UCLA Basketball: The Current Perception of a Once Great Program

The UCLA Basketball team has hit a low, and it is not just because they finished the year 15-17. With the Athletic Department choosing to retain Head Coach Steve Alford, fans and alumni have become very unhappy leading to an overall awkward perception of the program.

You know the narrative. It is all we have been writing about for the last week (well, the last year really). The UCLA Basketball team is in an abysmal state and things look like they are getting worse.

RELATED: Are UCLA Basketball Fans Unreasonable?

Not so much from a team stand point, which one cannot argue is at a low, but from a fanatical standpoint as supporters of this once great program have had enough of the stale output from this Steve Alford-led team.

The UCLA Basketball team finished the season 15-17, 6-12, their worst since Steve Lavin‘s final season in 2003. It was topped with a 95-71 loss to USC in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, which happened to be the third time the Bruins lost to the Trojans this season.

Because of this, the UCLA Basketball program, as well as the UCLA Athletic Department has been taking a lot of heat. Even before the season was over, fans were calling for the firing of Alford, but things were definitiely kicked up a notch after the loss to USC.

A Different Bruin Revolution

Though it seemed as if alumni and donors would have their way with forcing change to UCLA Basketball, the Athletic Department had unofficially let it be known that Alford would remain with UCLA.

That did not sit well with UCLA fans.

Last Monday, a plane flew over the campus of UCLA pulling a banner that stated, “UCLA DESERVES BETTER FIRE ALFORD”. Today, another plane flew over Westwood with a new banner, “MARCH MADNESS IS NOT FIRING ALFORD”. With this, the UCLA fan base was torn.

Feb 18, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins head coach Steve Alford on the sidelines against the Utah Utes during the first half at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 18, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins head coach Steve Alford on the sidelines against the Utah Utes during the first half at Pauley Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

The majority had applauded the efforts of the person that hired the plane, while others said it was an embarrassment for a fan to do that. Sure it was an embarrassment, but not in the way the pro-Alford, Pro-UCLA Athletic Department supporters realize.

It was an embarrassment because it has gotten to the point where fans are so upset with the actions of the head basketball coach and the AD that they had to rent a plane to fly a banner calling for the termination of a coach that is systematically driving their storied program into the ground.

This could be taken as opinion, but statistics and yearly records back this up. In three years, Alford has coached UCLA to 28-9, 22-14 and 15-17 records.

Part of the downfall, as observed by many, has to do with the fact that Alford does not teach fundamentals within his teams, there is an obvious lack of defensive aptitude, players are heavily lacking development, there is very little motivation with this team and there is an obvious reality that AlfordIsaac showing favoritism to his son, starting point guard Bryce Alford.

Bruin Report Online Lays It Out

David Woods of Bruin Report Online had written a brilliant piece, The State of UCLA Basketball Program, where he addressed several of these issues. We highly recommend reading the article as it perfectly encapsulates where Bruin hoops is at this moment. Here are a few key quotes from his article:

On Defense: “UCLA showed a stunning lack of effort on defense this year… keeping your hands up in a zone defense is something you can teach a group of third graders.”

Practices: “Alford’s practices are lackadaisical affairs from what we’ve heard, and from what we’ve seen. There’s little attention to detail and little time spent on specific tactics for a given opponent.”

Recruiting: “After three years of recruiting, of 13 players UCLA signed, four of those still on the roster are probably not capable of playing for a very good UCLA team, one has already transferred, at least one of the remainders is likely to transfer before next season, and two have moved on for the NBA.”

One of the most eye opening segments of the article focuses on the favoritism towards Bryce Alford, which Woods admits that he has “avoided” until now. “This year [Bryce] played a greater percentage of minutes for UCLA than any Pac-12 player is playing for any Pac-12 team.”

So what has that led to (specifically in the locker room)? “And from what we understand, the players recognize this issue as well… There will be film sessions where the defensive issues of certain players will be dissected ad nauseum, but rarely is there any mention of Bryce’s defensive issues.”

All of these problems are what Bruin fans, for the most part, have witnessed develop in the last three years. This is why Bruin fans post petitions. This is why alumni will stop supporting the program. This is why planes are being flown over Westwood with banners claiming that UCLA deserves better.

It is because this once storied program has fallen from grace, and not solely because of the misdirections of the head coach, but the athletic department as well, specifically the man in charge, Dan Guerrero.

Despite fans and alumni threatening to stop supporting the program, Guerrero seems to lack the perception of what UCLA Basketball has become. Unfortunately, this is not the first time. Guerrero has had trouble firing coaches at the appropriate time and terminating them a year too late, which has only weakened those programs.

We saw this with Karl Dorrell, Rick Neuheisel, Steve Lavin and Ben Howland. All had awkward exits from UCLA.

The unfortunate part is that because UCLA fans demand change, outsiders see the Bruin fanbase as spoiled or unreasonable for having these feelings. That is not the case.

Perceived As Unreasonable

As Go Joe Bruin writer, Nathan Eberhardt so eloquently pointed out in his article, Are UCLA Fans Unreasonable?:

The logic behind this narrative – that UCLA fans are unrealistically demanding – is essentially an argument that UCLA simply doesn’t belong in that five-team list (North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky and Kansas). If UCLA isn’t actually the equal of the other four blue-blood programs, then Bruin fans are delusional for having the same level of expectations.

But how can UCLA not be on this list? The basketball program has the most national championships of any NCAA DIvision I school. The problem is, UCLA has only had one championship since John Wooden left the school 41 years ago. Their last championship was in 1995, 21 years ago.

But the problem with that, as Eberhardt continues, is “Yes the other four blue-bloods have split nine titles among them in the last 20 years, but Bruins fans’ argument is that UCLA’s lack of comparable success is a function of poor decision-making and squandered opportunities. That’s the whole reason they’re upset in the first place.”

It is not that UCLA fans are unreasonable, they are upset that the culture of a once great basketball program has evaporated into thin air and it is all due to leadership (or lack thereof).

The unfortuante thing is that with UCLA, IF the Athletic Department was to make changes right now, it would still take 2-4 years for a new coach to put the Bruins back on track as one of the nation’s elite.

And this is unfortunate from a national perspective as college basketball critics who really do not have any proper insight to the fall of the basketball program are calling out Bruin fans for being unreasonable, as did Jeff Eisenberg and Doug Gottlieb.

But then there are those critics that understand the plight of the unsettled Bruin fan.

National sports radio host Jim Rome recently had some choice words for UCLA and Steve Alford, specifically in response to the banner that was flown over Westwood (listen to hour 3 at the 33 minute mark). “It is a low point, but it might not even be the lowest point of this season.”

Giving Time Is Wasting Time

Even with all this negative attention, it does not look like the appropriate actions will be taken to immediately right the wrongs within the UCLA Basketball program. The belief is that a coach should be given four years to try and turn around the program and make it his own. But that just seems to be the UCLA way.

In 2009, Kentucky fired Billy Gillespie after two years because they saw their program was not going in the direction it needed to. In 2015, Steve Sarkisian was fired from the USC Football program after one and a half seasons due to an array of problems on and off the field.

The point is, when there are clear deficiencies, those programs adjusted to  improve for the future. Not at UCLA. There seems to be a need to prove a point and elongate a bad decision.

The unfortuante thing is that with UCLA, IF the Athletic Department was to make changes right now, it would still take 2-4 years for a new coach to put the Bruins back on track as one of the nation’s elite. The amount of years Steve Alford is allowed to stay only adds to UCLA’s potential return to glory. Unfortunate, but true.