When Steve Alford was hired at UCLA almost two months ago, my initial reaction was one of optimism.
Alford had turned New Mexico into the dominant program in a very good Mountain West. Regardless of the post season flameouts that he’s had — he hasn’t made it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament this century, literally — he’s been a winning basketball coach and he’s landed good players from California.
Those are two things that Ben Howland hadn’t done of late, and given that the Bruins had already been turned down by the likes of Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart, ending up with Alford wasn’t bad.
But the new union has been anything but perfect, as chronicled by Chris Foster of the LA Times over the weekend. It starts with Alford’s drawn out contract dispute with New Mexico, who claimed that he owed them a $1 million buyout. Alford, however, argued that since he left the program on March 30th, two days before the 10-year contract that he signed was due to officially begin, that he only needed to pay his old buyout.
And that wasn’t the worst of it. Alford was grilled about the way that he handled the Pierre Pierce scandal while at Iowa at his introductory press conference, as was the UCLA administration:
UCLA athletic administrators were stunned. They had signed Alford to a seven-year, $18.2-million contract with the expectation that his hiring would invigorate an apathetic fan base. They expected him to be greeted with open arms.
Guerrero was also questioned — about whether UCLA had properly vetted its new coach and investigated what happened at Iowa. He said he “clearly discussed” the Pierce situation with Alford before hiring him.
However, when Alford was asked a similar question, he said the topic never came up.
Guerrero later amended his comment, saying he discussed Pierce with his staff and Alford’s representatives, but not with Alford.
The controversy prompted one group of UCLA fans to circulate a petition calling for Guerrero to be fired because he had “disregarded Mr. Alford’s history of defending a sex offender or did little to no research into Mr. Alford’s past.”
With little publicity, the petition generated nearly 2,000 signatures.
Alford was forced to apologize for the way he handled the situation, which one could easily have interpreted as public bullying of a victim. And that was before Pat Harty, an Iowa reporter, published a stirring piece about his proximity to the scandal.
And if that wasn’t enough, the team across town hired a hotshot young coach with a bombshell wife in Andy Enfield who then proceeded to go out and hire the top two assistant coaches out west.
It will be a long time before we can truly evaluate Alford’s hire, but the early returns are in, and they are not pretty.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.