Analysis: UCLA Hiring Alford

We go in-depth into the pros, cons and unknowns of hiring Steve Alford...

UCLA hiring of Steve Alford as its new head basketball coach will clearly inspired some passionate opinions.

But there's a great deal to consider.

Here are the issues:

Does Steve Alford have a worthy history of coaching?

If you concede that UCLA was looking at mid-level coaches, Alford's record still isn't that impressive. There are other coaches at his level that you could make a case for that have better records. Gregg Marshall has taken Wichita State and Winthrop to more NCAA Tournaments and been more successful. The general feeling in coaching circles is that he under-achieved at Iowa to a degree, but the general consensus is that he has over-achieved at New Mexico.

Does he win the press conference?

This is a complicated issue, that UCLA itself probably sabotaged. If we're talking "splash," he doesn't make one, by any means. Now, Alford very well could win the actual press conference due to his personality. But his credentials don't win the initial media or fan impression. This mostly happened because UCLA didn't do well in managing expectations for hiring a new coach. UCLA was clearly telling many of its donors/boosters that they had gotten very positive initial feedback from Rick Pitino, Billy Donovan and Brad Stevens. And more than likely that's true. But UCLA needed to manage those expectations, keep them reasonable. It would have behooved them regardless of who they got – Pitino or Alford. Because, honestly, as we reported on Bruin Report Online, it's one thing to get encouraging feedback, and it's another to actually sign the coach. It's either a case that UCLA actually believed it would get either of the Big Three, or it profoundly failed in managing expectations, or both.

One of the most poorly-managed aspects of the coaching search was UCLA clearly indicating that it had plenty of cash to spend on a new coach. From what we've heard, that's true – they have the Pac-12 TV deal loot and they can now use booster/donor money toward coaches' salaries. The trip-up, from what we've learned, is that the UC Regents needs to approve any coach's contract, and there is some question whether a salary of over $3 million per year could be approved. It's not that it isn't possible, it's just uncertain. From what we know, UCLA was blindsided by this information. At this point, even if UCLA has the money available to pay a coach upward of $4.5 million per year, it's uncertain if they're actually able to utilize it.

Besides all of the expectations and media buzz, is Alford a good hire?

That's another issue which is To Be Determined. There is enough evidence to make a case that he is a good hire for UCLA, but there are too many unknowns.

There are some realities of the UCLA coaching job that Alford actually satisfies pretty well.

There's the style of play point. There is an opinion that, after a slow-down reputation under Ben Howland, and to put people in the seats at Pauley Pavilion, UCLA needs to play a more exciting style (BRO's David Woods has an in-depth analysis of Steve Alford's playing style upcoming). Alford has earned a rep as a very good defensive coach who will run on opportunity. He definitely doesn't have a slow-down reputation, and that's good since no matter how much actual play on the court indicates one thing, the reputation of your style of play defines you and you can't shake it. No matter how much Howland changed his style, he'll probably always be labeled a grind-it-out guy in college basketball, and in recruiting circles. Arizona's Sean Miller keeps selling his program as a running style, and while all the evidence indicates otherwise, he has been able to avoid the slow-down label.

It's been very clear over the last several years that, to be UCLA's head coach, you need to be able to manage the head-case-itis of elite athletes. Alford has earned a rep in New Mexico at taking problem children and turning them into productive players. New Mexico has been practically the Place for Wayward Basketball Players. UCLA's own problem child, Drew Gordon, transferred to New Mexico and Alford turned him into a player. UCLA pulled the scholarship offer of Kendall Williams the summer before his senior season because of certain personality issues, but Alford turned him into the Mountain West Player of the Year. Alford's known for being able to manage players well, while still being a taskmaster and relative tough guy. While you don't necessarily want a coach at UCLA with a rep as Father Flanagan, and Alford won't have to take problem children at UCLA, his ability to manage players will be an important skill for the UCLA coach in today's era of college basketball.

One of the most desirable traits for a potential UCLA coach is whether he really wants the job or not. UCLA pursued Brad Stevens, and it's uncertain if they actually formally offered him the job. We've heard one of the things that kept it from probably getting that far was that it was evident that Stevens, like Chris Petersen in the football search, really didn't want the UCLA job. He might have recognized that it's a good career move, but he really didn't want to be at UCLA. Alford, from what we understand, like Mora, wants the UCLA job. He wants to be in Westwood. That might sound insignificant, but it isn't. When Mora was approached as a candidate for various jobs after the football season, one of the primary reasons he stayed was that he wanted to be in L.A. and at UCLA. Alford probably would covet the Indiana job more than the UCLA job, but we've heard he wanted a job at one of the handful of elite programs in the country, and he recognizes UCLA as one of those. We've been told he sees UCLA's potential for dominating the west. He's recruited Southern California and knows its recruiting potential. You need a coach who clearly recognizes and can envision UCLA's potential if he's going to be inspired in the job. From what we've heard, that is Alford.

In comparison, while Stevens in many ways is considered a better choice by many, the Butler coach would clearly be an unknown on many of these fronts. Stevens would be a question mark in dealing with head-case-itis at the elite high-major level, and recruiting at this level. He also, clearly, didn't covet the UCLA job.

On the other hand, there are some uncertainties with Alford. As we said, his record isn't vastly impressive but solid. Compared to Pitino or Donovan, he's unproven at the elite high-major level.

Can Alford recruit?

From what we know and have gathered, Alford has done a very good job recruiting at New Mexico. He has a rep as an aggressive recruiter, and his staff has done a good job in Southern California, and particularly in the Inland Empire (which could mean good things for 2014 point guard Jordan McLaughlin, who is from Eitwanda). As we wrote in the initial Alford story, Alford's hiring could reap some immediate recruiting benefits. Alford coached UCLA transfer Drew Gordon at New Mexico and Gordon's younger brother, Aaron Gordon, the 6-9 forward from San Jose (Calif.) Archibishop Mitty, is one of the top unsigned players in the country for the class of 2013. You'd have to assume that Alford has already been all over the younger Gordon.

His personality, and his recruiting performance at New Mexico, would lead you to believe that Alford could potentially be a dynamic recruiter at UCLA, given UCLA's resources. However, of course, it's still To Be Determined.

Conclusion:

UCLA in hiring Alford is going purely for the Mora Effect. Alford is UCLA's attempt to re-produce the Mora hire. From a personality standpoint he's similar to Mora, with a rep as a tough, disciplined coach but with a winning personality that can manage people. In fact, we've heard UCLA, in talking to donors/boosters, has made the Mora comparison already. Like with Mora, too, UCLA is hoping that, with these traits, he'll fit at UCLA really well, recruit well, and win, and win over the UCLA faithful.

But it's definitely To Be Determined.


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