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.