Reports surfaced Saturday morning that UCLA hired one-time New Mexico coach Steve Alford as its new coach and sources confirmed the news. The Bruins are in business as result, having found a replacement for the recently fired Ben Howland. Alford will be formally introduced to the member of the media at a press conference on Tuesday, although a conference call has been set up for Saturday afternoon.
“Steve is the perfect fit for UCLA,” said Bruins athletic director Dan Guerrero. “He is part of the storied history of the game of college basketball and understands the tradition and uniqueness of UCLA. Yet he also connects with a new generation of players and brings an up-tempo and team-oriented brand of basketball to Westwood.''
The timing of the announcement is somewhat odd considering Alford agreed to a 10-year contract with New Mexico less than two weeks ago and was expected to make about $2 million per season moving forward with the Lobos.
Unofficially, Alford has signed a seven-year deal with UCLA right around the $2.6-million-per-year range.
“I have been so fortunate and blessed in my life, and an opportunity to lead the one of the greatest programs in college basketball history is once-in-a-lifetime,” said Alford. “It is an honor to be the head coach at UCLA, yet it is also a responsibility to ensure that our former, current and future players and fans are proud to be Bruins. I am grateful... this amazing opportunity, I can’t wait to get started.”
Alford led New Mexico to postseason berths in all six seasons (2008-13) on the job, which includes three trips to the NCAA Tournament (2010, 2012, 2013). The Lobos won at least 22 games in each of his six seasons, with a school-record 30-5 mark in 2009-10. Alford's career record is 463-235. He also is 5-7 during March Madness.
Most remember him during his days at Indiana (1984-87), where Alford was team captain on the Hoosiers’ 1987 NCAA Championship team under head coach Bob Knight. After his freshman season, he helped Team USA win the gold medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Alford was selected No. 26 overall in the 1987 NBA Draft and enjoyed a four-year professional career prior to his start as a collegiate head coach back in 1992.
As things stand now, UCLA has three important signed recruits from the Class of 2013, Allerik Freeman from Henderson (NV) Findlay Prep, Zach Lavine from Bothell (WA) and Noah Allen from Salinas (CA) Palma. Each player plans to honor their commitment. At least, at this stage of the game. With the hiring of Alford, things could change.
VCU's Shaka Smart, Butler's Brad Stevens, Washington's Lorenzo Romar and North Carolina State's Mark Gottfried were potential coaching targets of UCLA. Same thing could be said about Villanova's Jay Wright, Marquette's Buzz Williams, Gonzaga's Mark Few and Colorado's Tad Boyle. Wichita State's Gregg Marshall also emerged.
Forget about the other candidates, the Bruins had a plan all along, apparently. That was to land Alford. Mission accomplished.
Sean Ceglinsky has covered prep and college sports on the West Coast for the better part of the past 15-plus years. Follow him on twitter: @SeanCeglinsky