What Steve Alford Hiring Says About State of UCLA Basketball

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What Steve Alford Hiring Says About State of UCLA Basketball

UCLA is the homecoming queen now in her late 20s wondering why the guys don't line up at her door anymore. She's still pretty, still luring some decent fellas, but she can no longer have whatever she wants. Eventually, she realizes she has to settle.

UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero had to settle on Saturday when he hired Steve Alford. When the Bruins fired Ben Howland last week, Alford is not what they had in mind.

The first two names on the list were VCU's Shaka Smart and Butler's Brad Stevens, and those should have been the first two names on the list. Those are the coaches UCLA has always been able to target and get.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Years ago, coaches in the position of Smart and Stevens would have had their pen out before a contract was even put on the table. UCLA was a destination job. 

That's what it was for Howland when the Bruins lured him from Pittsburgh to Pauley Pavilion 10 years ago. He was the equivalent of a Smart or Stevens at the time.

Alford said in a statement on Saturday that this was a destination job, and that's what he is supposed to say. If it were, though, the Bruins would be celebrating a Smart or Stevens hire, not the hiring of a coach who has never made it past the Sweet 16 in 18 Division I seasons.

Guerrero put himself in this spot by not letting Howland go a year ago. 

At that point, it would have been justified. According to a Sports Illustrated feature last March, Howland had let some bad seeds create a culture of partying and chaos. 

That was a bad look for Howland, and UCLA had every right to hand the coach his pink slip at that point. 

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But waiting a year sent the message that firing Howland was results-based, and justifying firing a coach who just won a Pac-12 title with a starting lineup that included two transfers and three freshmen is a good way to scare off a lot of coaches.

Howland's record on the court should have been good enough. He made seven NCAA tournaments and three Final Fours in 10 seasons. During that same time span, Alford made five NCAA tournaments and never made it past the Round of 32. 

This is not to say Alford was a bad hire. He was a solid hire, and honestly, it is too soon to judge entirely. Alford is a proven coach, and he will win at UCLA.

But fans won't throw a parade now that Alford has left New Mexico to come to UCLA. The Bruins got a solid coach. If this were USC, Alford would be considered a great hire. 

That's what UCLA has become: a program that needed to be "saved," unable to pick its savior—more USC than destination. 

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