Skip to content

Steve Alford isn’t ideal for UCLA, but he’s a pretty good hire nonetheless

Mar 30, 2013, 1:04 PM EDT

Mountain West Basketball Tournament - Championship - UNLV v New Mexico Getty Images

Seemingly out of no where on Saturday afternoon, news broke that UCLA had hired a head coach: Steve Alford of New Mexico, who had recently signed a 10-year contract extension with the Lobos.

The reason it was so sudden? Well, Alford’s new contract doesn’t kick in until Monday, which means that his buyout would be $1 million instead the less-than $200,000 that his current contract’s buyout will cost. This had to happen quickly, especially since UCLA will be paying the buyout, according to CBSSports.com. Alford’s deal is seven years and worth $2.6 million annually.

UCLA’s job had been vacant for a little more than a week, since Ben Howland bowed out to Tubby Smith and Minnesota in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, and the Bruins had already been turned down by both Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens.

A splashy hire was out of the question.

But that certainly doesn’t mean that Alford is a bad hire.

Here’s the thing: when people think about Alford, they are going to think about regular season success that doesn’t translate into postseason success. They’ll bring up the 5-7 record in the NCAA tournament. They’ll mention the fact that losing to No. 14 seed Harvard in the opening round this season wasn’t the first time that he’s failed to win a game in the NCAA tournament as a No. 3 seed; in 2006, his Iowa Hawkeyes got knocked off by Northwestern State.

Alford hasn’t been to a Sweet 16 this century. Three jobs ago, in 1999, he led Southwest Missouri State to the second weekend, which got him hired by Iowa. That was when Steve Lavin was still the head coach at UCLA. Lavin made it to five straight Sweet 16, and he was fired. His successor, Ben Howland, got to three straight Final Fours and he was fired. Alford has won three tournament games since we found out Y2K wasn’t actually something we should be concerned about.

And now think about this: Alford is just as cantankerous and arrogant as Howland. He’s not anymore media friendly. His coaching style is almost the same — Alford’s teams are known for their grind-it-out, physical defensive style. They’re not exactly showtime; he’s not Roy Williams.

In other words, UCLA basically just re-hired Ben Howland, only this time they got a guy that’s a little bit smaller with a full head of hair but not quite as much coaching acumen.

And this is supposed to be the hire than turns around the program?

It may not be.

But Alford’s a better fit at UCLA than Howland, at least at this point in time, because he can get players from Southern California from AAU and high school programs that Howland has already ticked off.¬†Look at the guys on his roster the last couple of years: Kendall Williams, Tony Snell, Demetrius Walker, Drew Gordon. Those are all kids from SoCal* that, for whatever reason, couldn’t make the cut at UCLA. Would he be able to keep guys like Allen Crabbe from earning Pac-12 Player of the Year awards at other schools? Would he be able to cut off the pipelines that Colorado and Arizona have established in California?

*(UPDATE: Drew Gordon is actually from San Jose, CA, which qualifies as Northern California.)

Who knows, but he’ll have a better shot at doing so than Howland did.

And while Alford’s tournament success has been lacking, that shouldn’t overshadow what he’s been able to do in the regular season at his last two stops. Iowa isn’t exactly a powerhouse basketball program. They haven’t been to the NCAA tournament in the six seasons since Alford left. They made it three times in the six seasons before he arrived and they’ve been to one Sweet 16 since 1988. He’s won at least a share of the Mountain West regular season title in four of the last five years and did so this year, by two full games over the best MWC in a long time, despite losing Drew Gordon to graduation.

But here’s the most important detail, one that you may not see mentioned elsewhere: when Howland was hired at UCLA, he was coming off of back-to-back regular season Big East titles, but neither season produced anything more impressive than a Sweet 16 berth. Howland’s third season at UCLA sparked three straight trips to the Final Four. Alford’s lack of tourney success doesn’t mean that he can’t succeed at UCLA.

When it comes down to it, there weren’t many great options for UCLA. They got turned down by the two best candidates available. So remember, when you criticize the hiring of Alford, you’re saying that UCLA was dumb to pick him over the likes of Lorenzo Romar and Mark Gottfried.

Given the circumstances, I think UCLA did pretty well for themselves.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Latest Posts
  1. Arrests made as Michigan State fans gather, set fires near off-campus apartments after Sweet 16 win (VIDEO)

    Mar 28, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Some Michigan State students got a little too rowdy following a win over Oklahoma.

  2. Reports: The Citadel hires VMI head coach Duggar Baucom for same position

    Mar 28, 2015, 1:48 PM EDT

    Duggar Baucom AP

    The Citadel hired away the head coach of a Southern Conference rival.

  3. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey on college hoops: ‘It’s absolute torture watching some of these games’ (AUDIO)

    Mar 28, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    Houston Rockets Draft Picks Press Conference Getty Images

    Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey had some strong words on the current state of college basketball.

  4. Frank Kaminsky’s growth results in individual and team benefits for No. 1 Wisconsin

    Mar 28, 2015, 12:17 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Frank Kaminsky’s path to stardom may not follow that of last year’s national Player of the Year winner, Doug McDermott, but it’s one that many players hope to navigate during their own time in school.

  5. Tom Izzo blames himself, new Will Ferrell/Kevin Hart movie on Michigan State’s sluggish Sweet 16 start

    Mar 28, 2015, 10:55 AM EDT

    (AP) AP

    Michigan State might have been the only people in the country watching “Get Hard” on Friday afternoon.

  6. Former oddsmaker believes Kentucky would be underdog against all-time great college basketball teams

    Mar 28, 2015, 9:40 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Kentucky might finish the 2014-15 season unblemished, but how do they stack up against some of the best teams in college basketball history?

  7. Tourney Snacks: Duke-Gonzaga, Louisville-Michigan State advance to Elite 8

    Mar 28, 2015, 12:52 AM EDT

    Justise Winslow (Getty Images) Getty Images

    Get caught up on all of Friday’s NCAA tournament action.

  8. Updated tournament records: Three ACC, two Big Ten teams in Elite Eight

    Mar 28, 2015, 12:35 AM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    ACC teams went 2-1 Friday night, with Louisville’s win over NC State being the league’s lone defeat.

  9. Tip times, announcer pairings and channel guide for 2015 Elite 8

    Mar 28, 2015, 12:27 AM EDT

    Quinn Cook AP

    The schedule for Sunday’s Elite 8 games.

  10. No. 1 Duke advances to Elite 8 with win over No. 5 Utah

    Mar 28, 2015, 12:08 AM EDT

    (AP) AP

    No. 1 Duke advanced to the Elite 8 with a win in the South Regional over No. 5 Utah.

  11. Bradley announces Brian Wardle hired as head coach

    Mar 27, 2015, 9:58 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Wardle spent five seasons as coach at Green Bay.

  12. Caleb Martin posterizes Montrezl Harrell

    Mar 27, 2015, 9:39 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Caleb Martin’s only two points of the game.

  13. No. 2 Gonzaga gets past No. 11 UCLA to advance to Elite 8

    Mar 27, 2015, 9:26 PM EDT

    (AP) AP

    Gonzaga defeated UCLA to advance to the Elite 8 for the first time under head coach Mark Few.

  14. Andy Toole will remain the head coach at Robert Morris

    Mar 27, 2015, 9:22 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Andy Toole has been with Robert Morris for five seasons.