Steve Alford’s name was the first mentioned by nearly everyone when Indiana fired Tom Crean on Thursday. There is absolutely no reason why it should have been. UCLA’s current head man is simply not a good, accomplished basketball coach and is in no way worthy of the Indiana job.
Alford was a Hoosier great as a player, so naturally his name was going to surface, but he shouldn’t be close to the front of people’s minds. I get that many in the Indiana see the romance of a former great coming back to take the program to glory. Nostalgia is an extremely powerful emotion, maybe the most powerful. But if you surrender to emotions and throw out logic, you often wind up making big mistakes. And Alford would be a huge mistake for Indiana.
In 22 years as a Division I head coach, Alford has reached the Sweet 16 just three times, and has never gone further. He has never won a major conference championship and during his eight seasons at Iowa, he posted a record below .500 (61-67) in the Big Ten. Last year, despite a wildly talented roster at UCLA, his team went 15-17 and missed the postseason. Alford was rumored to be on the brink of being fired until he returned a chunk of money to the school. Lonzo Ball essentially saved his job this year.
Some will point to his time at New Mexico as proof that Alford can coach. You can’t argue with his regular season record there (155-52), but his success in six years with the Lobos never translated into even one tournament run. He never made it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament there, and was bounced from the NIT in the first and second rounds as well. His lack of postseason success gives the impression that he and New Mexico were just beating up on a weak Mountain West Conference, then failing when it mattered most.
Indiana should be shooting for championships, not solid regular seasons. Alford is actually less accomplished than Crean in March during his career. Another telling fact is that UCLA fans would love to get rid of Alford and add their own “elite” guy. If you’re pining after a coach whose fanbase wants him gone, you should rethink your qualifications for the job.
I’ve also heard the argument that Alford would dominate the Hoosier state’s fertile recruiting grounds because of his legendary status at the school. That’s assuming a lot. The kids Alford would be recruiting were born more than a decade after he last put on an Indiana jersey. Most probably have only a vague notion of what he accomplished in Bloomington. He has recruited well at UCLA, but his predecessors Ben Howland and Steve Lavin both routinely reeled in top recruiting classes as well. It’d be a shock if Alford didn’t get top talent to play for the Bruins.
Of course, you can’t talk about Alford without mentioning his abominable conduct related to the Pierre Pierce situation at Iowa. In a nutshell, Alford intimidated a victim of sexual assault to help his player get a better deal in court and be eligible to play after taking a redshirt during the 2002-2003 seasn. Then, for nearly a decade, Alford maintained he had done nothing wrong. Only when UCLA reportedly pressured him with termination did Alford publicly apologize for his inexcusable actions. Oh, and by the way, three years later in 2005, Pierce was dismissed from Iowa after he was again arrested and charged with assaulting his ex-girlfriend with “intent to commit sexual assault.” Pierce served 11 months in jail after a plea bargain to the 2005 charges. Yeah, that is the guy Alford went to bat for and demolished his reputation to protect.
The Pierce incident and Alford’s years of refusing to acknowledge his role should be enough to eliminate him from contention.
The bottom line is that if Steve Alford had never played for Indiana, he wouldn’t even be on the school’s list of potential coaching replacements. That should tell you everything you need to know.
Indiana athletic director Fred Glass claimed that having a connection the state of Indiana and the school would work in favor of potential candidates. That’s a ridiculous stance. Glass should be aiming to hire the best coach available, not the best coach with Indiana ties. A good coach will connect with the state and build a new relationship and a new culture worthy of a great program.
IU needs to stop looking backwards in an attempt to recapture the glory years and instead look forward and find the next big thing. It’s been 30 years since the Hoosiers won a national title. The program still has the potential and resources to be a blue blood, it should find an elite head coach.
Steve Alford is not that.