Forget John Calipari ... UCLA hoops should offer Earl Watson its head coaching job -- so says ex-Bruins star Ryan Hollins, who tells TMZ Sports, the school "needs to hope" he takes the gig.
Of course, Hollins -- a 4-year contributor for the Bruins from 2002-2006 -- says he'd LOVE to see Cal bolt from the Wildcats to take over the reins in Westwood.
But, the dude says UCLA needs to be honest with itself ... and understand that the Kentucky coaching legend is probably a long shot for the Bruins' vacancy.
And, why?? Hollins says he's seen the Bruins get burned going down this road before ... saying it was just a couple years ago when UCLA lost out on Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart and had to settle for Steve Alford instead.
"These top coaches that you want to go after -- which we can't knock -- it's not a guarantee they're going to come," Hollins tells us.
"And, when you ended up with Steve Alford ... man, he was the third or fourth or fifth down the line! So, if you're going to be realistic, you might as well keep it in house."
Earl's a UCLA alum who is VERY interested in taking the job ... and in fact, just reportedly interviewed for the spot last week.
Hollins says he thinks it'd be a slam dunk hire for the Bruins ... telling us the school isn't in any shape to pass on EW for the pipe dream of Calipari.
"It's a slap in the face, bro, when UCLA wants to go after a coach and they get denied," Hollins says.
"But, UCLA has put itself in that situation of being a bad job and you've got a guy -- shoot, UCLA needs to hope Earl Watson will take the job. Honestly."