Any talk about the soon-to-be-open IU coaching job starts with former IU All-American and current Iowa head basketball coach Steve Alford. The question is whether the conversation will end there as well.
The first question to ask is, does Alford have an interest in leaving one Big Ten school for another? While the 41-year-old has never publicly said that he's interested in returning to his alma mater, those close to him have long said that he has a very strong desire to return to Bloomington one day as the program's head coach. Born and bred in the Hoosier state, Alford also knows that the IU program is a huge step up from Iowa. While Iowa has been a program that made a slew of NCAA Tournament trips during the George Raveling and Tom Davis years, it hasn't won a Big Ten title since 1979 and it hasn't been to the Final Four since 1980.
Adding to Alford's interest is the fact he's never been adopted by Iowa fans as one of their own. The Hawkeye faithful have long pointed to a perceived arrogance from Alford since he arrived in Iowa City at the start of the 1999-2000 season. He arrived in Iowa City after guiding Southwest Missouri State to the Sweet 16 in 1999, but he's only led Iowa to two NCAA tourneys in his first six years, and Iowa has yet to make it out of the first weekend of NCAA play with Alford at the helm. By contrast, the coach he replace – Tom Davis – went to the Sweet 16 in 1999, the season before Alford's arrival.
Alford's job was thought to be in jeopardy last year before a last-season flourish landed Iowa in the NCAA Tournament. This year's success certainly has provided him with a little more wiggle room, but he's likely only one more bad season from fanning the fans' flames of discontent once again.
Alford also knows his marketability might never be better. He has Iowa sitting atop the conference standings at 9-3 with a legitimate chance to win the Big Ten championship. He's doing it with a team that is led by a pair of homegrown seniors – point guard Jeff Horner and power forward Greg Brunner – who will be gone at season's end along with starting center Erek Hansen. Iowa doesn't appear to have any difference makers ready to step in to fill that void, so a slip back to mediocrity is expected next season.
This is the second time that there's been a great deal of attention on Alford concerning the Indiana job. After Iowa knocked off Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament championship game in 2001, many were lobbying for IU to pass on naming Mike Davis as the full-time head coach and instead naming Alford as the successor. The first time around Alford had a pair of outbursts on the subject, scolding reporters for focusing on the speculation about the Indiana job instead of his team's success. Of course, he didn't do anything to squelch the talk, either, since he never came out and said he wasn't interested in the job.
This time around, Alford has been more politically correct about the subject, steering clear of talking about any interest he might have.
"My complete focus and efforts are trying to help my team win a Big Ten championship," Alford said in a prepared statement. "That's my only concern."
What Makes Him a Viable Candidate: Indiana has to get a coach that can recruit in-state, and his Indiana ties would likely help in that regard. The IU program is being pinched on every side for the state's top recruits. To the east, Ohio State Coach Thad Matta has Indiana roots and has already lured away Greg Oden and Mike Conley. To the west, Illinois Coach Bruce Weber is a long-time Purdue assistant with strong Indiana connections, which helped him get a verbal commitment from North Central junior Eric Gordon. To the north, Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo might not have Indiana roots, but he's always had success recruiting in the Hoosier state, luring players like Chris Hill and Adam Ballinger, among others. He's also got some extremely passionate backers in the state, many of whom are the fans that made the most noise in regards to Mike Davis during his career. While Alford has his detractors as well, they'd like come around quickly so long as Alford put a winner on the floor.
What Makes Him a Questionable Candidate: While his team is 20-6 this year and boasts a pair of gut-wrenching wins over Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament that many IU fans haven't forgotten about, the fact remains he has a sub-.500 record in league games during his seven years in Iowa City. Iowa likely wouldn't throw up a whole bunch of road blocks to him departing, either, which has to send up some sort of red flag if you're an IU official. In addition, it would be virtually impossible to take Alford through a public interview process. He knows that if word gets out that he's interviewing for the Indiana job he better get it because he won't be welcomed back in Iowa City if he doesn't. Considering the fact that Alford is contractually obligated to alert Iowa A.D. Bob Bowlsby before he discusses any employment opportunities outside the university, that would be a challenge.
HoosierNation.com's Take: While I don't think this is the sort of lock that many believe it is, Alford would have to be the pre-coaching search favorite. He wants the job, he's an Indiana legend, and he's enjoying his best season of his Big Ten coaching career. The question facing Rick Greenspan is, ‘how badly do you want to have an Indiana guy running the IU program?' If that's his desire, Alford is likely the choice. But if Greenspan is open to looking nationwide, IU might very well go in another direction.
Record at Iowa: 130-89 (7th year)
Overall Record: 286-166 (15th year)
COACHING SEARCH: Is Alford The Right Choice?
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