clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Dawkins and Alford: Who Will Win the Race to the Middle?

While Dan Guerrero and Steve Alford celebrate another Sweet Sixteen appearance, Johnny Dawkins and the Stanford Cardinal have brought home a second NIT championship in three years. Yes, times are good for the Pac-12's fourth and fifth place teams, or so I'm told by those who want to manage my expectations.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In case you missed the big news, Stanford beat Miami in the championship game of the NIT yesterday to give Coach Johnny Dawkins his second NIT title in three years.

As you may know, I'm not an enthusiast of consolation tournaments. However, it's evidently an exciting accomplishment for the Stanford men's basketball team, which tells you essentially all you need to know about the state of their men's hoops program. And just think, if it hadn't been for our largely unexpected NCAA tournament invitation, it could have been UCLA and Steve Alford bringing home an NIT championship banner this year. Except of course for the fact that Steve Alford has a dismal NIT track record. Nevertheless, my point stands--for many fans, perceptions about this season for the Bruins largely hinge on a somewhat unexpected NCAA tournament bid.

But that brings me back to Johnny Dawkins. How can seasons that end with a fourth, fifth, or sixth place conference finish, and losses in the second round of the Pac-12 tournament be considered a success, even with a consolation tournament title? Isn't that pretty much the definition of mediocrity for a Power Five conference team? And when that becomes the norm, isn't it a sign of acceptance of mediocrity by the athletic department and supporters?

Based on the comments about Johnny Dawkins by the Bruins Nation community, I'd say that "mediocre" is probably the most generous assessment I've seen of Dawkins as a coach. More often than not, he's regarded as one of the worst coaches in the Pac-12--a conference not known for coaching excellence.

Given the consensus opinion that Johnny Dawkins is a second-rate coach at best, what differentiates him from Steve Alford? First, I suppose, is the fact that his son, Aubrey, plays for the Michigan Wolverines, so Daddyball isn't on Dawkins' agenda. Second, Stanford is Dawkins' first head coaching job; that means that Steve Alford has been a head coach for 17 years longer, 13 of which have been as a Division 1 head coach. That said, is there a meaningful way to compare Dawkins and Alford as coaches?

There is. A comparison of Dawkins' coaching record at Stanford with Alford's coaching record at Iowa is apt. Previous to Steve Alford's eight year stint at Iowa, he'd served for four years as head coach at Manchester (Division 3), and another four years as head coach at Southwest Missouri State (Division 1). Dawkins began his seven year (so far) tenure at Stanford after working as Associate Head Coach for Mike Krzyzewski at Duke for nine years. In terms of preparation to be a head coach of a major program, Alford had an advantage, but for both, it was their first job as a head coach with a Power Five conference program.

A comparison of Steve Alford's accomplishments at Iowa with those of Johnny Dawkins at Stanford is enlightening.

Alford (Iowa) Dawkins (Stanford)
Number of Seasons 8 7
Overall Winning Percentage 0.589 0.585
Number of Seasons with Losing Record 1 2
Conference Winning Percentage 0.477 0.460
Conference Titles 0 0
Conference Tournament Winning Percentage 0.684 0.462
Conference Tournament Championships 2 0
Number of Seasons with Losing Conference Record 5 3
NCAA Tournament Record 1-3 2-1
NCAA Sweet Sixteens 0 1
NIT Tournament Record 2-3 11-1
NIT Championships 0 2

(A comparison of Alford's tenure at Iowa to Dawkin's time at Stanford.)

Overall Winning Percentage

From 1999-2007 (8 seasons), Steve Alford compiled a 152-106 record. Johnny Dawkins' record at Stanford since 2008 is 141-100, which gives him a winning percentage that is nearly identical to Alford's winning percentage at Iowa. Edge: Even.

Number of Seasons with a Losing Record

Aside from Steve Alford's initial season at Iowa, he kept the program's head above water (though barely at times) for the next seven seasons. Johnny Dawkins' second and third Stanford teams were both sub-.500 before he led the 2011-12 Cardinal squad to 26 wins and an NIT championship. Edge: Alford.

Conference Winning Percentage

There's not much separating Alford from Dawkins here, but Alford's conference record at Iowa (61-67) is marginally better than Dawkins' 58-68 Pac-12 record. Edge: Alford.

Conference Titles

Both coaches come up empty here. Edge: The other conference coaches.

Conference Tournament Winning Percentage

The performances of Steve Alford's Iowa squads in Big 10 conference tournaments is undoubtedly the highlight of his tenure in Iowa City. His teams were 13-6, though there were three seasons marked by first round exits (37.5%). While Johnny Dawkins' Stanford teams have had fewer first round exits from their conference tournaments (28.6%), the Cardinal have never won more than two consecutive tournament games with Dawkins at the helm. Edge: Alford.

Conference Tournament Championships

Steve Alford won the Big 10 tournament twice: 2001 and 2006. Johnny Dawkins is still looking for a Pac-12 tournament title. Edge: Alford.

Number of Seasons with a Losing Conference Record

Steve Alford's Iowa teams struggled against Big 10 competition. His teams finished below .500 in the conference five times in eight seasons (1999-00, 2000-01, 2001-02, 2002-03, 2004-05). Johnny Dawkins has done better against conference rivals, finishing with a losing conference record in his first three seasons (2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11), but achieving mediocrity every season since. Edge: Dawkins.

NCAA Tournament Record

Steve Alford's NCAA tournament record at Iowa is poor, frankly. In two of his three Tournament appearances, his team didn't advance past the first round. The highlight of his NCAA tournament career as coach at Iowa is a first round victory over tenth-seed Creighton in 2001.

In contrast, Johnny Dawkins did better than expected last year with the Cardinal. Stanford upset seventh-seed New Mexico in the second round of the tourney and then upset second-seed Kansas to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Edge: Dawkins.

NCAA Sweet Sixteens

Nothing more needs to be said here. None of Steve Alford's teams have ever managed to beat an opponent seeded better than fourth. Edge: Dawkins.

NIT Tournament Record

Steve Alford took the Hawkeyes to three NIT appearances (2002, 2003, 2004) in eight seasons. Iowa advanced to the second round just once (2003) by beating Valparaiso in a play-in game and then defeating Iowa State.

Johnny Dawkins has proven to be an NIT specialist. Dawkins' Stanford has been invited to the NIT three times (2012, 2013, 2015) and lost a single NIT contest--against Alabama in 2013. Edge: Dawkins.

NIT Championships

Steve Alford has an NIT doughnut. Johnny Dawkins has won two NIT titles (2012, 2015) in three attempts. Edge: Dawkins.

Overall, in a battle of mediocrity, I give Dawkins a slight edge over Iowa-era Steve Alford, especially in light of the fact that Alford had four years of experience as a Division 1 head coach before taking the Iowa job whereas Stanford is Dawkins' first head coaching gig. However, opinions about this comparison will vary depending on how much emphasis is placed on each of the categories of achievement I've listed. Reasonable people can (and probably will) disagree about which coach--Dawkins or Iowa-era Alford--has the better résumé, but I don't think that there's a reasonable argument to be made that one of these coaches is significantly better than the other based on accomplishments.

For supporters of the UCLA men's basketball program, the value in this comparison is that it brings the mediocrity of Steve Alford's previous Power Five conference coaching record into sharp focus. There is nothing in Steve Alford's coaching "achievements" at Iowa that bears resemblance to the fingerprints of an elite coach in the making.

Johnny Dawkins is not an elite coach, and in my opinion, he's not on the road to becoming an elite coach. He might be the kind of coach that Dan Guerrero would hire, but he's not the kind of coach that Coach's program deserves.

Neither is Steve Alford. Steve Alford's fourth place Pac-12 finish and his 22-14 record feel awfully Dawkins-like. In fact, Dawkins' Cardinal finish the season with a 24-13 record, a game and a half better than the 2014-15 Bruins. However, perception can hinge on small things, and the "Alford deserves two more years" crowd has a different perspective on the season and has a handful of excuses for the team's shortcomings. "Be patient, everything will get better soon" is Guerrero-like in its implication that expectations need to be managed.

Meanwhile, Stanford celebrates another NIT championship. It all feels like mediocrity to me.