Dickey: Braun era coming to an end

Barring a miracle in the Pac-10 Conference men’s basketball tournament, this will be the last week of Ben Braun’s coaching career at Cal.

Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour made some revealing comments last week. She started by affirming her support of Braun, but then added that she thought the Bears had the players to win and that she felt they should be competing with top teams in the conference and nationally.

Sounds to me like she was preparing the speech she’ll make to the Haas brothers when she tells them why she has to fire Braun. And though they’ve been big supporters of Braun in the past, I don’t believe they’ll oppose that.

Braun’s coaching record has trended down for years. His best year was his first, when his team got to the Sweet 16 — with the players recruited by his predecessor, Todd Bozeman.

The Bears have been below .500 in conference play three of the last four years. This season was their worst as they finished ninth in the conference at 6-12. It’s even worse than that, because two of their wins came against 0-18 Oregon State. Against the rest of the conference, Cal was 4-12. They got hosed by referees in Saturday’s game against UCLA — does anybody really expect Pac-10 officials to get it right? — but winning that game would have made their record only marginally better.

Not competing against the best teams in the conference? The Bears aren’t even competing against the middle teams.

Meanwhile, there are other disturbing signs. Three times in the last four years, average attendance at home games has been in the 8,000 range. This season was the lowest yet — 8,249.

Graduation rates for Cal players have been below 50 percent in each year this decade. Part of that is because the NCAA only counts graduation at the school at which the athlete started, so if a player transfers and graduates from his second school, he’s still counted as a non-graduate for his original school. There have been multiple transfers under Braun.

But that just points to another problem: Players don’t like him. He harangues them for mistakes and yells at them if they question his strategy. He often makes them a scapegoat after losses, then piously claims that he’s not blaming them. Really?

He will not take criticism from anybody. Years ago, he forced the cancellation of a popular postgame show because his strategy was being questioned. Early on, he got rid of assistants who questioned him, so the current assistants keep their mouths shut.

Barbour knows all this. She mostly keeps her own counsel, but she’s totally involved in Cal athletics and has often spoken of her desire to have top programs in all sports. That was what led to her hiring of Joanne Boyle, who has brought the Cal women’s basketball team to unprecedented heights.

Braun isn’t close to meeting Barbour’s standards.

The Bears open tournament play Wednesday against Washington, which beat them at Berkeley on March 1. Even if they win that game, they’ll be derailed in the next one, when they have to play UCLA.

And this week will be the end of Braun at Cal. Finally.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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