Steve Alford, a well-known name in basketball since he was a coach's favorite on the Hoosiers teams of the mid-80s, has signed on to replace Ben Howland at UCLA. As pointed out in Andy Katz's report, Alford's new contract with UCLA means breaking an almost equally new contract with New Mexico, where Alford had been head coach for six eventful seasons, culminating in this tournament's defeat at the uncalloused hands of Harvard, a loss so upsetting a local sportswriter died retired. As recently as Thursday, the Lobos athletic department was heralding its new 10-year contract with Alford, but as Katz reports, that's not happening:
The agreement with Alford comes less than two weeks after Alford had agreed to a new 10-year contract with New Mexico that reached into the $2-million-per-season range, including base salary, bonuses and incentives.
The Lobos, beaten in their opener by Harvard, were in the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years, and their 29 wins this season were the second-most in school history.
Katz called the hire "a coup" in his phone hit for ESPN News, explaining that Alford has the name recognition UCLA sought, recruits well on the West Coast, runs an up-tempo offense, and has won "in a situation that was more difficult, in the Mountain West Conference." Leaving aside the claim that winning in the Mountain West is harder than winning in the Pac-12, another of Alford's purported coaching assets, name recognition, is partly generational: while UCLA boosters with long memories might be pleased, some of us (cough) who are just past the age group Alford will be recruiting may have briefly pictured San Diego State's Steve Fisher when they first heard the news. Coming on the heels of widely-reported rejections from Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens, it's tough to spin this a "coup," except insofar as it was pulled off by an increasingly desperate athletic department backed into a proverbial corner.
Alford's New Mexico teams often excelled during the regular season—he never led the Lobos to less than 22 wins—but they also earned three early-round exits in the NIT, and a 2-3 record in the NCAA tournament, never advancing past the round of 32. His tenure with Iowa, where he racked up a 61-67 conference record from 1999-2007, was less distinguished.
In a press conference on Thursday, Alford wore a lavender paisley shirt and got defensive with Albuquerque-area reporters:
“There’s no way, if you’ve got any kind of basketball intellect at all, where you would say we had a bad season,” Alford said.
Asked about the timing of his new 10-year contract, which could pay him up to $2 million per season, coming the day before the Harvard loss, Alford said: “See Paul Krebs,” referring to UNM’s athletic director. He added: “It was a pretty big commitment on my part especially what’s out there and the opportunities that are out there to show my loyalty to UNM.”
The terms of his deal with UCLA have not yet been revealed.