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. Summer mixtape of 2015 wing Malik Beasley (VIDEO)

    Sep 2, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT

    Kelly Kline/Under Armour Kelly Kline/Under Armour

    Malik Beasley had a great summer as a high-scoring guard.

  2. SMU has sold out Moody Coliseum for the 2014-15 season

    Sep 2, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT

    AP AP

    SMU is quickly building a big home-court advantage.

  3. Buffalo gives head coach Bobby Hurley a contract extension

    Sep 2, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT

    Bobby Hurley, Joshua Freelove AP

    Former Duke point guard gets a better contract at Buffalo.

  4. Two NBA stars each pledge $1 million for new Georgetown practice facility

    Sep 2, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT

    John Thompson

    The Hoyas are getting some more former players to donate.

  5. College of Charleston finally ends head coaching search

    Sep 2, 2014, 6:49 PM EDT

    Earl Grant Earl Grant

    The College of Charleston finally has its man.

  6. Oregon State nabs a trio of top 150 commitments in the 2015 class

    Sep 2, 2014, 5:32 PM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwfhnwfmzde2yzeyytmwmju4zjfmmtkwzmrjmjg0zti11 AP

    Oregon State picked up a big commitment on Tuesday afternoon.

  7. College Basketball Talk’s Recruiting Roundup

    Sep 2, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT

    cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpte3owi1njbhnjg0mtc2yjbkzdgzmdzhnzm2mtbjytc1 AP

    News and notes from around the world of college basketball recruiting.

  8. A Christian Laettner 30-for-30 on Selection Sunday? May we be so lucky

    Sep 2, 2014, 4:09 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    And it will be on the best day in the college hoops calendar? Make. This. Happen. Please.

  9. Virginia lands commitment from 2016 three-star point guard

    Sep 2, 2014, 2:51 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Did Tony Bennett just land London Perrantes, version 2.0?

  10. Iowa legend, all-time leading scorer diagnosed with cancer

    Sep 2, 2014, 12:39 PM EDT

    Print

    It’s the second time this year that cancer has come too close to home for the Hawkeyes.

  11. Latest mixtape for Dennis Smith Jr. shows how talented he is (VIDEO)

    Sep 2, 2014, 10:54 AM EDT

    Kelly Kline/Under Armour Kelly Kline/Under Armour

    Smith is a high-flying guard in the same mold as a John Wall or Derrick Rose.

  12. Avery Harriman is featured on the Today Show (VIDEO)

    Sep 2, 2014, 9:25 AM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 10.54.09 AM

    Avery is undergoing chemo to battle leukemia for the third time.

  13. New mixtape of 2016 guard Kwe Parker is ridiculous (VIDEO)

    Sep 1, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT

    (Nike) (Nike)

    Kwe Parker is one of the best dunkers in all of basketball and he shows why in this new mixtape.

  14. Report: Arizona State gives Herb Sendek a contract extension

    Sep 1, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT

    Herb Sendek AP

    Arizona State has given head coach Herb Sendek an extension.

  15. East Carolina nabs a local 2015 wing

    Sep 1, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT

    jeff lebo Getty Images

    East Carolina is on the board in 2015.

  16. Five-star 2015 forward cuts his list to five schools

    Sep 1, 2014, 5:28 PM EDT

    (adidas Gauntlet) (adidas Gauntlet)

    A five-star 2015 forward cut his list to five schools on Monday.

  17. Indiana freshman is currently in a walking boot

    Sep 1, 2014, 4:20 PM EDT

    Tom Crean AP

    Indiana will have to remain patient with a freshman that is currently battling an ankle injury.

  18. Assembly Hall as a groom’s cake? Why not! (PHOTO)

    Sep 1, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT

    @Kschack1 @Kschack1

    You need a very understanding wife to get away with this.

  19. Tennessee adds second commitment in two days with three-star guard

    Sep 1, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT

    Murray St Morehead St Basketball

    Tennessee has one scholarship left available for 2015.