The UCLA basketball coaching search has officially come to a close after athletic director Dan Guerrero announced the hiring of former New Mexico head coach Steve Alford on Saturday morning.
The selection has to be characterized as surprising, especially since Alford signed a 10-year contract extension with the Lobos just 10 days ago. But in the rough-and-tumble world of big time college athletics, anything is possible. Guerrero played his cards right and was able to land a coach completely off the national radar, despite missing on bigger targets in his first few tries.
However, before we can really get an idea for how this hire grades out, it’s important to take a step back and look at Alford’s entire body of work. To facilitate the discussion, here’s a breakdown of the Bruins’ new head coach by the numbers.
Alford has been a Division I men’s basketball coach for 18 seasons, starting out at Southwest Missouri State for four years before heading to Iowa. After eight seasons leading the Hawkeyes, Alford made the switch from Iowa City to Albuquerque, where he coached the UNM Lobos for six seasons. Now, as he prepares for his 19th season, Alford will have to prepare for a whole new set of challenges in the belly of the beast (i.e., the Los Angeles sports media). If Alford can help build UCLA back to a fraction of its former glory, he’s in a position to walk the hills of Westwood for quite some time.
This is Alford’s all-time winning percentage as a major college basketball coach, thanks to his 463-235 record to date. After posting a .619 mark with Southwest Missouri State, Alford struggled to stay afloat in the Big Ten Conference, guiding Iowa to a 152-106 record (.589) overall and 61-67 in conference. With New Mexico, Alford undoubtedly had the most success of his career, winning nearly 75 percent of the time (155-52). In six years with the Lobos, his team finished below .687 (11-5) in Mountain West action just once.
Through 18 seasons as a D-I coach, Alford has led his teams to the NCAA Tournament on six different occassions. That’s an unspectacular 1-in-3 record of success, though Alford has made March Madness in four of the past seven seasons. He took Southwest Missouri State once, Iowa twice and New Mexico three times, which would leave the Bruins with four trips if the trend continues. Compared to former Bruins coach Ben Howland, who has 10 tourney teams to his credit (after 19 seasons), Alford’s resume is definitely less impressive. However, at a program with the prestige of UCLA, it’s entirely possible he will have the talent and resource boost necessary to take the next step forward.
This is the number of times that an Alford coached team made it past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. In the 1999 Big Dance, the Bears of Southwest Missouri State (known now as simply Missouri State) made it to the Sweet Sixteen as a No. 12 seed. Alford and the Bears opened play in the Tourney with an 11-point win over No. 5-seed Wisconsin (some things never change), before absolutely blasting the No. 4-seed Tennessee Volunteers, 81-51. And though they would fall to No. 1-seed and eventual national runner-up Duke in the next round, it was a great run for the upstart Bears.
That is the seeding of the Harvard Crimson (20-10) when they upset No. 3-seed New Mexico in the Round of 64 in the 2013 NCAA Tourney. The Lobos (29-6) were a trendy Final Four pick this year after winning the MWC regular season and conference tournament titles, but they flamed out with an uninspired performance in Salt Lake City. The Crimson, despite owning bad losses to the likes of Penn (9-22) and Columbia (12-16), came into the game with no fear and walked away with a 68-62 win. Under most circumstances, this would be a warning flag to steer clear of Alford. But given Howland’s 20-point loss to No. 11-seed Minnesota in the very same tournament, anything outside the status quo is refreshing for the Bruin faithful.