Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Congratulations Steve Alford, you and your
New Mexico Lobos just lost to underdog Harvard in the second round of the NCAA
Tournament, please accept your parting gift of a seven-year, $18.2 million
contract with UCLA.
Granted, this didn't take place in recent days, it was a deal struck at the
end of March, but Alford is back in the news even before leading the Bruins
onto the floor to tip off the 2013-14 campaign in Los Angeles.
Over the weekend, Alford's former employer in Albuquerque announced that it
had come to an agreement in principle about the coach's buyout and even though
the amount is in the six-figure range, in some minds it is not nearly enough
to counter the manner in which Alford handled his transition from UNM to UCLA.
Initially, New Mexico had asked Alford to write a check for $1 million, but
the coach balked. The coach was willing to hand over $200,000 instead, but
that simply wasn't in the same ballpark. For the most part, the sides have
agreed on a figure of $625,000, with some finer details still to be hammered
Perhaps the divorce between the two sides would not have been so contentious
were it not for the manner in which it played out over a span of barely two
weeks during that maddening month of college hoops.
Alford, a high school phenom who was named Indiana's "Mr. Basketball" before
choosing to play for Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers, has certainly paid
his dues when it comes to steadily climbing up the college coaching ladder.
After a brief professional career in the NBA, Alford began his ascent by
taking over tiny Manchester College in Indiana, a Division III program, back
At Manchester, Alford built a highly successful program that reached its
pinnacle with an appearance in the D-III championship game in 1995, the squad
finishing second in the nation with a record of 31-1. He finished with a
record of 78-29 during his tenure there.
Onto Southwest Missouri State where Alford guided that group to a 78-48 mark
and a spot in the NCAA Tournament where the Bears bowed to Duke in the round
of 16 in 1999.
Iowa then came calling on the rising star and although the Hawkeyes had a
tough time competing in the Big Ten Conference (61-67), Alford still led the
program to six postseason appearances and a record of 152-106 overall.
Over in the Mountain West Conference with New Mexico between 2007-2013, Alford
raised his visibility considerably. In each of his six campaigns with the
Lobos the team won at least 22 games and finished in at least a tie for first
in the league standings four times. Nationally ranked this past season, the
Lobos again won the MWC Tournament in Las Vegas with victories over Wyoming,
San Diego State and host UNLV, but there was still more to accomplish.
An automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament was the reward for the entire team for
their efforts in Sin City, but Alford had his sights set on a much bigger
prize, one that would fit neatly into his bank account, and the university was
more than happy to accommodate.
Just days after taking out the Runnin' Rebels at the Thomas & Mack Center, New
Mexico Vice President of Athletics Paul Krebs announced a new 10-year
agreement with Steve Alford to remain as the head basketball coach of the
"I have said from our first game in The Pit that this was a special place and
that it was a tremendous honor to be the head basketball coach at the
University of New Mexico. Now six years in, we have built a Top-25 program on
and off the court," said Alford of the agreement.
Sounds promising, right?
"There is no other place I would rather coach than at UNM, representing the
best fans in the country ... I'm very excited about what we have accomplished
in our first six years, and I look forward to building on those successes in
Apparently Alford, who made those statements on March 20, has a different idea
of what the "future" is compared to the rest of us.
One day later, the Lobos hit the hardwood in Salt Lake City, UT against the
Crimson in the second round of the NCAA Tournament (actually, the first game
of the event for UNM) and promptly dropped a 68-62 decision and headed home.
Sure, the end came far too soon for New Mexico in 2013, but the promise of
Alford continuing to lead this squad for another decade was still an exciting
prospect. The coach has one of the better winning percentages, .663 (463-235),
in the game and was clearly the right man for the job in the Land of
That is, before the coaching carousel kicked into high gear as the bulk of
more than 40 job openings at the Division I level went up for grabs.
Just days after expressing his love for his team, the school, and the
Albuquerque community, Alford had a change of heart. That change was
precipitated by the firing of Ben Howland at UCLA, after he failed to live up
to the lofty expectations that come with a program that has won 11 national
Under the radar, through back channels, on the down low, however you
want to describe the secretive talks, Alford went from being beloved at UNM
to someone they would want to throw into The Pit and torn to shreds by actual
"I don't want anything but success for this program," Alford said of UNM on
his way out the door. "Players (UNM), they should be upset, they should be
frustrated. I'm upset, I'm frustrated even though I'm very excited and it's a
happy day for me and my family, there's some sadness to it too."
Those statements sounded rather hollow however. Disingenuous comments made by
a man trying to get out of town without causing civil unrest and remaining in
Fast-forward to April 2 and Pauley Pavilion where Alford was back with more
spin control during his introduction as the newest head coach of the Bruins.
"As I started looking into this opportunity, and it was a very difficult
decision, it was a leap of faith, it was a family decision ... I just saw a
place that could really help better everything about our family."
I suppose what he is trying to say is that there are new opportunities opening
up for his family in a new locale, and not so much that his brood had outgrown
New Mexico, but still it came off rather elitist in nature nonetheless.
Nothing like pretending to care so much about the people you deserted, and
hope that they can look beyond your insincerity.
How can you even begin to trust someone like Alford who claimed to embody all
the University of New Mexico stood for, made a significant commitment to the
Lobos only days earlier, and then scurried away when he was presented with
another opportunity? How do players and fans stay loyal to a coach when the
values are not reciprocated?
Congratulations New Mexico for being treated like the ugly step-child in all
of this, but at least you've proven that you are the bigger man.
The Sports Network