Posted March 30, 2013

Did UCLA Make A Good Hire In Steve Alford While Also Making A Mistake?

March Madness
Despite Steve Alford's solid track record, there is still some cause for concern in Westwood. (Steve Conner/Icon SMI)

Despite Steve Alford’s solid track record, there is still some cause for concern in Westwood. (Steve Conner/Icon SMI)

Is it possible to have made the right choice in relieving a head coach of his duties, made a strong hire to replace him, and still have made a mistake?

Ben Howland’s reign at UCLA, for a variety of reasons, had run its course. Despite this season’s Pac-12 regular-season title, the program had been slipping in the wrong direction since Howland brought the last of his three consecutive Final Four teams to San Antonio in 2008. His adversarial relationship with the local prep and AAU scene is well documented, and you can’t run UCLA in the long term if you can’t recruit Los Angeles. It won’t work.

After the Bruins predictably were turned down or not entertained by the likes of Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens, Dan Guerrero found himself in a position many ADs are in these days: Trying to salvage a coaching search. In hiring Steve Alford, who did a terrific job elevating New Mexico to a national level, he found a quality coach who is familiar with the region and actually had become a fallback spot for players who were squeezed out by or wanted to leave Howland’s program.

Alford is a legendary player and a good coach with a solid track record of success. Iowa certainly hasn’t done any better than when he was in charge and won a couple Big Ten tournaments, and New Mexico has earned a 3-seed in the NCAA tournament in two of the past four seasons while the Lobos regularly claimed league titles in a conference where UNLV, San Diego State and, before they departed, BYU were the fancier names.

There’s still reason for concern, though, and ample reason to see through Guerrero’s press statement bloviating. Alford is, in a lot of ways, a poor man’s version of the coach Guerrero just fired. He has a significant ego. He can be prickly with the media. He hasn’t handled increasing expectations all that well, with this past week’s bizarrely defensive press conference as a recent prime example.

And despite what Guerrero claimed, Alford does not bring an up-tempo style to Westwood. In his last 11 seasons, at Iowa and New Mexico (as far back as KenPom.com goes), Alford’s teams ranked just once in the nation’s top 100 in adjusted tempo. That was at Iowa in 2004. Only one of his six New Mexico teams was even in the top 150. Three of his six New Mexico teams were in the top 25 in terms of defensive efficiency. Only one of his teams was on offense. Maybe he’ll change his approach when he compiles more “national” talent at UCLA, but there’s a pretty clear footprint established, and “up-tempo” is not it. Unless Alford wins very big very quickly — and UCLA next season, at least, looks like a pretty significant rebuild — it’s hard to see how the highly demanding fanbase will see this as an upgrade.

Alford’s move, just a week and a half after he signed a massive 10-year deal at New Mexico and then lost to 14-seed Harvard in the NCAA tournament’s round of 64, also creates a really inviting opening in Albuquerque, as well. The Lobos are built to win right now, with a ton of talent returning and a league where several teams will be dropping from this season’s standards. The Lobos also have the best fanbase in the league, and the reboot from Alford and the perception of NCAA tournament underachievement, might re-energize them.

You’d imagine that assistant coach Craig Neal will get a long look, and maybe he’d be able to snag his son from Saint Mary’s in the process. But the Lobos should at least entertain a national search. It’s a good enough program in a good enough league to attract some significant interest, and Alford’s new deal that now lies in shreds somewhere shows they’re willing to pay. Would they be bold enough to call Howland? Kendall Williams may not like it very much, and Howland’s ego may not, either, but if a coachswap were somehow completed, it would be hard to argue New Mexico didn’t get the better end of the deal.

35 comments
Garyfriars10
Garyfriars10

Alford treated the Iowa people with very poorly the entire time he was there - there our countless stories of him treating people poorly.  Then the Pierre Pierce case was handled so badly by him that he lost the fan base - they had sold out for basketball for years in good years and bad.   The crowds are only now coming back to the team and Carver Hawkeye Arena.  Steve Alford is an ego maniac and won't last long in Westwood.  And he may end up begging New Mexico to get that 10 year contract back

gary41
gary41

Those kenpom stats don't mean a thing for a coach having to make adjustments to talent levels on hand every year---fairly successfully.  Alford is deserving, but UCLA is a very nettlesome place to coach.  What we are going to see going forward is closely applied media coverage of every incident that turns up.  Overall, it sounds like this journalist is responding to prickly media treatment....fair or unfair....

TravisBrown
TravisBrown

"Iowa certainly hasn’t done any better than when he was in charge and won a couple Big Ten tournaments"

Iowa has spent the past several years digging out from under the rubble that he and Todd Lickliter left. But Iowa is on the upswing right now under a very good coach, Fran McCaffery. The Hawkeyes just missed the NCAA tournament this year with a very young team, and are playing in the NIT semifinals tonight at Madison Square Garden. Watch out for the Hawks next year!!!

BillToscano
BillToscano

Yes, it was a mistake, because they hired an apparently immoral man.

He signed a $10 million contract with new Mexico before the tournament.

He made a promise and gave his word.

If he didn't want to stay for 10 years, he should not have signed the contract.

The NCAA really oughta ban people who do that.


misterwl
misterwl

If a coach leaves a program where he's signed a contact, he should sit out a year. Just like the players.

Jon18
Jon18

He has major character flaws. Shame on you reporters for not printing these. On a personal level he has no class.  Trying giving a tip once in a while you selfish overated prick. He was taught at an early age he was more important than everyone and he really believes it.

mwr5053
mwr5053

I think Alford learned a lot from his obvious mistakes at Iowa. He did a tremendous job at UNM. When he took over in 2007 the program was in terrible shape, especially academically. Now, behind Alford's leadership the UNM men's program is the best in the MWC and one of the best in the west. At UNM his teams won regular season games/titles, they won a ton of road games (almost unheard of in UNM hoops history) they won the past 2 conference tournaments in Vegas and, if anyone cares about this fact anymore -  HIS PLAYERS GRADUATE!! The one sticking point is, Alford could not win in the NCAA tourney and he gets prickly about it when the fact comes up. I think Steve and UCLA will regret this marriage within a year or two.  Steve is chasing his John Wooden dream and chasing the dream of a legend like Wooden may become more like a nightmare. He's also taking his two sons with him to UCLA. That's good for UNM since we'll get those 2 scholarships to recruit some athletic ballers. The younger of the 2 sons, Bryce, is quite the scorer in high school but the jury is out on how he'll play at D-1 level. The other son, Kory, finishing his redshirt frosh year at UNM, is going to ride pine at UCLA probably his entire time there. If Kory plays much at UCLA the Bruins are in for a rough go of it. We at UNM should thank Steve for all that he did to improve things in the mens hoops program and then move on to bigger and better things - like once and for all making to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament - and not losing to mighty Harvard. UNM lost 2 games this season after Feb 9th; the winning opponents were Air Force and Harvard. You can't make that stuff up but it goes to show how Alford's teams often played down to their opponent. Good luck in Westwood, Steve. I sincerely mean that. You may be wishing you were back in the Land of Enchantment pronto!



Rams2LA
Rams2LA

Not a good hire, dont see this as a fit. Should of went after Florida Gulf coach, who could recruit, especially when he has the NBA on his resume. Players would love to play in his system and UCLA would of been one of the most entertaining teams to watch. But GuERRero played it safe.   Parents and players would of loved Enfield and just getting him to the house Im sure he could see his staff and program to any player.

jr1966
jr1966

...The person who convinced Wooden to coach at UCLA:  Everett Dean, hoosier native (head coach at Indiana in the 1920's and 30's and later the NCAA Championship with Stanford in '42).   


jr1966
jr1966

Another Indiana kid was not given much of a chance to do well in Westwood in the 1940's.  In fact, he was talked out of taking the head coach position at Minnesota to go out west.   I think Alford will do well at UCLA---just a gut feeling.  

Mike26
Mike26

Alford has been and always will be a good MID-MAJOR coach.  He will NEVER be a major conference or bigtime coach.  EVER.

Iowa was a tourney regular before Alford came, where he recruited a sexual, stood up for him and helped cover up the investigation, and then after attendance fell (Iowa was in the Top 20 in NCAA attendance for 25+ years until the middle of Alford's tenure) he finally started bittching about the lack of fan support at a football school.  The good thing is, and Alford will be the first to tell you: he NEVER makes a mistakes, it's always the PLAYERS that make mistakes and lose games = it's his coaching that wins games.

I'll give him about 2 years before he's toast.....

Carl10
Carl10

I think UCLA made a panic move trying to salvage their image after Smart and Stevens declined to even interview. Alford can recruit but he has not shown an ability to coach or develop talent. That is why he cannot win in the tournament- he is consistently outcoached. Losing to Harvard and Amaker is only the most recent evidence.

And for all the UCLA fans who scoffed at the school even considering Smart or Stevens (you know who you are and you know Guerrero was dying to interview those coaches), insisting the Bruins would seek out a premier coach from a big time program, I laugh in your face. Alford and UNM are not big time nor is either the coach or the school on par with Butler or VCU. Get ready to feel the pain for the next several years!

CobyPreimesberger
CobyPreimesberger

uh the problem is Alford did the same at New Mexico as he did at Iowa, as I believe his first or 2nd season at Iowa they were a 3 seed and guess what happened to Iowa oh yeah they choked.  Plus when he gets fired by UCLA after 3 years guess what Alford will have a hard time finding a job, as no sane AD is going to hire him because they saw what he did to UNM, and they'll say you know we'll pass, as how do we not know that you might not leave for another job after we hire you.  Plus this just goes to show that Alford is just like the other sleazy coaches that do this sign a contract but then stab the team in the back when they get a bigger deal

adsohn
adsohn

Iowa has, in fact, done better that they did with Alford at the helm.  They had been a good program for several decades when he replaced Dr. Tom Davis to supposedly take the program to "the next level".  Instead he did demonstrably worse than his predecessor and took them from a program that routinely finished in the upper half of the Big Ten, made the NCAA tournament, and always won its first round game to a team that struggled to do any of those things.  He also significantly eroded fan support from a fanbase that had previously always been among the country's leaders in attendance.  That Iowa then decided to replace him with an even worse coach who drove them into the ground (which they've finally started to recover from this season when they really should have been a tournament team by any metric except RPI) does not retroactively change the fact that Alford was a failure by the standards of the program at the time he took over.  It's possible that he's changed and grown since then (indeed I think he's done with at New Mexico outside of the NCAAs), but the revisionist history of his Iowa tenure needs to stop

Mike26
Mike26

@BillToscano He's not immoral because of the contract - many people play the switcheroo game all the time.  He's immoral because he defended a 2-time rapist at Iowa and then blamed fans/administration/players for his shortcomings as a coach.

Mike26
Mike26

@mwr5053 Iowa = B1G and UNM = MWC

There's JUST a little bit of difference in environments - from admissions on down - between UNM and Iowa.  Let's just say that when the lights are brightest and pressure is greatest, Alford fails miserably as a coach.  From lack of player development to recruiting shady character players (and then defending them vociferously while obstructing justice - google Pierre Pierce) to graduating his recruits, Alford is a bomb waiting to happen.  When it explodes, I can't wait to see the "journalists" that tout his hire doing their usual two-faced articles claiming that they were never "for" the hire.

Carl10
Carl10

@jr1966

LMFAO!!!!! You are seriously comparing Alford to Wooden?? Could you share with the rest of us what drugs you're taking? Your world sounds much better than reality

Mike26
Mike26

"sexual assaulter" - google Pierre Pierce

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

@CobyPreimesberger Just a guess, but I bet that you were not yelling, screaming, and throwing tantrums when Steve Alford resigned at Iowa to take the New Mexico job.  If someone offered you a job with a much larger paycheck you would probably take it too.   But don't let the realities of life get in the way of your hypocritical ranting.

SamIAm
SamIAm

@adsohnI agree with you.  By the time Steve was gone, he hadn't done the Iowa basketball program any favors.  So I don't see why his tenure at Iowa can be counted towards "a solid track record of success."

AndyGlockner
AndyGlockner moderator

@adsohn I meant that the program has not been any better since he left. I'm well aware of Dr. Tom and his success there. And next year, maybe Fran Mac gets closer to Dr.  Tom's standard.

BillToscano
BillToscano

@Mike26 @BillToscano Yes, he is immoral because of the oast, but in my opinion he deserves to be whacked hard over the contract.

I don't care that everyone else does it. The NCAA should not allow it.

But I am a grumpy old man.


Mike26
Mike26

@BillToscano @Jon18 Yes, chat with ANY local restaurant at any of his previous coaching stops.  He's legendary - and not just for skipping the tip, but sometimes the entire bill.

mwr5053
mwr5053

@Mike26 @mwr5053 Can you speak from experience about the "environment" and "admissions" at UNM versus Iowa? UNM isn't some total backwater university that Big Ten proponents need to sneer at. (BTW, I'm a Big Ten grad myself) I'd stack the UNM basketball environment and facilities with most any major university and Alford loved that part of his job here. Academically, UNM may not have the reputation of Univ of Iowa but UNM is a fine university that has a lot going for it so back-off on the holier than thou attitude of Iowa City greatness, it's not all that becoming. My point earlier was I recognized that Alford made some bad choices at Iowa but perhaps those mistakes taught him well for the UNM job. Few have touched on it but before Alford arrived to UNM the mens basketball program was a mess and that included a god-awful graduation rate. Since Alford arrived it was reported locally that 9 out of his 10 seniors from past years graduated from UNM. The 3 seniors on this year's team are on track to graduate this May. Twelve out 13 athletes getting degrees is incredibly good, no? Granted, Alford has a prickly attitude at times and I think the UCLA/John Wooden dream of his from the time he was a boy growing up in Indiana is likely to become a nightmare - but that's his deal and he's one competitive son-of-a-gun so he's entitled to follow that dream to Westwood and see what he can do. 

XUCLA
XUCLA

@JoeCabot @CobyPreimesbergerI'm a UCLA grad with connections to the University of Iowa (daughters are grads, I was on committees) . Alford was despised on and off campus. The guy was an one-man alienation band. Iowa won with Lute Olson, George Raveling and Tom Davis. Alford made Carver-Hawkeye a place not to be. It wasn't Pierre Pierce or even losing to Northwestern Louisiana State. I feel sick for my alma mater. Took Guerrero three times to find a football coach. Don't know that he'll have that luxury in basketball. He's a baseball guy, and he just screwed up royally in hoops.

Mike26
Mike26

@JoeCabot @CobyPreimesberger Joe, you are so far out of your league on Alford best you just keep it to yourself today.....

Google Pierre Pierce, Iowa basketball

Google "Steve Alford press conferences at Iowa"  


Then come back and MAYBE you can talk.

adsohn
adsohn

@AndyGlockner @adsohn That's fine and accurate (though I believe we're headed that way), but it doesn't retroactively make Alford a success.  He should be judged by what he did relative to where the program was when he was hired.  Iowa had been a regular tournament participant for a long time, even before Dr. Tom arrived.  That wasn't the case with Alford, and he also did a ton of damage to the program's fan support.  Iowa making an even worse hire to replace him doesn't change any of that.

Mike26
Mike26

@AndyGlockner @adsohn Hopefully Coach Fran goes beyond Tom Davis - that's what Alford was SUPPOSED to do.

Andy, better be careful - Alford rear end has always been kept polished by your colleague Seth Davis = you know, the guy that proclaimed UNM as a dark for the national title.....LOL!

Mike26
Mike26

@BillToscano @Mike26 I agree there should be more of a penalty but I've given up hope on that ever happening.  

Mike26
Mike26

@mwr5053 @Mike26 Alford completely soured a fervent Iowa fan base by defending a 2-time rapist - and that was his high point at Iowa.  It goes far beyond his "prickly attitude" on and off the court = it was his arrogance and self-righteousness that turned off many to following the Hawkeyes.

Academically, UNM and Iowa are far apart and that's just the facts - that's also explains why so many of Alford's players flunked out or transferred out of Iowa after being conditional admissions into the program.  It's great that UNM's guys are now graduating, but I highly doubt Stevie had anything to do with it.  Iowa's program was NOT a mess when Alford took it over - he actually began the destruction of the walls and chipped away at the foundation during his tenure, and Todd Lickliter finished the job in his 3 disastrous year.  Alford is undefeated as a head coach - just ask him!  It's NEVER his fault when his team loses - it's the players', assistant coaches', fans' and the fact that the school is a football school.  

Judging by some of the commentary from other UNM fans elsewhere, Alford's hasn't changed all that much on or off the court.  If you don't believe me, go ask about a 5 or 6 restaurants that Alford frequented and see how often he bothered tipping anyone - or paying the bill at all.

We do agree on one thing - Alford is going to see his dream become a nightmare in under 3 years at UCLA!

Mike26
Mike26

@JoeCabot @Mike26 I could care less about the leaving of the 10-year contract.  You're so quick to criticize others while supporting such a low-character guy in Alford that you're going to get corrected about standing up for Alford at all.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

@Mike26 Not going to follow your instructions on googling, given that my post had nothing to do with Steve Alford as a person or as a coach, which you apparently missed in your rush to preach to me.  I was simply responding to the poster making complaints about Steve Alford changing jobs.  Coaches do this regularly and no one ever complains when a coach they like leaves a job to come to their favorite program, yet they toss tantrums when a coach leaves.