UCLA Basketball: Will Steve Alford Overcome Rocky Start as Head Coach?

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UCLA Basketball: Will Steve Alford Overcome Rocky Start as Head Coach?
USA TODAY Sports

After the release of Steve Alford's buyout by the Los Angeles Times last week—it's $10.4 million, by the way—that was likely the end of what has been a noisy couple of months for Alford.

All should be relatively quiet from now until the season starts. He can focus on trying to win in his first year at UCLA.

That will not be the easiest task. Alford has a roster that is without an experienced point guard—unless you count 6'9" Kyle Anderson as a point guard—and only returns six scholarship players.

But this is the school that just fired a coach after winning the Pac-12, so expectations are never exactly tempered. It comes with the territory of coaching at a big-name program.

What should the expectations realistically be? Making the NCAA tournament should be considered a success.

Let's take a look at how other coaches who were in a similar situation to Alford's have recently fared in year one at a big-name program.

  First Season Record Postseason
Roy Williams (UNC) 2003-04 19-11 NCAA round of 32
Bill Self (Kansas) 2003-04 24-9 NCAA Elite Eight
Ben Howland (UCLA) 2003-04 11-17 No postseason
Kelvin Sampson (Indiana) 2006-07 26-7 NCAA round of 64
Billy Gillispie (Kentucky) 2006-07 18-13 NCAA round of 64
Tom Crean (Indiana) 2008-09 6-25 No postseason
John Calipari (Kentucky) 2009-10 35-3 NCAA Elite Eight
Sean Miller (Arizona) 2009-10 16-15 No postseason
Kevin Ollie (UConn) 2012-13 20-13 Not eligible

 

Even when you're taking over a blue-blood program, it can take some time to change the culture, particularly in a situation like at UCLA, where Ben Howland had some bad seeds in his final few years.

Some of the coaches on the list above walked into a nice situation. Roy Williams had Raymond Felton, Sean May and Rashad McCants to work with, and he left Bill Self with Wayne Simien, Aaron Miles and Keith Langford. Others took over a mess (see: Tom Crean at Indiana). 

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Jordan Adams is the leading returning scorer for the Bruins.

Howland didn't exactly leave a ton of depth in the program, but he did leave some good pieces.

Shooting guard Jordan Adams averaged 15.3 points points per game as a freshman, and he had to battle for shots on the wing with Shabazz Muhammad

Alford's teams have always been good on the defensive glass, and he has the luxury of utilizing Anderson's ability to rebound like a big man while playing one of the guard spots. 

On the inside, UCLA has the Wear twins, who have turned into solid college players, and Tony Parker, a top -30 recruit a year ago. 

Like Howland and any coach in his position, Alford deserves patience. This isn't a championship roster, and every coach should have the opportunity to get his own players on campus. Luckily for Alford, UCLA has married itself to the coach with that $10.4 million buyout. 

It is worth pointing out that Alford signed a 10-year extension with New Mexico after the season. Here's Will Webber of The New Mexican's lede for his story that announced the extension on March 20: 

Relax, Lobos fans, he's not going anywhere for a while. 

Whoops. 

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UCLA helped cover that with a signing bonus of $845,615. What the Bruins got next was a lot of bad press. 

In a twisted way, it was beneficial for Alford to get all of that out of the way right away. It was a rough start—here's a well-documented summary by Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times—but now he can focus on basketball. 

Alford will be watched with a critical eye because he's at UCLA and because his hiring didn't exactly go smoothly, but he has a chance to change those perceptions if he wins.

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