UCLA fans were clamoring for an Indiana Coach. I was so excited when Butler (Indiana) Coach Brad Stevens visited UCLA. I realize there will never be another Coach Wooden but this guy was legitimate in the argument for best coach in America.
Unfortunately, UCLA AD Dan Guerrero only heard the Indiana part. So he hired an Indiana legend in Steve Alford. Okay joking aside, we were hoping for a guy that would be "Wooden" like, but Guerrero set his targets on someone like the other UCLA Coach to win a national title, Jim Harrick.
For if you look to UCLA history, the model for the Alford hire, was Harrick. There are also a lot of similarities between Harrick and Alford that are becoming more apparent every day. I will try to briefly review them in this post and compare Harrick and Alford at the times of their UCLA hiring.
Dan Guerrero and Peter Dalis have had their moments. I do not understand why a school with so many advantages, cannot hire a competent Athletic Director. A key to Coach Mora's early success has been his ability to minimize Guerrero. While we are rightly angry at Guerrero for his recent press mistakes, it should be kept in mind that Dalis had a press conference for Harrick's predecessor (Walt Hazzard) where the coach did not know if he was head coach or co-coach. Dalis was also a disaster.
Both Guerrero and Dalis set expectations very high for a big name coach, and then gave UCLA a mid-major coach. The expectations were based not on fans desires, but on the ADs own public lists. Apparently a culture problem of UCLA is incompetent ADs.
The key fact at the Harrick press conference was "Harrick was fifth on the list" and his hiring was perceived as best a "let down." But Harrick had a decent answer, "Have you seen that list?!" The list contained guys who had all won national championships at that point EXCEPT Coach Mike Krzyzewski. When Coach K is the "loser" on a list, that is a pretty dam good list. But the more important point here is Harrick had an answer for the obvious question.
Alford by contrast was blindsided by the Pierce question. No one in New Mexico had asked him that question in years. Giving Alford the benefit of the doubt, don't you think someone should have prepared an answer to that question? This is not the worship media that a small market coach enjoys. This is a media of TJ Simmers types. Instead Alford was left hanging and worse Dan Guerrero keeps the story going with his utter and total incompetence.
Harrick had a better start even though his was tough.
THE MESS THEY INHERITED
Harrick inherited a team at the then low point in UCLA's post-Wooden history. The team had missed the tournament they once owned 5 out of the 7 previous seasons. Compare that to Alford who inherits a team had missed two of the last four but made it last season. Of course, Harrick was following two of the three worst coaches in UCLA history, two accidental coaches who should have NEVER been UCLA Basketball coaches. Alford is following a coach that was a good and reasonable hire that worked for five years before he imploded and lost his way.
Harrick inherited a team with Trevor Wilson who had a habit of losing his cool. Alford inherits a team that just got done with its best player being involved in an ongoing tabloid mess from the day he came on campus and the season before a tabloid story about one of the team's best player in SI.
Of the players left you have to say Alford has better personalities but that Harrick had the advantage of lower expectations after the two pseudo-coaches before him.
TEAMS SHORT ON DEPTH
Harrick inherited a team so short of players that he had a power forward playing three and at times 2 because he really only had six good players. However, Harrick had three future longtime pros including two point guards. Alford inherits (as of now) a team with one likely future pro but I would guess eight guys who can play right away. I am really speculating and see two other guys on the team who could make that category but as of right now, it is tough to say.
So looking at the teams, I think Alford has more depth but Harrick had two NBA point guards. However, it is hard to predict at this point who will make the pros so I will say at the same point Alford has it better.
NON-LOS ANGELES BACKGROUNDS
Coaches either have to play the UCLA-game or ignore it to be successful. Wooden seemed to ignore the outside issues. On the other side, Neuheisel arguably lasted as long as he did because he was loved by the alumni as one of them and fit in well with the dinner party circuit.
Harrick was neither of the above. Harrick was always the outsider who wanted "in." While the official reason for firing was lying about a bill at a restaurant Harrick was always a fish out of water in Los Angeles. A West Virginia native and hick at heart, Harrick did the ultimate sin when he offended Dalis on the golf course. Where Wooden wouldn't hang out at the country club and Neuhesiel would have charmed the whole country club lounge, Harrick was fired in part because he was so socially awkward.
Alford, like Harrick, is from another world, Indiana. He has also never coached under the bright lights of a TJ Simmer style media. He does not understand that stories about "Coach Knight" won't play at UCLA. Alford comes from a background where a coach might play pick-up basketball at the gym with elite alumni and talk about the 1980 Indiana high school basketball tournament. L.A. is a place where after hitting the gym while waiting to pick up your car from the valet, the elite alumni talk about meeting Magic at a club in 1984.
Harrick at least had the advantage of working in California and previously being an assistant coaching at UCLA. He had some idea of what he was getting into. I don't think Alford has a clue and only has Dan to guide him.
Alford is loved in New Mexico. They forgive him for washing out of the tournament. He restored New Mexico and leaves with the highest winning percentage in New Mexico history. He finished first or tied for first four out of six years at New Mexico. It is fair to say he was very successful during the regular season.
While New Mexico had a very good coach before (Dave Bliss), Harrick had more tourney appearances than all previous Pepperdine coaches combined. He is tied for second best record in history of Pepperdine. However, Harrick was coming off two relatively unsuccessful years at Pepperdine when he was hired, including a losing record two years prior.
However, Harrick was in his first D-1 coaching job. Alford was in his third at New Mexico.
Pre-UCLA Harrick was 1-4 in the NCAA Tournament. Of course, I am not sure Pepperdine was exactly a favorite in any of those games. Alford is 5-7. Ironically Alford who looks young has a lot more experience than Harrick at the time of their hirings. But this may be apples and oranges. Alford coached in a major conference with Iowa, a team that had tournament success previously and he did not do well there.
I am not delving into Harricks' issues at or after UCLA. Obviously there was something there that caused the NCAA to ban him at Georgia and it seems like UCLA did the right thing in firing him given his later issues.
Of course while Harrick post-UCLA was, or his program was, acting illegally to help players with grades, phone calls, or expenses, Alford was defending a rapist. There is no comparison here. Harrick's problems would reappear post UCLA. Alford's better not. On the other hand have they happened before? In what may be more than a bit of stretch, a very pro-Alford Indiana writer tells the following story of Steve Alford while playing at Indiana:
Then, addressing the rest of the club's free throw woes (particularly by IU standards), I noted to Alford that if you subtracted his 92 percent shooting, the team would be shooting about 65 percent on the season.
"I don't know how you can subtract me from the team?" Alford basically said, suddenly a bit surly and almost seething.
. . .No way, though. Alford dug in, stating that the team's percentage was the team's percentage, only eventually offering that "anybody who's missed a free throw can do better, including myself, and we're all trying."
Now, granted, how Alford handled that Pierre Pierce situation (I don't have any insight or much opinion about that, being far removed from a situation that remains intensely in dispute) and how Alford handled the issue of free throw breakdowns don't have anything to do with each other, and are certainly worlds apart in levity, but they are similar reminders that the guy who was seen back at IU as Indiana's favorite son and a somewhat charismatic choir boy certainly has his somber and unyielding side.
That unyielding side better not extend to defending terrible actions any more.
Alford looks better on paper than Harrick did but is arguably a bigger head scratcher than Harrick. In 2013, UCLA had the money to make Alford the highest paid coach in the conference. In 1988, UCLA had no money and arguably had to gamble on a Harrick-type. In 1988, Harrick had no known "issues" and had never failed in basketball; Alford had done both at Iowa.
Alford could be a bigger success than Harrick. But he seems a bigger gamble that UCLA did not need to take. Thanks Dan.
Unlike Harrick, Alford is being paid as much as the best coaches in the country. The bottom line is Alford needs to be successful right away and do so without" issues."