A strange thing about the hiring of UCLA Basketball coaches; it rarely happens the way it should and usually in a panic. Three of the last six were hires after coaches left or were asked to leave suddenly: Larry Farmer, Walt Hazzard and Steve Lavin. Of the remaining, two (Harrick and Alford) were second tier choices that did not make fans happy whose appetite had been whetted with big advertised names.
Since Wooden, only three have had zero connections to UCLA at the time of their hiring: Larry Brown, Ben Howland and now Steve Alford. However, those are two of the three arguably most successful coaches.
Although because of sanctions I do not consider Brown successful, for this post I will talk about the three most successful coaches since Wooden by one single criteria: how far they went in the tournament. Three coaches made it to the finals: Larry Brown, Jim Harrick, and Ben Howland. How did they start?
When Larry Brown arrived UCLA had won the PAC 8 14 times in row, the last four without Wooden. Yet many players were leaving. Larry Brown first recruit of his own was Michael Holton and his second was the player that arguably defined his UCLA career, Rocket Rod Foster. Brown would later start freshman Foster and Holton and make a miracle run to the finals. The novelty (remember freshman at that time were only recently allowed to play) of that freshmen backcourt was a big story at the time as was Brown's taking a team that barely made the tournament in the newly expanded field to the finals. Brown was the first coach post Wooden to make the title game and did so despite being the only coach to never win the PAC 8/10/12.
Jim Harrick arrived after two of the three worst coaches in UCLA history. He arrived in a mess that had missed the tournament five out of the previous seven seasons. Ironically, UCLA wanted Larry Brown to come back. According to Brown, not exactly a reliable source, they put pressure on him to sign right away after winning the national championship with Kansas. Brown said they want him to agree quickly or else UCLA would lose Don MacLean. So when Brown said no, UCLA quickly hired Harrick and MacLean agreed to come. MacLean went on to set the UCLA scoring record. Although, MacLean had nothing to do with the championship Harrick won in his seventh season, he did help reverse trend under the two previous coaches with UCLA making the NCAA tournament every season under Harrick starting with MacLean's four.
(Ironically almost as big was Harrick's decision to force Darrick Martin to stay. Martin wanted out of his letter of intent when Harrick was hired but Harrick would not let him. Martin went on to a great career at UCLA.)
Ben Howland was the only UCLA coach to take over a team with a losing record since Wooden. Howland's first recruit was Arron Afflalo. Of course Afflalo went on to define Howland's best teams as his prototypical player. Afflalo was the leading scorer on Howland's team that went the furthest (NCAA Championship game in 2006).
So maybe Alford's lack of UCLA connections is a good thing. Two of the three above had zero UCLA connections when they were hired. (Harrick was briefly a UCLA assistant coach.) And like Harrick, Alford had a solid but not spectacular record before UCLA.
It will be fun to see who Alford recruits first.
But of course the endings are relevant as well. According to the book "They Shoot Coaches Don't They", it was Brown's hotshot recruit Kenny Fields who led to his leaving. After Field's mother came in the locker room and cussed Larry Brown out, Fields quit the team. When Fields came back, possibly over Brown's objection, that caused Larry to quit as Larry would not coach a kid with Fields' parents. (This was just one reason, Larry had a number of reasons.)
Harrick was fired over his recruitment of the Collins twins. So in a sense his last recruiting efforts literally cost him his job. (Of course there is more to it.)
Howland? Well technically Howland's last recruit was Tony Parker. As has been well documented, Parker did not enjoy playing for Howland, was homesick for Georgia, and almost transferred. He is a good symbol for the problems of Howland. The players didn't like him and often left too early. Howland had so many problems recruiting California that he had to hire a Georgian assistant coach to help him get players.
So what does that mean about Alford? Well Alford kept everyone but Shabazz who was always a one and done. Alford kept players to their letters of intent without the tactics of Harrick. (Although UCLA did keep that Georgian assistant coach on the payroll; presumably to babysit Parker.) As of right now his first recruit is his son. I guess that does not count either. That next recruit and how he develops will be key for Alford.
It goes without saying recruiting can make or break coaches.
We will be watching eagerly.