Mar 30, 2013, 1:04 PM EST
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.
Nov 20, 2014, 3:32 PM EST
Who is the most clutch player in the country?
Nov 20, 2014, 2:37 PM EST
The 2014 Maui Invitational kicks off on Monday.
Nov 20, 2014, 1:57 PM EST
I cannot respect your intelligence if you think Kentucky beats Philly. I just can’t do it.
Nov 20, 2014, 1:29 PM EST
The last two years, Wichita State, UConn and Kentucky have all made the Final Four as teams seeded outside the top six.
Nov 20, 2014, 12:45 PM EST
You have to love early morning basketball.
Nov 20, 2014, 12:30 PM EST
Sad: One of the sport’s most notorious coaches is struggling with his health.
Nov 20, 2014, 11:50 AM EST
All of today’s college hoops action.
Nov 20, 2014, 11:05 AM EST
There’s more to Shaka Smart than meets the eye.
Nov 20, 2014, 10:32 AM EST
Will we ever see Butler’s head coach on the sideline again?
Nov 20, 2014, 1:05 AM EST
It was a quiet night on the college hoops front, but one ranked team went down.
Nov 20, 2014, 12:53 AM EST
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was the spark plug for a team that has a lot of progress to make offensively.
Nov 19, 2014, 11:37 PM EST
Jakeenan Gant has yet to play in a game for Missouri.
Nov 19, 2014, 10:42 PM EST
Now that is hops.
Nov 19, 2014, 10:37 PM EST
This is a huge win for Creighton and for the Big East as a whole.
Nov 19, 2014, 9:22 PM EST
Come on, Toby.
Nov 19, 2014, 8:57 PM EST
Apologies won’t get Tom Crean off the hot seat, but at least they acknowledged their mistakes.
Nov 19, 2014, 5:48 PM EST
Derek Ogbeide’s been praised for his ability as a defender and rebounder, areas Georgia will need to address with two of their front court mainstays being seniors.
Nov 19, 2014, 4:33 PM EST
It’s not the same as last night, but there are some good basketball games scheduled for Wednesday.
Nov 19, 2014, 4:15 PM EST
Who will be this years Marcus Foster and Isaiah Taylor?
Nov 19, 2014, 4:09 PM EST
T.J. Leaf is Arizona’s first commitment in the Class of 2016, and he’ll be next in a pipeline of talented power forwards who have joined the program during Sean Miller’s tenure.
- Poll: 54 percent of people think Kentucky beats the 76ers, 54 percent of people are dumb 7
- Burning Questions: Who will be this year’s surprise freshman standout? 0
- After getting embarrassed by No. 1 Kentucky, where does No. 5 Kansas go from here? 3
- No. 1 Kentucky’s size, depth overwhelms No. 5 Kansas, makes 40-0 seem possible? 5
- No. 4 Duke proves No. 19 Michigan State cannot win at elite level if they keep missing on elite talent 3
- Wofford’s grueling start to the season began well before their 7:00 a.m. game 0
- No. 13 Gonzaga makes definitive statement with blowout of No. 22 SMU 2
- Poll: 54 percent of people think Kentucky beats the 76ers, 54 percent of people are dumb (10)
- 2014-15 Season Preview: Can the ACC produce four Final Four teams? (6)
- No. 1 Kentucky’s size, depth overwhelms No. 5 Kansas, makes 40-0 seem possible? (5)
- No. 1 Kentucky survives Buffalo despite ugly effort offensively (4)
- Report: Kansas transfer Conner Frankamp considering Colorado, Wichita State (3)