Just as the prodigal son returned from the hard and long road, so too can Iowa fans gather again at the same table and break bread without their conversations turning into bitterness and controversy.
If I have said it once over the past three years, I have said it 100 times; Steve Alford was the most divisive force in Iowa athletics in my lifetime, and I don't know if there is a close second. Bob Bowlsby might be #2, and that was only for a short period of time when Iowa fans were ticked off at him for hiring Kirk Ferentz. That went away in short order. Maybe Hunter Rawlings deserves to be ranked #2 in this dubious category, but again, who remembers second place when Alford wins it by a landslide?
This isn't about shoveling dirt on the figurative grave of his Iowa career, it's just my opinion after having moderated message boards for the entire Alford era.
Things got so bad once upon a time that I actually shut down the Iowa basketball message board at Superhawkeye.com, which was one of the first mega Iowa message boards. It was after the regular season home finale in 2001, a 59-57 home loss against Wisconsin. Iowa had lost seven of its last eight games that year without Luke Recker and Ryan Hogan, who were out with injuries. Of course, Iowa went on that four-wins in four-days run just a week later, and all was forgiven.
That was the hallmark of the Alford era; consistent inconsistency, too many months of March without an NCAA appearance and when they did get there, two first round losses in three Alford-led trips to the Big Dance. That, and a 61-67 overall Big Ten regular season record was enough to cause Iowa fans to fight like Hatfield's and McCoy's.
At times, things got ugly. Very ugly. Ultimately, it was a losing fight for a board operator to even try and keep some semblance of peace, because the fighting factions would not allow it.
Late in his tenure, Alford's detractors vastly outnumbered his supporters. Even when people tried to keep things positive, they were shouted down on the message boards by folks who seemed like an angry mob. And it was hard to argue with those feelings.
An interesting phenomena took place over the last nine or ten years of Iowa basketball; anyone critical of Iowa basketball somehow became less of a fan, or they were not considered ‘true fans' by the opposing side.
This began in the final Tom Davis years. Those that were for change at that time were labeled as bandwagoners, or worse. When Alford was hired, those ‘bandwagoners' got their pound of flesh and the fanbase tug-o-war continued. I do not exclude myself from such actions, either; I was right in the middle of it. Then near the end of the Alford era, the same things took place; those that were highly critical of Alford and/or those that wanted change were somehow less a fan of Iowa basketball.
I have received numerous emails from Iowa fans who have berated me up one side of a fence and down the other, questioning my loyalty for Iowa due to my criticism of Alford that began a little more than two years ago. I received one such email today for comments that I made on my radio show.
Here is the email from today, and it's an example of other things I have received the past couple of years:
Why is it that I'm sitting here listening to you and I hear an arrogant loudmouth? You couldn't hold a feather to Steve Alford. Your nothing but a loudmouth with a microphone. You are pleased with him leaving yet you run him down for the way he's leaving. What could the guy do to make the GREAT JON MILLER happy??? I respect Steve Alford way more than I could ever respect you. You need to sit back and listen to yourself.
What is the point of all of this, you might be asking yourself?
I have probably described you AND someone you know. We have all had a tussle or two over the last several years.
But now that Alford is moving on to New Mexico, it's time to come back to the same table. It's time to forgive one another for some emotionally charged comments that have been leveled at fellow Hawkeye fans. It's time to embrace the Iowa basketball program in unison, once again, the way that we have before. I am certainly willing to forgive my fellow Hawkeye fans who have taken shots at me for raising some criticism of Steve Alford, even the person that wrote the email from above.
I have said in recent days that the next Iowa basketball coach, and I don't care who it is, is going to be one of the most popular figures in Iowa sports history, from the get go.
Because unless the hiring process goes terribly awry, and Iowa is made to look the fool because of it, the next coach has a great chance of starting the healing process within the fanbase.
Iowa football is quite popular right now, and with good reason.
But make no mistake about it; those of us that are in our mid thirties or older and that have a burning passion for Iowa Hawkeye athletics probably had that fired started or stoked by Iowa basketball. For many of us, it's our first love.
We are always hardest on those that we care about the most, so the saying goes. Perhaps that's one of the reasons why so many things during the Alford era have been magnified, overly scrutinized and critiqued. That, and the cold, hard facts of missing the NCAA tournament five times in eight years. Which has more weight, I cannot say because I don't speak for all of you.
As for Steve Alford, I wish him and his family well. We have gotten to see his children grow up with the cutaway shots from television broadcasts through the years. He said the New Mexico job was a good opportunity for him and his family to get away from the negativity that has surrounded them in Iowa City.
Apparently, Coach Alford has told some people that he received death threats while at Iowa.
If that is true, then I hope law enforcement officials can find those degenerates and deal with them appropriately. There is no place for that, no matter what your feelings are about someone.
Alford was the target or subject of so many rumors, some of them vicious and malicious, that I can empathize with him on some levels. Sure, he gets paid handsomely for what he does, but some of the rumors that have circulated were downright nasty. The problem is that Alford had fallen out of favor with so many people, that those rumors spread like wildfire because no one cared to stop them. If the same rumors were being spread about Kirk Ferentz, they would have died a quick death because someone might have gotten smacked in the mouth for saying such things.
It won't surprise me in the least bit if Alford goes to New Mexico and resuscitates his career and comes out of all of this smelling like a rose in about five years.
This is probably the first time that Steve Alford has dealt with such negativity and criticism in his life. When you think about it, he has been coddled and doted upon since being a junior high basketball phenom. People that have streets and such named after them when they are still in their teens probably didn't have to deal with too much adversity. That continued on during his Indiana career, where he won a national title, then he won an Olympic gold medal and he made it to the NBA. He coached for a national championship at a lower division, and then made the Sweet 16 at SMS.
For whatever reason, the Midas touch ran cold in Iowa City.
Iowa fans, what we have left to do is look one another in the eye, remember that we all care about the same place and want the same thing; success for the Iowa basketball program.
Today is the day when the healing can begin.
Come back to the table, there is room for all of us.