Friday, March 17, 2006

Flashbacks for Gottfried?

By Matt Tiano
Freelance Writer

With Alabama Head Coach Mark Gottfried preparing to face UCLA in the second round of the NCAA tournament Saturday, he can’t help but remember the career jump-start he received from Westwood.

Gottfried, a graduate of Alabama, passed up a chance to return to his alma mater in 1987 as a graduate assistant, and instead accepted an offer from Head Coach Jim Harrick to join his staff at UCLA.

He progressed up the “food chain” to become the lead assistant at UCLA, learning the ropes from Harrick and also from longtime friend and mentor John Wooden.

During his seven-year tenure at UCLA, the Bruins made the NCAA tournament each year, including winning a national title in 1995.

Known as a brilliant recruiter and judge of talent, Gottfried was instrumental, along with fellow assistant coach Lorenzo Romar, in recruiting the No.1 ranked freshman class in 1994 which included; Toby Bailey, J.R. Henderson, omm’A Givens, and Kris Johnson.

Gottfried’s ability to judge talent is evidenced by the number of players he helped recruit and who went on to play in the NBA including; Ed O’Bannon, George Zidek, Tyus Edney, Don MacLean, Tracy Murray, and Mitchell Butler.

As the lead assistant coach on the nation’s top team in 1995, Gottfried was primed to receive head coaching offers – and they came. The first offer came from Murray State, and Gottfried immediately accepted.

Later in the summer, coach Jim Harrick was found guilty of various recruiting violations and was subsequently fired by UCLA Athletic Director Peter Dalis, thereby sending UCLA in search of a new head coach.

If Gottfried had been available for the UCLA head coaching position, one wonders if UCLA would have remained atop the college basketball world? Instead, fellow UCLA assistant coach Steve Lavin received the call, and was placed in a position he was by no means prepared for.

Upon his arrival, Gottfried turned around a Murray State team which had previously struggled. In his first three seasons, the Racers were NIT bound, but in his final two seasons at the helm of Murray State, they advanced to the NCAA tournament. He led Murray State to three Ohio Valley Conference titles.

Then Alabama came calling, and Gottfried jumped at the opportunity to be in charge of his former alma mater and a team in a major conference, the SEC.

The year 2002 marked the first-time in Alabama history it received a No.1 ranking in college basketball. He was named AP & SEC Coach of the Year that year.

Gottfried does not take for granted the opportunity he was given to learn from his mentors at UCLA, veteran coach Jim Harrick and legendary John Wooden.

UCLA has had a long history of excellent assistant coaches. Fellow assistant Romar, who also left prior to the firing of Harrick, went on to other head coaching positions, and currently enjoys success as the head coach at Washington. Today, UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland has two top-25 ranked recruiters on his staff in Donny Daniels and Kerry Keating.

“It’s a great opportunity for our program [to play UCLA],” he said. “I have great memories from my stay there. It was a life-changing experience being a part of the 1995 championship.”

Now, Gottfried’s Crimson Tide stand in the way of the Bruins, as UCLA eyes a twelfth national championship, their first since Gottfried helped earn one in 1995.



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