (Edwards and Kuchen for you youngun's), a mediocre coach with major anger management issues and a felonious punk. And he runs a clean program, and he's a good guy, to boot. We still deserve better, not that the MSM will believe it.
It'll be tough, Sandy, but I'll have your back and so will lots of other Blues, both young and old. Here's why:
* You and I both know, Sandy, that the notion that Ben's record is perfectly fine at a school like Cal is nonsense. Total bullshit, in fact (not that I'd recommend you put it just that way). Look at the Top 20 this year - how many of those schools "deserve" their current ranking based on storied basketball histories? Florida? One final four appearance before Billy the Kid showed up in Gainesville. A&M? Please. Wisconsin? Wazzu? Vandy? There's no reason Cal can't be in that company on a consistent basis.
Oh, and just for reference sake, Sandy, Cal's been in the Top 25 for 11 weeks during Ben's 11 years - and seven of those weeks were in the 2002-2003 season. One Sweet 16 in 11 years? No conference championships? Only two second-place finishes? You have to ask yourself, Sandy - are you satisfied being ASU? Oregon State? Wazzu? Wait, scratch that last one. Well, those are the only Pac-10 teams during Ben's tenure who haven't had greater success than Cal on the hardwood. Oregon and USC have made Elite Eights since 1997. Washington was a #1 seed in 2005. Why them? Or, more accurately, why not us?
* Ben's not taking us to the Final Four, and you and I both know it. In fact, I've done a wee bit of research to back it up. Looked at every coach to reach a Final Four since the field expanded to 64 teams back in '85. Only one coach has ever made it to the Promised Land after spending at least 11 years with the same school and never winning a conference championship (or tournament). Betcha can guess who it is, Sandy. That's right, it's Monty. Of course, Monty had only two losing seasons in conference before the Final Four run, compared with five for Ben, but I digress. So if you think Ben Braun is really Mike Montgomery in disguise, Sandy, then go ahead and book your hotel for San Antonio next March. We'll wait and see, if you don't mind.
* Your fan base is drying up. Look, Cal ain't Notre Dame, and you gotta give the kids and alums a good reason to put down the books and come in out of the sun to watch a basketball game. Ben's as exciting as cold oatmeal, which only matters because he can't win consistently. If he did, and fans sensed that all their money and frustration might add up to a new banner or two at Haas, then they'd turn out if we played games in the forties. But you know the score, Sandy, and you know better than to trust those announced attendance figures. People have forgotten about Cal hoops. When I was there, Cal was a basketball school - I remember camping outside of Harmon for season tickets back in the day. Now the Bears play in a bright, shiny morgue.
* It's not about this year, Sandy. It's about the entire resume. Though, if you wanted to make it about this year, you could make a decent argument. OK, so the team played hard - terrific, but isn't that what you expect at a bare minimum? The injuries were tough, sure, but most teams have at least some injuries. Besides, DeVon was healthy when we pissed a game away to San Diego. At home. And once the big fella went down, what exactly did Ben do to change things up? He had a couple of months to get his height-challenged guys to learn an effective zone defense - and if anything Cal looked worse in the zone at season's end than they did at the beginning. And scoring 16 points in the second half against ASU? Well, you saw it, Sandy. What did you think? And even if you do agree with Jay John and the other back-scratchers that Ben has done a terrific job this year, there's no debating the lack of energy and buzz surrounding the program.
Now here's the caveat, Sandy...I don't recommend you fire Ben just to fire him. I've seen Dick Kuchen coach, and you'll have to trust me that change for change's sake isn't what's prescribed here. Things can get a lot worse. A lot of the apologists know this, and they use that argument to justify sticking with Ben now. But Sandy, you know that they'll use the same damn argument next year after we go 20-11 with a loaded team.
What I'm saying is don't fire Ben unless you've got someone in your hip pocket who you believe would be a better coach. Like, say, Mike Montgomery. Monty won't talk to anyone if a coach is still under contract at the school - but he's got people, and you've got people, and your people can...well, I'm not going to tell you your business, Sandy. Just take this bit of advice - if you don't have an ace in the hole - be it Monty or someone else - then you should probably let Ben come back.
And spend all of your time lining up that ace in the hole for April 2008. You're probably gonna need him.