New UCLA head coach Steve Alford: The good, the bad, the ugly

Former New Mexico coach Steve Alford isn’t a home-run hit as a coaching hire, but under the circumstances, UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero could have done worse. With Butler’s Brad Stevens and VCU’s Shaka Smart recommitted to their respective programs, the Bruins’ were running out of big-name options.

Alford’s recent 10-year extension with the Lobos proved to be a minor obstacle, and Guerrero had clearly been communicating with the coach about the job for at least the past few days. Here’s a look at what the 48-year-old Alford brings to Westwood.

The good: Unlike Ben Howland, who could be cold or abrasive toward players, Alford has a reputation as a personable coach — one quality athletic director Dan Guerrero highlighted in his teleconference. Although Alford said he would spend the next weeks focusing on keeping UCLA’s current players and signees, his arrival should only help the team’s recruiting prospects.

First off, he brings his son Bryce, a 2013 shooting guard prospect. Alford could also get 7-foot center Alex Kirk to follow him out of New Mexico; the redshirt sophomore is on track to graduate and could play elsewhere immediately. His 12.1 points and 8.1 rebounds would fill one of the Bruins’ most glaring needs.

Alford’s arrival also gives UCLA — boosted by this week’s news of freshman Kyle Anderson’s return — a shot at landing five-star forward Aaron Gordon. Touted as perhaps the finest prep player in Bay Area history, Gordon’s older brother Drew played for Alford at New Mexico after transferring out of UCLA. He’s due to choose between Washington, Arizona, Oregon and Kentucky at Wednesday’s McDonald’s All-American game.

Also look to see if Alford tries to lure former assistant Wyking Jones from Louisville. Jones, a Loyola Marymount alum who worked under Alford for two years, was a the main reason Drew Gordon transferred to New Mexico when he left UCLA. Jones played a major role in landing the Lobos’ leading scorers Kendall Williams and Tony Snell out of the Southland, and reeled in 2014 four-star forward Shaqquan Aaron for the Cardinals.

On the court, Alford’s teams have usually been disciplined on both ends of the floor. He has won at least a share of the Mountain West regular-season title four times in the last five years, and this year’s Lobos squad ranked 57th and 21st in the country in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively. (The Bruins, as a comparison, were 39th and 63rd.) Over New Mexico’s six seasons under Alford, the program has averaged a No. 32 ranking in the former category and No. 46 in the latter.

The bad (or at least questionable): He hasn’t been to the Sweet Sixteen since 1999, when today’s college players were all in kindergarten or elementary school. Alford led No. 12-seeded Southwest Missouri State in his lone trip to the NCAA tournament’s second weekend, a run that ended with a 78-61 loss to top-seeded Duke. He only has a 5-7 record in the Big Dance, and recently suffered an embarrassing 68-61 first-round upset to Harvard — making him the only coach to have been defeated by the Crimson in the NCAA tournament.

Though he’s been much better in the Mountain West, Alford’s Big Ten conference record over eight seasons at Iowa is a lackluster 61-67.

Although Guerrero hinted that UCLA had hired an up-tempo coach, Alford’s six New Mexico teams ranked between 122nd and 221st in the nation in adjusted pace. As long as he wins with that style of play, however, no one will mind.

The ugly: None of this will likely affect his relationship with players or recruits, but Alford does have some blemishes on his reputation. The most indefensible moment of his career is arguably his foolhardy 2003 2002 defense of Iowa guard Pierre Pierce, who pleaded guilty to sexual assault but kept his scholarship. Alford earned himself a public reprimand from Johnson County State’s Attorney Patrick White, which he responded to with a shouting match over the phone. (Pierce was dismissed from the team two years later due to burglary and assault charges that landed him in prison for 11 months.)

Alford was also caught on video in 2010 swearing at BYU’s Jonathan Tavernari in a postgame handshake line. Alford attributed the outburst to the heat of the moment, and said he apologized to Cougars coach Dave Rose. Tavernari apologized to Alford after the game as well.

22 thoughts on “New UCLA head coach Steve Alford: The good, the bad, the ugly

  1. Thanks, Jack.

    We shall see how this turns out in a few years. With Anderson, Adams, Powell, and hopefully Parker, along with new recruits this team should be ready to make a deep run into the tourney in two years.

    His negatives seem to outweigh his positives, according to your list. Some of the negatives are pretty bad, as well. Couple that with the fact that his offense has been compared to Howland’s, and well..

    Oh, by the way; the coach that I would’ve gotten is in the Final Four. I hope he now stays at Wichita State so he doesn’t end up at a PAC-12 school. He will win wherever he goes.

    To be honest, I feel a little anger towards Dan Guerrero over this. Oh, well, spring football is almost upon us.

    • If Alford achieves success at UCLA, it will be against the odds based on his specs at hiring. His NCAA performance is frankly terrible. But I guess everybody deserves a second chance, except Howland, of course.

      • The more I think about it, the more I don’t like it. Kansas gets Self. NC gets Roy Williams. Kentucky gets Calipari. They all won. We get Alford? Alford just doesn’t inspire the same confidence. Championships are the measure of success at UCLA. Period.

        • I am going to stop whining now. Sorry. This is waste of time thinking about this. It is just a game. I have more productive things I can do.

          • I hear you.

            The hire is an odd one considering. I am hoping it works out, but definitely think Guerroro needs to go.

            He’s responsible for the eighty yard practice field, the new Pauley, and a bunch of years of mediocrity in football and men’s bball, the two main sports.

            He seems out of touch, like his mind is on something else. My thoughts are if the majority of the athletic revenue is driven by football and men’s bball then he ought to be spending the majority of his time working to improve both.

            I look forward to spring practices starting up. Gosh, football; now that I feel good about right now. BTW, Mora walked in, he wasn’t sought. I love the guy, but I don’t feel that Dan should be lauded for the hire.

          • Great points. I am disappointed by the Alford hire. He might have some credentials, but no way does he equal Howland in stature. However, I had resigned myself to Howland’s dismissal and was hoping for a coach of equal bearing or better bearing to replace him. Instead, we got a guy who let a rapist play for him. That alone should have disqualified him from the job. This is UCLA afterall. I don’t think Coach would have approved on that alone. I also don’t like him swearing in a handshake line. For those two reasons alone, I wouldn’t hire him and he doesn’t even have the record to confuse the issue.

            Seems GrrrError was motivated more by the April 1st deadline of Alford’s contract than he was finding the perfect coach for UCLA. I am disheartened by Error’s reign at UCLA. He was gifted Mora. But the “new” Pauley is not what it should be, the football facilities are ridiculous, the coach hires have been rushed and without thought, and he lost Nikki Caldwell. Sadly, Error should have been let go and the coaching hire should have been left to his replacement. That is how Howland should have been handled. Let him have the last year of his contract while the administration found Error’s replacement.

            I am resigned to the next 7 years of this but not happy at all.

          • I hope not all of UCLA is as tone deaf as Dan Guerrero appears to be.

            Partly, I understand the difficulties he must face, but that doesn’t excuse him for his extremely poor performance.

            I remember going to the Stanford away game in Neuheisel’s last year and I and another friend were super close to Dan Guerrero during the per game tailgate party. I just remember him seeming so much like a politician, talking without saying anything. I hate that; I hate that in business, I hate that in sports, I just hate that.

            He is on the record suggesting that there is nothing wrong with the eighty yard practice field. That is just ridiculous.

            He is, IMO, solely responsible for the poor Pauley Pavilian “upgrade”. It’s not “old Pauley under glass” as some have put it; except in regards to the fact that the seats are still too far from the court. What is with the led screens and all the modern garbage? Dan was right when he said poor attendance this year was not all Ben’s fault. The majority of blame falls on him.

            Your right about Nikki Caldwell as well, it was like he said “meh!” when she got another offer. He appeared to just wave goodbye.

            I still don’t understand how Alford became his guy. I really don’t.

            Now the pressure must be on removing Dan Guerrero from his perch.

      • Howland got a second chance. People who follow UCLA bball closely will recall the climate after the SI article came out last year.

        The fact is, the trend wasn’t changing direction under Howland so a change was needed in that position.

        I have guarded optimism regarding this hire. His first task is selling his style and UCLA to Tony Parker and the other players on campus to keep this group intact. Then, quickly after, he needs to turn his attention to the recruits as signing day is a few weeks away.

        I believe that this team, with everyone but Shabazz and Drew (to graduation) coming back and a solid group coming in (if he can hold/improve the current recruits), then this team should do good next year. Now, I’m not setting expectations.

        Next year I’m the PAC-12, I believe there are four at the top, Arizona, Oregon, Cal and Colorado. It will be interesting to see if his team will be competitive with the top of the PAC. I would hope that it isn’t a sub-500 team, but I understand a new coach, new system, new guys doing different things (in hindsight, how important was Larry Drew this year?), that the team probably won’t be world beaters.

        The questions (way too early, but, hey…) will be the year after. If the team stays fairly intact from this coming year to the next, then you got to think they should be pretty good. Final Four good? Way too early to even think that, but definitely good enough to be a team that should be expected to do well. If, of course, this coming year is one that shows team building, improvement both individually and collectively, and ultimately, comes back for another year together knowing that they have a strong shot at getting a high seed out west where they could be playing to earn a spot in the Final Four right back here at Staples.

        Sorry for what may seem like BN type “expectations” but if you write it out on paper, using a chart system (a, b…) you will likely find yourself thinking something similarly.

  2. I think this is a home run. This is going to work out great. All coaches at this level are jerks. You’re better off not knowing what goes on behind the scenes. Just worry about what you see on the court.

  3. It’s funny that so many UCLA fans, after being promised steak, are happy with liver for dinner. And they call UCLA fans “impossible to please”.

      • Back in 2003, Howland walked into Westwood with National Coach of The Year award, sweet 16 appearances at Pitt while competing in what is consistently the top basketball conference in the country (though they don’t gloat about it quite like the SEC does football). So on initial credentials alone…no. Styles and philosophies are similar too. BUT…Alford is in with CA HS and AAU coaches much more than BH is now. That is huge going forward.

    • We want a guy with an opportunity to win. We got one. Let’s see what happens, eh?

  4. Mark a.k.a Michael Daly is in need of attention. We are to think he actually approves of Alford’s hiring. LoL! nice one, U almost tricked us.No one can be so enthusiastic about a coach who has a less impressive record than his predecessor.

  5. I can’t leave town for a weekend without DG going out to hire Steve Alford. Guess DG wasn’t in the mood to wait around to chat up Buzz Williams or Gregg Marshall or others. Initially, I thought this hire was second tier at best but am warming up to it a bit even though the circumstances were less than ideal.

    His incoming credentials are far less than what BH presented in 2003 and they’re not terribly dissimilar as far as preferring slower tempos and defensive emphasis. Both welcomed working under the spotlight and expectations of UCLA. So why was Alford really hired? I suspect his ability to recruit CA was the biggest reason. Alford can recruit and reportedly has a great relationship with prominent AAU coaches throughout CA which BH apparently did not the past few years if you look at the number of high level CA players recruited. If you think about, that potentially is a huge advantage walking into the job that Stevens and Smart would not have had…at least initially.

    Yeah, BH did net a top recruiting class this past year but upon closer inspection, Shabazz/KA/JA/TP all hailed from out of state and presumably Korey McCray’s east coast AAU connections helped get those guys.

    If you’re curious about BH’s CA recruiting woes and what Alford brings to the table, CBS Sportsline and SI had some good reads regarding the CA recruiting topic this past week.

    That all said, welcome Coach Alford. Let’s get to work. Go Bruins!

  6. Let’s review for a minute who’s actually available and their
    relative success—whatever that word even means.

    Tom Izzo—he’s from Michigan and has basically worked at MSU
    his entire career. He’s not leaving.

    Rick Pitino—He’s hardly the youthful, hungry coach we’d hope for. It wouldn’t surprise me if he retired if Louisville wins the championship this year. By the way, it would be his first championship with Louisville—it’s not like he’s racking up titles at a blistering pace.

    Billy Donovan—probably the most likely of the people I’ve
    mentioned so far, but why would he leave? Florida just might win the national
    championship again this year. He’s an elite coach with a pretty good thing
    going. Some people say he resents being second tier to Florida football, but
    has he ever said that out loud? Maybe it’s a good thing after all. When all is
    said and done, what could Ucla offer that Florida couldn’t?

    Mark Few—I think 100% of Bruins fans would be ecstatic if he
    had taken the job. Well, his Ncaa tournament record is absolutely abysmal. Would Ucla people be ripping him for that if he came here?

    Brad Stevens—probably not ready for prime time. He’s
    basically from Indianapolis. It’s all he’s ever known. Butler taking a step up
    to the new Big East next year. That puts the Bulldogs into a much greater
    national spotlight. He’d be the one I’d worry most about in terms of
    recruiting. He’s used to going to farm towns and talking to the good ol’ boy
    coaches. What’s it going to be like on his first visit to Dominguez, Crenshaw,
    or Long Beach Poly? How would he interact with the notorious SoCal AAU barons? He would probably get there eventually, but there would be a steep learning curve.

    Shaka Smart—I’ll admit, he probably could have made a pretty
    smooth transition. He would be welcomed by the black coaches and AAU barons. His style would worry me though—seems reminiscent of Lavin. By the way, VCU was absolutely demolished by Michigan in the tournament this year. Would Ucla people rip him for that? Last year Vcu blew its tournament game against Indiana. Would Ucla people rip him for that?

    Buzz Williams—this would have been a solid hire, and he
    probably would have taken the job if seriously offered. He’s done a lot with
    Marquette, considering its circumstances. Though Marquette has one claimed 1 Big East title (this season), Williams has taken them to the Sweet 16 and beyond the past few years. With upgraded talent available at Ucla, maybe that could morph into a Final Four. For him, the new Big East is a step
    down—the Pac 10 would be much more attractive.

    Greg Marshall—seems like a good coach, but what do we really
    know about him? He’s only won the Missouri Valley Conference once—last year. Quite a few people make it to the Final Four once and are never heard from again. Remember that guy at LSU when UCLA beat them in 2006? Yeah, neither do I …

    Andy Enfeld—the biggest question mark. If anyone ever caught
    lighting in a bottle, it’s Florida Gulf Coast. I say let someone else take the risk.

    With all that being said, Steve Alford is a very attractive
    hire given who’s actually available and/or interested. He’s dominated a very good Mountain West conference since he got there. In fact, San Diego State fans are popping champagne today because they think his departure will significantly weaken New Mexico basketball. I agree.

    Furthermore, someone please tell me what Howland did before arriving at Ucla? His final 2 Pitt teams won 29 and 28 games, respectively and both got #1 tournament seeds. And they both lost in the Sweet 16 round. So yeah, New Mexico’s tournament missteps are a concern, but we’ve seen evidence before that the upgrade in talent available at Ucla can push coaches over the proverbial hump.

    • I hope Coach Alford hires U as his Mc Hammer style HYPE MAN. He sounds as if he can walk on water, feed the hungry, cure the sick and bring salvation to those of us who need it. Jesus Alford Christ is UCLA new mens basketball coach, right? There are many more coaches out there than the above mentioned coaches U tried disparage.

      Why don’t U and Coach Alford elope and we’ll take a coach with “fewer credentials” than Coach Alford has.

    • Solid recap, and you ask some fair questions.

      Coach Mora was not near the top of most people’s wish list, yet I think now most UCLA fans are very pleased with his hire (and have forgotten their own negative pre-hire opinions of him). I think the same will be true of Coach Alford if his tenure at New Mexico is any indication. His ability to recruit in California is a big plus (and I am holding out hope we now have a shot at Aaron Gordon). Of course at some point he will have to translate regular season success into deep post-season runs, but I agree with you that not having significant post-season success to date does not preclude being successful in the future. The bottom line is that choosing a coach is an inexact science and process, and there is no guaranteed formula for success.

      I hope other UCLA fans will support Coach Alford and show enthusiasm for the program instead of always looking for something to criticize and tear down. Believe it or not, attitude and belief play an important role in success.

      “Things work out best for those who make the best out of of the way things work out.”–John Wooden

    • wow… so much wrong with this post, I don’t know where to begin…

      Mark Few has not gone to 1 Sweet 16 in 14 years. Mark Few did not lose in the first round in 3 out of 6 NIT attempts.

      you’re actually now thinking that Alford is more qualified than Brad Stevens??? O_o

      Shaka Smart would’ve been average at UCLA because a full-court press does wreak havoc, but you’re subject to a roller coaster ride of ups and downs because teams that break it, break it easily. but still, he has a better track record than Alford.

      what did Howland do before he got to UCLA? do you have to really go there? he built Pitt into a respectable and dare I say powerful program. he was the national Naismith College Coach of the Year. he has multiple coach of the year awards. in his 4 years there, he made 2 sweet 16s and an NIT bid when the previous coach made only 1 NIT bid in 5 years. 2 sweet 16s in 4 years is a heck of a lot better than 1 sweet 16 in 14 years. At NAU, he went there and they went to the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever in their school’s history.

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