After a few unsuccessful attempts to fill its coaching vacancy with high-profile candidates Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens, UCLA has found a new coach to replace Ben Howland at the helm in Westwood: New Mexico’s head coach Steve Alford.
It was a surprising move for the Bruins athletic department to nab the New Mexico coach, who had just signed a 10-year extension with the Lobos a few weeks prior. Nevertheless, it brings the Bruins back on their feet after a string of disappointing postseasons that led to Howland’s firing.
Although novelty often misleadingly breeds excitement, this move brings real promise to UCLA.
With the tools Alford brings along not only as a successful coach but as a once-successful college and NBA player, he is just what the Bruins need right now to revamp their underachieving program and restore their vanishing luster as one of the nation’s premier programs.
Alford ‘s up-tempo style of play is exactly what UCLA needs to reenergize the program and its fan base.
We saw with this past season’s Bruins squad that this generation of college basketball players thrives on a fast-paced offense, which was especially demonstrated with top-recruit freshman Shabazz Muhammad.
UCLA thrived in transition this past season and was much more efficient on the offensive end when attacking the basket early in the shot clock instead of operating a half-court set.
Although it may have basketball purists grinding their teeth, there is a dominant trend in college basketball to run an up-tempo offense, and Alford is right on par with that trend.
Running an up-tempo offense will give the young group of UCLA players that Alford is inheriting their best chance to succeed, which will in turn make him a success in Westwood.
It goes without saying that any coach who would even be considered worthy of becoming head coach of one of the nation’s premier college basketball programs needs to have an impressive résumé.
And Steve Alford does.
Above his impressive 385-206 record (.651) in his 18 seasons as a Division I coach, what Alford achieved in his most recent tenure at New Mexico makes him an ideal coach for UCLA’s future.
In his six seasons in Albuquerque, Alford revitalized the Lobos’ program and turned New Mexico into a powerhouse in the Mountain West Conference, which is now considered even with—or above—the Pac-12 after a few lackluster seasons from the Pac-12.
Under Alford’s reign, New Mexico won its most conference titles under any coach, notched its first 30-win season and made the NCAA tournament in back-to-back years for the first time since the program’s most successful coach, Dave Bliss, did so in the late ‘90s.
More importantly—and directly relevant to UCLA’s current situation—Alford immediately resurrected New Mexico from the depths of one of its worst seasons in school history and set the Lobos back on a track to the NCAA tournament after a four-year drought.
Coaching at UCLA is a more high-profile job, but Alford’s experience of rejuvenating a sinking program will help him succeed in Westwood.
Alford with So. Cal. native Kendall Williams
One of coach Howland’s downfalls, which eventually contributed to his ousting, was his inability to tap into the deep pool of local talent in California, mainly the surrounding richly talented Southern California area.
Alford is not only a good general recruiter but has had success recruiting players in Southern California that UCLA struggled to recruit—or keep hold of—under Howland.
New Mexico’s leading scorer of the past season, junior Kendall Williams (Rancho Cucamonga, CA) was initially slated to attend UCLA, but the Bruins mishandled their relationship with Williams and Alford and his New Mexico crew swooped in and nabbed the future 2012-13 Mountain West Player of the Year.
The Lobos’ second leading scorer this season, Tony Snell (Riverside, CA), was also a Southern California player Alford attracted to Albuquerque despite his proximity to UCLA.
Alford also reeled in Drew Gordon (San Jose, CA), who went on to average a double-double in both of his seasons at New Mexico, after the forward parted ways with UCLA after his sophomore season.
He also has strong ties with the network of high school prospects in his native Indiana and has brought talented players over from Australia in the past few years.
Alford has just the recruiting skills UCLA needs to attract the nation’s top-ranked recruits, and more importantly, Southern California’s top prospects.
Having played high school, college and a few seasons of professional basketball under intense pressure and now with significant coaching experience under his belt, Alford has been fire tested for the UCLA head coaching position.
Alford was subjected to intense pressure as a high school phenom in Indiana and then went on to play for a strict disciplinarian and arguably the most irascible coach in history: Bob Knight.
While Alford cracks a smile every now and again unlike his college coach, he has a no-nonsense attitude and the poise the Bruins need to get back on the right track.
Although Howland was well-versed in the fundamentals, he lacked the disciplinary command required of a successful head coach.
Alford will not tolerate any disrespect or dissent amongst his team.
After years of lackluster discipline, the Bruins need a coach that will lead them and maintain order.
As we have seen with UCLA’s newly appointed football coach Jim Mora, demanding respect of players and the media can have an immediate impact on a program.
That Alford took the job as UCLA head coach 10 days after signing a long-term contract extension with a program he had cultivated for success for years to come demonstrates how passionate he is about coaching at UCLA.
Sure, one could point to the added $600,000 per year and $200,000 signing bonus Alford is raking in as grounds for his jump to UCLA, but there is much more involved.
Working his way up through the ranks as a college basketball coach, one can only imagine that coaching at one of the nation’s premier programs has been a dream of Alford’s since he began his coaching career at Division III Manchester University over two decades ago.
Unlike Brad Stevens or Shaka Smart, whose hiring seemed as though it would have been forced, Alford wants this job and wants to thrive in Westwood.
Growing up in Indiana, Alford was likely one of the millions of sports fans that marveled at the unrivaled success of John Wooden, who was born just over 30 miles from Alford, in his incredible tenure as UCLA head coach.
Regardless of his potential affection for Wooden, Alford possesses genuine passion for the game of basketball and passes off his zeal for the game to his players, as was evidenced in Albuquerque the past six seasons.
"You're not going to find anyone more competitive or driven,'' Alford said in a news conference on Saturday.
That’s exactly what UCLA needs right now, and that’s exactly what will make him successful in Westwood.