UCLA Basketball: The difference in fan support – Steve Alford vs. Sean Miller

TUCSON, AZ - FEBRUARY 8: Head coach Steve Alford of the UCLA Bruins and head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats gesture during the second half of the college basketball game at McKale Center on February 8, 2018 in Tucson, Arizona. The Bruins beat the Wildcats 82-74. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
TUCSON, AZ - FEBRUARY 8: Head coach Steve Alford of the UCLA Bruins and head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats gesture during the second half of the college basketball game at McKale Center on February 8, 2018 in Tucson, Arizona. The Bruins beat the Wildcats 82-74. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images) /

The Arizona and UCLA basketball fanbases are entirely different in every way, but one of the most interesting traits of their fandom is how they have reacted to the actions of their head coaches. One had a head coach that they could not wait to get rid of and one won’t acknowledge that their head coach potentially messed up… badly.

The Arizona and UCLA basketball programs are two completely different entities. One is in a great city, has an illustrious history of championships, and is considered one of the blue bloods of college basketball… the other is Arizona.

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All joking aside (I’m guessing I got your attention, Arizona fans), the Wildcats are going through some tough times right now, but the Bruins have not had a squeaky clean history either. There was that awkward relationship with Sam Gilbert (OMG! A UCLA writer actually acknowledging Sam Gilbert? I am shocked!), the bad termination of championship-winning head coach Jim Harrick, the Reeves Nelson and Nikola Dragovic situations with Ben Howland and most recently, the hiring of Steve Alford and all the baggage he brought with him from Iowa.

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The point is, UCLA is not perfect, but as humans do after they mess up, they try to better themselves and improve upon the past. Look at what is happening with Mick Cronin. He has not only hit the ground running with his everyday duties as the new head coach, but he has fully embraced the UCLA way (something Alford did not do). Already, he has made himself instantly likable.

UCLA is trying to change its image after five and a half seasons with Alford. Fans, for the most part, did not like Alford for his actions on and off the court. Not only did Alford fail to win any hardware at UCLA depsite having a plethora of elite talent, but he was condemned for his actions regarding the sexual assault case of former Iowa player Pierre Pierce.

Arizona and their fans have their own issues going on. In 2017, Wildcats’ assistant Emanuel “Book” Richardson, was arrested on bribery charges which led to a guilty plea to those charges this past January. Richardson admitted to accepting $20,000 in bribes to bring in top high school athletes to Arizona.

In addition to this, head coach Sean Miller has been connected to the NCAA corruption scandal on multiple occasions. Most recently, client recruiter Christian Dawkins claimed that he knew of the Arizona coach very well and stated that Miller paid former Wildcat Deandre Ayton $10,000 a month to come to Tucson. Though Miller has not been directly linked to any wrongdoing (despite an alleged FBI wiretap), this is not a good look for him and his Wildcats.

So these two issues are going on which has impacted the two fanbases of these schools which resulted in two completely different reactions.

For UCLA fans, they grew tired of the inability to win despite the diverse talent that entered Pauley Pavilion. Aside from no defense, claims of nepotism, the failure to make in-game changes, and so on, Alford did nothing to try and win over the UCLA fanbase, which made the fans feel disconnected to the program. Many fans wanted him out, and that number grew as the seasons went on.

Finally, after a bad start to the 2018-19 season that ended when Alford posted four consecutive losses at the end of the non-conference season, he was out. Fans rejoiced, mostly because it was a chance to start anew. It was a chance for UCLA basketball to get back to where they are supposed to be. It was a chance to find a coach who gave a damn.

At Arizona, the reaction seems to be “shield Miller at all costs!” Which, is very bizarre. I understand that a fan base wants to protect their coach, but the denial that the Wildcat fans are displaying is unfathomable.

Miller is not in a good spot. When both the FBI and NCAA are investigating your program for wrongdoing, that is a problem. It would be an even bigger problem when the school gets hit with sanctions even if an assistant and not the head coach was responsible for the wrongdoing, which seems to be the direction this whole fiasco with Arizona is going. As Jon Wilner of the Mercury News writes, “the specifics of the sanctions are anyone’s guess, but the smart money is on severe.”

Something is not right in Tucson and Miller must be held accountable. Though he might not have had direct involvement in bribing players, it is still his program, and he is responsible for everything that has “Arizona Basketball” attached to it.

This situation is similar, though more severe than UCLA’s China incident. The majority of the blame for shoplifting should rightly be on the shoulders of the three UCLA basketball players that were involved, but it was ultimately on Alford as he was responsible for these individuals. Though he should not have been arrested, the blame was his for not instilling a culture of honesty and obedience. And on a “Goodwill Tour” to boot.

The same thing applies to Miller. If the Wildcat head coach was involved in bribing players, then he should not be the coach of Arizona, and the program should face sanctions. Cheating is cheating; there is no way around it. But here is an interesting caveat, Arizona fans, a new hire would scare UCLA fans. If Miller is gone, sanctions or not, Arizona is going to hire a competent coach that will take them back to glory and change the culture to one Arizona fans can be proud of. That is just the way it works with elite college programs.

But let us look at a lesser result. If Miller is innocent, Richardson still admitted to taking money to help steer players to Arizona. If that is the case, then Miller and his program should pay for breaking the rules of the NCAA.

And that is the head scratcher when it comes to Arizona fans. Something terrible is going to happen, yet they still want to defend Miller to the ends of the Earth. There is minimal discussion from the fanbase about Miller needing to be held accountable, which is awkward for a coach that has so much scrutiny and litigation surrounding him.

Maybe it is the fact that Miller has been the closest thing to Lute Olson for Arizona. Olson is a legend in the desert as John Wooden is a legend in LA. UCLA fans know all too well what it means to try and chase success. UCLA had some here and there, but they want to be more consistent when it comes to success.

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So do Arizona fans, which I get. But in the face of so much wrongdoing, it seems wise to hold off judgment until it is all said and done. At least don’t try and take the bullet for a coach who hasn’t made a Final Four.