Apparently not able to afford an elite Coach, UCLA settles for Steve Alford, despite the 10-year contract extension he agreed to with New Mexico two weeks ago, and despite the fact that his team scored less per game last year than the Bruins, and despite the fact that his record for the last ten years is not as good as Ben Howland’s… but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad hire
Did the Bruins just hire the best Coach THEIR money could buy? When UCLA fired Ben “3 straight Final Fours” Howland despite Ben’s team winning the Regular Season Conference Championship this year, Bruin fans were hoping that his replacement would be a marked upgrade — a proven winner who could get the Bruins another National Championship. Names like Pitino and Donovan were bandied about, while young hotshots Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens were directly targeted.
Apparently, UCLA couldn’t induce Smart or Stevens to leave their present employers, and they couldn’t come up with enough cash to lure the Pitino’s and Donovan’s of the World. So the Bruins went to Plan B — looking for a second tier Coach. Fans were thinking about the current Coaches of Marquette, Florida Gulf Coast, Villanova, and Wichita State. Those fans were NOT considering Steve Alford, since he just consented to a ten-year extension to continue coaching at New Mexico. But on Saturday, those fans were all shocked when UCLA announced that Alford was the man.
Alford USED TO BE a young hotshot up n’ comer, when he had led Southwest Missouri State to unprecedented heights including a Sweet Sixteen. But then he went to Iowa and didn’t fare that well, and then he escaped to New Mexico, where he had a good winning percentage in a soft Conference, and lost his last game, as a #3 seed, to Harvard in the Round of 64. After all that, and being 48 years old, he is hardly a young hotshot. In fact, he never improved on that old Sweet Sixteen, and his results over the years are worse than Ben Howland’s.
So did UCLA take a giant leap SIDEWAYS? Dan Guerrero said he wanted an up-tempo Offense, but Howland’s team this year had a higher scoring average than Alford’s. Guerrero wants deep Tourney runs, but Alford has never accomplished that, in 22 years of Coaching. So was the firing of Howland a huge mistake, in retrospect?
Not necessarily. There is still plenty of upside to Steve Alford. I realize that the last few paragraphs paint a bleak picture, but I am not upset with this hire, and here’s why: Alford does have a history of winning and success. As a player, he was the Senior leader of an Indiana team that won the National Championship. He also won a Gold Medal in the 1984 Olympics. He played for Bobby Knight, who you may not like, and who didn’t like John Wooden, but he was undeniably a successful College Coach, from whom Alford learned a great deal.
Alford had success at his first two Coaching stops, and had some success at Iowa before running into a little trouble. And he put up some very good numbers at New Mexico. But the area in which he is expected to excel is local recruiting. Alford is reported to have an excellent rapport with key figures in Southland Recruiting, and might even be able to bring in a couple of hot prospects for this upcoming year who were not considering UCLA prior to the new hire.
Alford has had results CLOSE to Howland’s, without the benefit of the UCLA name to entice recruits. He has gotten his results with players that were NOT McDonald’s All-Americans. So if he can do well with average players, maybe he can do even better with 4 and 5-star athletes.
Alford signed a 7-year contract with UCLA, but obviously that means nothing, or Alford would still be in New Mexico for ten more years. If Alford doesn’t get top recruiting classes in the next few years, and doesn’t get past the Sweet Sixteen, he will never see the last few years on his contract. And if he really flames out, it could spell the end for Guerrero too. Of course if Jim Mora does something special with the Football team, then Guerrero could be safe no matter what. But that’s what Dan would need, considering all the skepticism over his Alford hiring, if Alford doesn’t impress everyone rather quickly.
There is ONE scenario where Guerrero and Alford would both be on immediate thin ice: If u$c hires Howland, and Howland’s trojans sweep the Bruins this season. Here’s hoping that Howland does not want to coach the arch rivals of the school who gave him his “dream job” for ten years.