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Ben Howland was generally effective in wiring his players for his defense-central system, but it seemed as though he wasn’t an effective leader to his players on anything other than basketball.
Howland’s apparent inability to relate to his players, which seemed to increase over his 10 years at UCLA, was evidenced by his inability to keep players from transferring (e.g., Josh Smith, Drew Gordon) and prematurely entering the NBA (e.g., Tyler Honeycutt, Malcolm Lee).
He may have been a good basketball instructor, but Howland’s apparent detachment from his players was his ultimate downfall in Westwood.
Steve Alford is a different specimen.
A disciple of Bob Knight—an ironic choice to coach UCLA, given that legendary coach John Wooden didn’t appreciate Bob Knight’s coaching and once said he wouldn’t want anyone he loved to play for Knight—Alford understands how to keep his players properly disciplined.
Of course, we don’t expect any chair-tossing (during which Alford was on the court) or physical assault of his players, but Alford will enact proper discipline on the Bruins players—unlike Howland.
If a fight between players were to occur in practice, as it allegedly did at UCLA under Howland’s tenure (per Sports Illustrated), Alford would not tolerate it and see to it that such a thing never occurred again.
In addition to his sterner demeanor, Alford also seems to be able to relate more to his players, which has a positive impact on team chemistry.
Moreover, he can relate more to his players because he has a son of the same age bracket, Bryce, who will be joining UCLA next season and may be able to serve as a buffer between Alford and the team.