It seemed like an ideal marriage and for awhile it was.Paul Westphal was a big name and well respected in basketball. He had made plenty of money in the NBA and didn’t need a higher profile coaching job that would pay more. Pepperdine needed a guy like that to continue having success in the sport.But in Malibu last week the harsh reality was that a coach who didn’t win had to go, regardless of his past success and splendid character.Athletic Director John Watson fired Westphal, who had a year remaining on his contract, following a 7-20 season that included defeats in the final eight games.The search for a new coach is underway.’’I felt it was time for a change,’’ said Watson. ’’Paul was very disappointed yet accepting of the decision. I wish it had been different because he was an ideal match for this institution.’’Since Pepperdine doesn’t have a football team, basketball is the school’s biggest revenue-generating sport. Unfortunately, when a team loses attendance often dwindles and such was the case in Malibu.Jim Harrick’s teams won four conference championships at Pepperdine, Tom Asbury and Jan van Breda Kolff had considerable success too and the Waves went 22-9 in the 2001-’02 season, Westphal’s first.But the last two years were disappointing. The Waves faltered last season despite the presence of several talented players. Then guard Alex Acker decided to forego his senior season to enter the NBA draft, leaving Westphal without a star and with a young, inexperienced team.Acker would have been the Waves’ best player. Instead he was the final player chosen in the NBA draft. He became a member of the Detroit Pistons but was rarely activated for games.The sudden emergence of freshman point guard Michael Garrity gave the Waves some hope early in the season. In the opening game, Pepperdine was surprisingly competitive against national power Connecticut. The Waves lost, but fans began to believe the season might not be as bad as expected.However, the losses mounted and Pepperdine won only three conference games. Compounding the problem, arch-rival Loyola Marymount, under a new coach, had a good season and reached the championship game of the West Coast Conference Tournament in Spokane. The Lions then lost to perennial power Gonzaga by only two points. It was well known that a year remained on Westphal’s contract and a theory circulated that the coach wouldn’t be fired because Pepperdine didn’t want to pay him and another coach next season. But, ultimately, that rumor turned out to be false.Westphal is a Southern California hero in basketball. He was all-CIF at Aviation High in Redondo, starred at USC and played in the NBA for 12 seasons.He coached Phoenix and Seattle in the NBA, once coached a small, little-known school in Arizona and frequently expressed his love for the sport. A TV feature story on him included showing a basketball in the back seat of his car and his explanation that while driving, you never know when you’ll pass a gym and want to go in and play.However, after 20 losses in 27 games Watson explained:“I felt the program needed a change.’’With the departure of Westphal, the future is uncertain for assistant coach Jim Nielsen, who was a high school head coach in the South Bay for 27 years before joining Westphal’s staff five years ago. Recruiting will be a major task for the new coach because there isn’t an abundance of outstanding talent on the roster now.
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