Skip to content

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

Mar 30, 2013, 1:04 PM EST

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. Seton Hall adds three-star wing commitment for 2015 class

    Mar 2, 2015, 8:30 PM EST

    AP Photo AP

    Seton Hall added to its 2015 recruiting haul on Monday.

  2. Alabama forward out for the season with injury

    Mar 2, 2015, 7:20 PM EST

    (Getty Images) Getty Images

    Alabama loses another starter as the regular season winds down.

  3. Patriot League Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

    Mar 2, 2015, 6:19 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Bucknell will be looking to make their third NCAA tournament appearance under Dave Paulsen.

  4. Pregame Shootaround: Three great games on TV tonight

    Mar 2, 2015, 3:30 PM EST

    Buddy Hield AP

    The Big 12 and the ACC will both be in action.

  5. Atlantic Sun Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

    Mar 2, 2015, 2:30 PM EST

    (Getty Images) Getty Images

    The Atlantic Sun Tournament should be an exciting one as Florida Gulf Coast attempts to dethrone regular season champ North Florida.

  6. Mike Krzyzewski refuses comment on Rasheed Sulaimon sexual assault allegations

    Mar 2, 2015, 12:45 PM EST

    Duke v Louisville Getty Images

    Sulaimon was dismissed from the team in January of this year.

  7. Report: Memphis star expected to miss remainder of season

    Mar 2, 2015, 12:25 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Austin Nichols was the bright spot for the Tigers this season.

  8. Horizon League Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

    Mar 2, 2015, 11:25 AM EST

    Alec Peters, Valparaiso Getty Images) Alec Peters, Valparaiso Getty Images)

    In addition to the Crusaders and Phoenix, keep an eye on Cleveland State and Oakland.

  9. Bracketology: Villanova takes ahold of the fourth No. 1 seed

    Mar 2, 2015, 9:27 AM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    The latest bracket projections from our Dave Ommen.

  10. Weekly Awards: Sir’Dominic Pointer and Baylor shine in a wild week of hoops

    Mar 2, 2015, 8:30 AM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Baylor picked up two huge wins, while Pointer led the Johnnies into the tournament this week.

  11. College Basketball Talk’s Latest Top 25: How far will Wisconsin and Gonzaga fall?

    Mar 2, 2015, 6:10 AM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Kentucky is still No. 1, but there’s a bit of a shake-up in the rest of the top ten.

  12. Jordan Bell produced a highlight-worthy sequence in Oregon’s win at Stanford (VIDEO)

    Mar 1, 2015, 10:21 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Oregon is 6-0 in games decided by five points or less this season. Bell’s key plays factored into the Ducks getting that sixth win on Sunday.

  13. Late Night Snacks: No. 5 Wisconsin wraps up share of Big Ten title while Pitt, Stanford suffer damaging losses

    Mar 1, 2015, 10:05 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    Wisconsin hadn’t won the Big Ten since 2008, although they’ve never finished worse than fourth during Bo Ryan’s tenure in Madison.

  14. Austin Peay head coach Dave Loos to return for 26th season in 2015-16

    Mar 1, 2015, 9:57 PM EST

    AP Photo AP Photo

    The Governors have posted four consecutive losing seasons, but their top three scorers are expected back in 2015-16.

  15. Three-star small forward becomes California’s first 2015 verbal commitment

    Mar 1, 2015, 6:29 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Davon Dillard announced his commitment to Cal Sunday afternoon. The Golden Bears hope to reel in the two big men who were also on campus in Ivan Rabb and Caleb Swanigan.

  16. Memphis sophomore forward re-injures right ankle in overtime loss to Tulsa

    Mar 1, 2015, 5:11 PM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Austin Nichols injured his ankle early in the second half of Memphis’ loss