Bumped. - BN Eds.
We can thank Jerry Green for Steve Alford eventually becoming UCLA's basketball coach, but more on that later.
We all know that Steve Alford hasn't had much success in the NCAA tournament before this season. In 14 years at Iowa and New Mexico he had won only three tournament games. But even including the two wins this season, his tournament record is only 5-6 in the last 15 years. But even that is misleading. The five wins came against teams seeded #10, 12, 14, 13 and 12. That's right. He has never beaten a single digit seed coaching at those three schools. But three of the six losses came against teams seeded #11, 14 and 14.
Now way back in 1999, he did make the Sweet Sixteen at SW Missouri (now Missouri St.) , beating a #5 and a #4 seed. However, sometimes getting to the Sweet Sixteen takes a lot of luck and a closer examination of Alford's draw that season indicates that seems to be the case. The team was fortunate even to make the tournament at all after an unremarkable season in which they lost 10 games and won neither the Missouri Valley Conference regular season or tournament championship. His first round game was against #5 seed Wisconsin, a team that limped into the tournament losing six of their last nine games and had more trouble scoring than (insert your own joke here), averaging barely over 50 points in their last five games. It didn't even take 50 points for SW Missouri to beat them. They scored only 43 and won by 11! The 32 points by Wisconsin were a record low for a first round game until UCLA held Mississippi Valley St to 29 in 2008. That was less than half of what SW Mo. usually gave up, so it wasn't all the result of great defense.
In the second round, they blew out Tennessee, 81-51. Now there is no way they were 30 points better than the Vols, a team that won the SEC-East, beating Kentucky, a top-10 team, twice. Tennessee just rolled over in that game. That might be because they were coached by one Jerry Green, who somehow got the job after five seasons at Oregon where he won 51% of his games. Despite making the NCAA tournament in each of his four years at Tennessee, it was widely considered to be due to the players he inherited from Kevin O'Neill and he had a reputation for losing big games to teams with inferior talent. He was forced to resign just two years after this game, never to coach again. (You can read about his years at Tennessee here.) SW Missouri was easily dispatched by Duke in the next game.
Despite the luck involved, this was a notable accomplishment for a mid-major and springboarded him to a job at a school in a major conference, Iowa. But hiring on the basis of one hot year (two of his previous three years at SW Missouri were quite mediocre) is a dangerous gamble. Here are some other coaches who got hired by major schools after a Sweet Sixteen run at a mid-major.
Stan Heath (Kent St 2002) - Fired from both Arkansas and South Florida, winning less than half his games.
Trent Johnson (Nevada 2004) - Hired by Stanford where he had three mediocre years followed by one good year and jumped to LSU where he had one good year followed by three bad ones. Now at TCU where he just went 0-18 in the Big-12 conference.
Todd Lickliter (Butler 2007) -Hired by Iowa to replace Alford where he went 38-58 in three years. Now at NAIA Division II Marian University.
Darrin Horn (Western Ky 2008) - Three games under .500 in four years at South Carolina. Fired.
Steve Donahue (Cornell 2010) - Twenty-two games under .500 in four years at Boston College. Fired.
Andy Enfield (Fla Gulf Coast - One year at USC, 11-21.
Sure, there were some who went on to excellent careers in similar situations, Bill Self, Bruce Webber and Thad Matta for example, but all three had quite a bit of prior success in their jobs before their Sweet Sixteen runs.
So perhaps if Alford hadn't met up with Jerry Green, there would have been no Sweet Sixteen and he might still be at Missouri St.
The bottom line is that if Alford beats Florida tomorrow, it will be an outstanding NCAA tournament signature victory for him, but it will also be his first in his 19 years as a Division I head coach.