Most people agree that although Ben Howland had a very successful run at UCLA, it was time for him and the school to part ways. The hope was that we could get a young, hungry coach who could led the program back to Final Fours the way Howland did during the early parts of his tenure. But after being turned down by Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens, the Bruins turned to New Mexico coach Steve Alford as the answer.
It’s hard to be pleased with the decision. This a downgrade from Howland.
Alford agreed to a seven-year, $18.2 million contract with the Bruins, including a $200,000 signing bonus. UCLA also has to pay the Lobos for stealing their coach — a figure that may come out to around $1 million, per the Albuquerque Journal. Alford’s previous buyout was $200,000, but it is $1 million on his new contract. The new contract was supposed to take effect April 1.
New Mexico was blindsided by the move; Alford agreed to a 10-year extension with the school last week, probably well before he knew UCLA would have any interest in him. It reflects poorly on him for leaving a week after affirming his long-term commitment to the school, but it’s understandable why he would leave for this opportunity. I just don’t understand why UCLA decided on him.
Alford’s appeal is that he is a recognizable name for Bruins fans. He played college ball at Indiana and won a national championship under Bob Knight. He played on the Olympic team. He has been in the coaching game for over 20 years. He is 48 and has a pretty good image. He should be more affable than Howland, and he should be able to recruit well. My issue with him is he doesn’t cross me as a very good coach. He is a good coach. UCLA needed someone who had the potential to be great. We needed someone with upside.
Alford’s New Mexico team went 29-6 this season and won the Mountain West Conference with a 13-3 record. That looks great on the surface, but it’s terrible when you realize his team lost to Harvard in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Last year his team went 28-7 and lost to Louisville in the second round of the tourney 59-56, which isn’t bad when you consider that the Cardinals reached the Final Four. Three years ago his team went 30-5 and won the Mountain West. After beating Montana in the first round of the tournament, they were destroyed by Washington in the next round. Are you noticing a trend?