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. Former Georgetown forward Moses Ayegba will transfer to Nebraska

    Apr 24, 2014, 12:57 AM EDT

    Moses Ayegba AP

    According to multiple reports, former Georgetown big Moses Ayegba has decided to transfer to Nebraska.

  2. Report: UConn center Amida Brimah may undergo shoulder surgery

    Apr 24, 2014, 12:17 AM EDT

    NCAA Men's Final Four - Championship Getty Images

    According to a report, UConn center Amida Brimah will need to undergo surgery on his left shoulder.

  3. Shaka Smart adds former Vanderbilt assistant David Cason to VCU coaching staff

    Apr 23, 2014, 10:38 PM EDT

    Shaka Smart Getty Images

    Shaka Smart filled a vacancy on his staff Wednesday, hiring former Vanderbilt assistant David Cason.

  4. Has Top 100 forward Malek Harris committed to Kansas State?

    Apr 23, 2014, 9:04 PM EDT

    Bruce Weber AP

    Less than a week after making an official visit to the school, it was reported that Malek Harris had committed to Kansas State. But that may not be the case.

  5. Tulsa head coach Frank Haith announces coaching staff

    Apr 23, 2014, 7:49 PM EDT

    Frank Haith AP

    Frank Haith announced his coaching staff Wednesday, with the trio combining to have more than 90 seasons of coaching experience.

  6. Report: UConn, Duke to meet at Izod Center next season

    Apr 23, 2014, 6:33 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    UConn and Duke will reportedly play each other just before Christmas in New Jersey.

  7. DePaul adds junior college guard Darrick Wood

    Apr 23, 2014, 5:23 PM EDT

    Oliver Purnell AP

    Former St. John’s commit Darrick Wood verbally committed to attend DePaul on Wednesday.

  8. Kentucky’s Dakari Johnson to return for sophomore season

    Apr 23, 2014, 4:22 PM EDT

    Dakari Johnson AP

    After playing well in Kentucky’s run to the national title game, Dakari Johnson has decided to return for his sophomore season.

  9. LSU freshman Jordan Mickey returning for his sophomore season

    Apr 23, 2014, 3:52 PM EDT

    jordan mickey AP

    LSU should have the pieces to be a tournament team in 2014-2015.

  10. Report: Richard Pitino lands fifth commitment first Minnesota class

    Apr 23, 2014, 2:54 PM EDT

    2014 NIT Championship Getty Images

    Minnesota landed a commitment from a 6-foot-11 three-star recruit.

  11. Arnaud William Adala Moto to transfer from Wake Forest

    Apr 23, 2014, 2:28 PM EDT

    Wake Forest v Maryland Wake Forest v Maryland

    Adala Moto was a top 150 recruit in the class of 2012.

  12. Arizona-signee Kadeem Allen named JuCo Player of the Year

    Apr 23, 2014, 1:58 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Allen will be one of the keys to Arizona’s season. Click to see why.

  13. Julius Randle visits with the Dan Patrick Show (VIDEO)

    Apr 23, 2014, 12:34 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Randle talks favorite NBA players and the one-and-done rule.

  14. Alex Poythress is returning to Kentucky for his junior year

    Apr 23, 2014, 11:49 AM EDT

    poythress2 Getty Images

    Kentucky got some good news on Wednesday afternoon.

  15. Report: UTEP head coach Tim Floyd emerges as a candidate for Missouri job

    Apr 22, 2014, 11:08 PM EDT

    AP AP

    The UTEP coach is now a candidate to replace Frank Haith at Missouri.

  16. Former Marquette commit Marial Shayok picks Virginia

    Apr 22, 2014, 10:10 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Virginia got its fourth commit on Tuesday night.

  17. UConn’s journey to the 2014 National Title (VIDEO)

    Apr 22, 2014, 9:09 PM EDT

    UConn AP

    A look back on UConn’s second title in four years.

  18. Southern and head coach Roman Banks agree to new deal

    Apr 22, 2014, 8:05 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The Southern coach is receiving a contract extension.

Featured video

Derrick Gordon says 'Why not me?'