UCLA, having fired its coach on New Year’s Eve, had months to pursue a new leader to bring the men’s basketball program back to the prominence its fans and boosters so desperately craved.
But it took multiple public rejections and weeks of rumors until UCLA landed Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, a hire the Bruins announced the day after Virginia won the NCAA Tournament, on April 8.
Josh Rebholz, an associate athletic director leading the search at UCLA, communicated with donors via text message that the Bruins had offered to double Wright’s salary to come to Los Angeles, the report said.
“We would have loved for Jay Wright to walk out on the floor, but even when we offered to double his salary, he still wasn’t coming," Rebholz said in the text. "Nothing we can do about that. But I am proud of our effort. We didn’t assume anything, took our shots and I believe will end up with a solid coach who will embrace UCLA and build a program we all can be proud of and root for.”
According to USA Today’s NCAA men’s basketball salary database, Wright is making $3,878,768 a year to coach the Wildcats. That makes him the eighth-highest paid coach in Division I.
Ahead of Wright on the list are three coaches UCLA was also pursuing: Kentucky’s John Calipari (No. 1), Michigan State’s Tom Izzo (3) and Virginia’s Tony Bennett (4).
The Los Angeles Times said UCLA began its search with a list of 60-plus candidates, including the Celtics’ Brad Stevens and the Thunder’s Billy Donovan.
They were looking to find a hire as flashy and buzzy as ex-Eagles coach Chip Kelly, who took over UCLA’s football program last season.
Steve Alford led the Bruins to a 7-6 record before losing his job before the new year began. In five full seasons, he had led UCLA to four NCAA Tournament appearances, including three Sweet 16 finishes. His hiring after the firing of Ben Howland was less than ideal for UCLA — the Bruins wanted Stevens, who opted to jump to the NBA from Butler in 2013 — so it was important for the administration to get this hire right.
The LA Times reports that the school felt “Calipari’s interest had been genuine,” but he opted to stay at Kentucky. Jamie Dixon, formerly of Pittsburgh and now the head coach at his alma mater, TCU, wanted the job. The school went as far as putting his nameplate on an office, but TCU refused to renegotiate Dixon’s buyout.
On the day of the national championship, UCLA took another swing at it, having secured the money to pay the buyout.