Since being hired as UCLA basketball’s 13th head coach, Steve Alford has weathered intense criticism concerning his defense of Iowa star Pierre Pierce in 2002.
Then a sophomore for the Hawkeyes, Pierce was faced with third-degree sexual assault charges and suspended from the team. However, Alford repeatedly proclaimed Pierce’s innocence, even doing so less than a week before the point guard pleaded to a reduced misdemeanor.
A University of Iowa report then stated that Alford’s comments “implied that he disbelieved and discredited the claims of the student victim, and his words were perceived as reflecting insensitivity to issues of sexual assault and sexual violence.” Pierce was imprisoned later on separate charges that included assault with intent to commit sex assault.
On Thursday, nine days after he was introduced at Pauley Pavilion, Alford issued an apology through a press release. His statement in full:
Over the past week, questions have arisen about my handling of an incident involving a charge of sexual assault made against a student-athlete in 2002, while I was coach of the University of Iowa men’s basketball team. At that time, I instinctively and mistakenly came to his defense before knowing all the facts. I wanted to believe he was innocent, and in response to a media question, I publicly proclaimed his innocence before the legal system had run its course. This was inappropriate, insensitive and hurtful, especially to the young female victim involved, and I apologize for that. I have learned and grown from that experience and now understand that such proclamations can contribute to an atmosphere in which similar crimes go unreported and victims are not taken seriously. It’s important for me personally and professionally to make sure Chancellor Block, Athletic Director Dan Guerrero, all of my student-athletes and the entire UCLA community, including our fans, understand that today I would handle the situation much differently, with the appropriate regard and respect for the investigative process and those impacted by it. I look forward to being a Bruin and leading a program that everyone will take pride in, both on and off the court.
Of course, Alford could have said something similar when asked about the incident during his official introduction to the Los Angeles media on April 2. Instead, he offered little contrition and deferred to his former bosses at the Iowa.
“All I can tell you with that situation is that I followed everything that the University of Iowa, the administration, the lawyers that were hired — I did everything I was supposed to do at the University of Iowa in that situation,” Alford said. “I followed everything that I was told to do.”
That same day, athletic director Dan Guerrero defended Alford and said the new coach deserved a “clean slate” for something that had happened over a decade ago.
He echoed that sentiment again in today’s press release.
“I was aware of this situation when we hired Steve and concluded that although he made an error in judgment 11 years ago, he had learned and grown from that experience,” Guerrero said in a statement. “Our evaluation was based on his entire career, both on and off the court, and that is what led us to make our decision that he was the right coach for UCLA.”