Steve Alford was formally introduced as UCLA’s basketball coach Tuesday, at center court in Pauley Pavilion. He mentioned John Wooden three times during his first three minutes in the Westwood spotlight.
Athletic Director Dan Guerrero noted the “blending the past, present and, of course, the future” of Bruins basketball.
Alford, hired away from New Mexico, hopes to live up to UCLA’s past, symbols of which were located high above him, where aging national championship banners dangle.
Guerrero hopes that Alford’s past as a player and coach can re-energize the program, though some of his past might best be left behind -- including the involvement of an Iowa player in two assaults when Alford was coach of the Hawkeyes.
Guerrero said he felt charged “to find a coach who can not only embrace what we are and what we have always been, but who certainly has vision to what we can become.”
Alford should be coming to UCLA with his eyes open. Coaches have been left by the wayside trying to live up to Wooden, who won 10 national championship in 12 seasons, the last in 1975.
There are plenty of fans who expect the Bruins to go deep into the NCAA tournament every year. Alford has taken one team past the tournament’s first weekend in 18 seasons at New Mexico, Iowa and what was then Southwest Missouri State.
He arrived in Westwood with an agreement on a seven-year, $18.2-million contract; an assistant coach, Duane Broussard from his New Mexico staff; and a recruit -- his son Kyle Alford, who had signed a letter of intent with New Mexico.
Alford knows he has to win and fill the expensive seats in Pauley Pavilion. “Fans will come if you have a good product,” he said.
That is what Guerrero wants. After he couldn’t land Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart or Butler’s Brad Stevens, Guerrero moved so quickly on Alford that he had little time to clear things with New Mexico Athletic Director Paul Krebs.
Krebs went to bed Friday with a basketball coach who had agreed to a 10-year contract extension 10 days earlier. He awoke Saturday to find a “voice message from Dan and a text from Steve.”
Alford had rehabilitated his coaching career at New Mexico, where he had a record of 155-52 after a rough eight seasons at Iowa.
He said his graduation rates, a problem at Iowa, improved considerably at New Mexico where, “I had my own academic advisor that we didn’t have [at Iowa].”
Alford’s time in Iowa City is remembered most for the Pierre Pierce scandal. Pierce, a talented Hawkeyes player, was accused of sexual assault by another student in 2002.
Alford staunchly defended Pierce, saying at Big Ten media day, “I totally believe he is innocent. I believed it from day one, and I still believe it.” At the time, there was already a plea bargain being worked out. Pierce pleaded guilty to a charge of assault causing injury.
Pierce sat out the 2002-03 season as a redshirt and was kicked off the team the following season after another incident, this time involving an ex-girlfriend. He pleaded guilty to third-degree burglary, assault with intent to commit sexual abuse, false imprisonment and fourth-degree criminal mischief. Pierce spent 11 months in a correctional facility.
Alford said Tuesday, “I just followed everything the University of Iowa told me to do. I really didn’t do anything. The university made the call on everything.”
A committee appointed by Iowa’s university president investigated Pierce’s first assault, against a fellow student, and criticized Alford for his statement that Pierce was innocent.
The committee also determined that a person affiliated with Athletes in Action, a religious organization, contacted the victim and asked her to meet informally to speak and pray with Pierce.
That person, according to the committee’s report, had a “longstanding relationship” with Alford and the basketball program.
On Tuesday, Guerrero noted that those incidents took place 10 years ago and said that UCLA had vetted its new coach’s character and was “comfortable with where we are now.”