UCLA Coach Steve Alford spent a couple of minutes Thursday responding to questions about the Indiana coaching vacancy that was created by the firing of Tom Crean.
One thing Alford didn’t say: that he wasn’t interested in returning to the school he led to the 1987 national title.
“Obviously, that was 30 years ago,” said Alford, whose Bruins open the NCAA tournament Friday against Kent State at the Golden 1 Center. “I was a part of that. I stood on stage with a great group of guys and won a national championship. It’s my home state. I played there.
“So obviously all that comes up, but I love UCLA. I love Los Angeles. You’re talking about arguably the greatest brand anywhere on the planet, and we’ve got things going at a very high level now and we’re very excited about it. We’re excited about being in this tournament and seeing what we can do in this tournament.”
Alford appeared irked by a follow-up question about whether he would take a phone call from the Hoosiers, who would appear to have some interest after Indiana Athletic Director Fred Glass referenced a “double check” for candidates with ties to the school when he spoke with reporters.
“That’s really going to be my comment about the situation,” Alford said. “I don’t want that to be what this is about. This is about what this group of guys are doing and that’s what my focus is.”
Alford denied that speculation involving his name in the coaching search could be a distraction for his team in the tournament. Any Alford suitor would be responsible for paying his contract buyout, which drops from $7.8 million to $5.2 million May 1.
He recently earned a $25,000 bonus after UCLA qualified for the NCAA tournament and would earn an additional $25,000 each for appearances in a regional semifinal and a regional final. If the Bruins advanced to the Final Four, Alford would receive another bonus of $50,000. A national championship would net him $75,000 more, for a total of $200,000 in NCAA tournament bonuses.
Alford, 52, has guided UCLA to a 94-44 record in five seasons, twice taking the Bruins to a regional semifinal in the NCAA tournament. UCLA also has an incoming recruiting class that’s widely ranked in the top five nationally and Alford’s daughter, Kayla, attends Cal Lutheran.
But a whirlwind departure wouldn’t be unprecedented for Alford. He left New Mexico for UCLA only 10 days after reportedly agreeing to a 10-year contract extension to remain as coach of the Lobos.