clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

So You've Hired A Steve Alford

An Iowa fan provides some perspective on UCLA's new basketball coach.

Ethan Miller

The following post is from our colleague Patrick Vint, who runs Black Heart Gold Pants, perhaps one of the funniest, sharpest, wittiest and most prolific college blogs on all of internets. We invited Patrick to offer his thoughts on Iowa's former head coach Steve Alford and here is what he came up with. Now we don't have a blog representing New Mexico on SBN. If any New Mexico alums want to weight in on Alford, we welcome you to blog your thoughts in the fanpost section. GO BRUINS. - BN Eds.

Greetings, Bruins Nation. I am Patrick Vint, proprietor of Black Heart Gold Pants, SB Nation's Iowa Hawkeyes blog. Before I begin, let me say that it's a true honor to be gracing the virtual pages of Bruins Nation, one of my all-time favorite websites. The seething, pulsating venom of this place is a source of inspiration for us all, to the point where we occasionally refer to Iowa athletic director and general buffoon Gary Barta as Pinot Barta.

A little bird disguised as about 25,000 stunned Iowa fans on Twitter told me that you hired a Steve Alford this weekend. We did that too once! Let me briefly give you my view of The Steve Alford Experience, so that you may be better prepared for what you're about to face. It's really the least I can do.

Iowa basketball in the late 1990s was not the same Iowa basketball you now all know and ignore. The Hawkeyes were led by longtime head coach Dr. Tom Davis, who came to Iowa from Stanford in 1986 and had set the all-time record for wins by an Iowa basketball coach by 1997. He averaged 21 wins a season in his 13 years at Iowa, made it to nine NCAA tournaments, and never lost a game in the first round of the tournament. By 1997, though, the product had become somewhat stale. Iowa was within a game or two of .500 in the Big Ten every season, and fans were restless for Iowa to "go to the next level" in basketball.

The athletic director, Bob Bowlsby, decided not to renew Davis' contract and hired Southwest Missouri State head coach and former Indiana Hoosier standout Steve Alford as the new coach. He came in on a cloud of goodwill (in contrast to the new, completely unknown football coach Kirk Ferentz). He defeated the nation's top-rated team in his first game in charge and immediately landed one of the nation's best recruiting classes. Steve Alford was going to take Iowa basketball to the promised land.

In his second season, coaching a team with Reggie Evans and Luke Recker, he finished 23-12 (7-9), won the Big Ten tournament, and got to the second round of the NCAAs. He had reached Davis' peak in two seasons, and he returned everyone of consequence. The sky was now the limit. Students camped out for season tickets for the 2001-02 season. The hype was huge.

Iowa went 19-16, collapsed in the second half of the Big Ten season, and ended up flaming out in the first round of the NIT. A little air came out of the balloon. The next two seasons were more of the same -- middling records, NIT losses -- while Iowa football hit its all-time high. And that's when the bad Steve Alford reared his ugly head.

It began with him routinely throwing his team under the bus for bad losses, bad losses that were not necessarily the fault of mental mistakes by his players. His petulance paired well with an amazing sense of self-righteousness and delusions of grandeur that, I'm sure, are typical for someone who is Steve Fucking Alford to Indiana basketball fans but is just a coach to everyone else. There were rumors that he would ask local businesses for goods in exchange for endorsements -- suits, lawnmowers, etc. -- that were made after services had already been rendered. There was a certain attitude of entitlement, evident both on the sideline and in public, that just didn't work at Iowa. It was most publicly evident in 2000 and 2006, when the Indiana job became available and Alford did everything short of driving to Bloomington and groveling at the feet of the school's chancellor to get the job. Iowa fans, rightfully or wrongfully, took it as a slight that their coach would so openly campaign for a job in their own conference. Alford, rightfully or wrongfully, didn't seem to care.

These minor flaws might be things that don't work at Iowa and are fine in Los Angeles, but there is one thing that won't fly anywhere: His behavior during the Pierre Pierce scandal. Pierce, a star guard that was crucial to the post-Recker teams, was accused of sexual assault on a female student. Alford stood by his player, which is certainly his prerogative, but the way in which he did it -- repeatedly and publicly professing Pierce's innocence and testifying to Pierce's character in every public forum that would have him, publicly questioning the intent of the anonymous victim, and reportedly trying to strong-arm her into giving the case up with the help of a counselor from a Christian athletes organization -- were wholly unacceptable. Games at Carver Hawkeye Arena featured more protesters than paying ticketholders. Pierce eventually pled guilty to a lesser charge, then committed almost the same crime two years later. Steve's character judgment bona fides were effectively gone.

Alford had a chance to make up for at least some of his misdeeds in 2006, with a team of veteran players culled largely from Iowa, the kind of team a jaded fanbase can rally behind. They had finally reached the tournament again in 2005, only to be bounced in the first round by Cincinnati, but expectations were again high. This time, Alford came through, going 25-9 (11-5), finishing second in the Big Ten regular season, then winning three games in a row at the tournament to take the conference crown. Iowa got a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the highest seed the Hawkeyes had received in 20 years. They drew Northwestern State, a school that was not even in a Northwestern state. Iowa went up 17 with eight minutes to play and collapsed, losing on a last-second three-point shot.

The next year, Pinot Barta replaced Bowlsby and had no love for Alford. Iowa went 17-14 (9-7) and missed the postseason entirely. Barta gave the dreaded "Vote of Confidence" after the season. Alford, knowing his 2007-08 team was destined to be horrible, looked for a lifeboat. New Mexico president David Schmidly, who had hired Alford's former coach Bob Knight at Texas Tech, put in an inquiry. Dan Dakich, mutual friend of Alford -- whom he coached at Indiana -- and New Mexico AD Paul Krebs -- who rehired Dakich at Bowling Green after Dakich had briefly accepted the West Virginia job in 2002 -- vouched for both parties, and Alford left Iowa City sporting a Hawaiian shirt, complaining about how Iowa was now a football school. And then he sent his Final Four expense report to Iowa for reimbursement and refused to turn in his company car. The man is all class.

I don't dislike the man as much as many of my fellow fans do (his name is permanently redacted at BHGP, and we have had to institute an Alford Rule under which you cannot blame anything about the current program on him, as absurd as that sounds six years after he left). The miracle run through the Big Ten tournament in 2001 was the stuff of legend. That 2006 team was awfully damn good right up until the final 500 seconds of its season. He never reached the "next level" Bowlsby promised -- hell, he never even reached what Davis had done before -- but he kept Iowa kids at Iowa and recruited well outside the state for a program that had been routinely losing top talent to damn near everyone for a decade. And his coaching acumen and demeanor changed for the better when he let his dad (originally, Sam Alford was his top assistant) retire and replaced him with Craig Neal (pray to your chosen God that Neal comes along with him, by the way; it's your only hope). He never got the facility or administrative support from Iowa that he had been promised, neither of which should be a problem in Westwood. I'm even willing to chalk up the Pierce defense to the arrogant hayseed trait that had him big-timing lawnmower salesmen, rather than some nefarious desire to do harm.

But Steve still lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to a #14 seed, becoming the first coach to ever do that twice. Steve still complains about Iowa to anyone who will listen. Steve still uses his band of former Indianans -- specifically Dakich and his ESPN megaphone -- to fight his battles by proxy. And Steve still throws his players under the bus for losses, famously telling reporters following New Mexico's loss to Harvard, "I can't go out there and shoot it for them." Steve might have mellowed slightly, but he's still Steve. He'll still expect to be the center of attention in Los Angeles, as absurd as that sounds. He'll still expect to be given the benefit of every doubt while allowing his players none for their on-court mistakes. He'll still take thinly-veiled shots at Iowa. And I guarantee you this: He will still campaign for the Indiana job if it opens.

In my opinion, this site is at its best when UCLA expectations are at their worst. I wish you the best of luck with your new hire, as I have always held UCLA hoops in esteemed reverence, but I'm also putting BN in my taskbar for the next four years. If our experience is any indication, this site's gonna be awesome.