The story following Saturday’s humiliating 15-point defeat at home to Liberty should come as no surprise. And, yes, that was terrible news for Steve Alford. But Bruins fans finally got their way.
It did happen. Alford is leaving the school after six seasons, he’s exiting Pauley Pavilion with nothing to show for it. At some point you just had to suspect that he was running out of time as the head coach. It ended with too many embarrassing losses in part because of the subpar play that has dogged UCLA.
In the midst of a four-game losing skid, athletic director Dan Guerrero made the toughest decision after the season went awry. The way out of this predicament was to fire his coach late Sunday night. The team’s identity was unknown and glaring inconsistencies made it hard to string together convincing victories. These are bleak times for a basketball program that has seldom been this horrendous.
This was the sweetest victory for the Bruins this season, the firing of their coach after a woeful 7-6 start. This situation with UCLA is an utter disaster and it’s never good when a marquee program can’t sustain excellence. It has been a long, miserable month. Long enough for Guerrero to finally see that things had to change right now for the betterment of the team.
If he goes out and hire someone to fill the coaching vacancy for the Bruins, he can’t just foolishly bring in anybody to take on the responsibility. Not everyone makes an excellent fit for one of the nation’s toughest coaching jobs. Who’s next in line? Wichita State‘s Gregg Marshall? Nevada’s Eric Muscleman? Oklahoma City’s Billy Donovan?
Alford is a very bright, interesting guy, and he inked a top-10 nationally ranked recruiting class. But he was losing to just about everybody, and the Bruins showed major regression this season. There was plenty of speculation about his job security this season, simply because he hasn’t beaten anybody.
There was a lot of uncertainty surrounding his status, mainly because UCLA plummeted in the polls with a horrible record. The Bruins have been quite unsuccessful in that regard since the start of the season. The blame falls on Alford’s shoulders, which meant it was time for Guerrero to move on without his coach who couldn’t point the team in the right direction. With any luck, maybe UCLA can finally escape the rut of mediocrity and get back to top-notch form.
It looks like Guerrero finally wishes to avoid further shame and embarrassment over the sudden fall. This is the iconic program that sadly was mortalized by Alford, and the long and glorious history of basketball greatness is rarely being recognized. They were too good of a team to be substandard, and Alford had the talent to groom and could have potentially guided the Bruins to the Pac-12 title.
There wasn’t enough public interest. There was nothing that was going to endear him to disgruntled fans who called for his head. The rapturous boovations from the crowd at home games were for the guy strolling the UCLA sideline.
He’s a product of Indiana as a player and led the Hoosiers to the 1987 national championship as a senior. Yes, we know Alford launched himself with some of the coaching elites. His tremendous work in New Mexico, where he took a school from the Mountain West and turned it into perennial contenders, made him a considerable candidate for the UCLA job opening.
For the most part of the early part of his tenure, he seemed like a perfect fit to direct a storied basketball program. It was also a questionable hire because of his inability to advance past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament when he coached the Lobos.
Guerrero hang in there and he was too nice to Alford, giving him ample time to manage the mistakes and rectify the issues that hindered the development of this team. His team was running out of steam by the time the Bruins were eliminated by St. Bonaventure 65-58, in an NCAA tournament play-in game last March. Remember that?
Enough of the jokes. Guerrero gave Alford every opportunity to save his job, but he couldn’t meet UCLA’s lofty standards. If he had coached with energy, he could still be there. If he didn’t get outcoached, this team would have piled up some victories. What this team lacks is personality and drive.
With Alford, the Bruins were 55-35 in Pac-12 play in over five seasons. They weren’t strong enough to sustain success, but they reached three Sweet 16s and finished with four tournament bids. The roster is full of young and talented players and there was optimism floating around Westwood. The culture at UCLA seems to feature a lot of high-level talent, but maybe Alford, with these losses, proved to the college basketball world that he’s not made to coach out of a highly competitive athletic program.
In the absence of passion, the players had the desire to quit on their coach, they seemed to become more hopeless each and every night. That’s the unfortunate reality of the Bruins’ season, that they couldn’t overcome the early struggles which ended Alford’s tenure abruptly. And while the building blocks came crumbling down, the taunts, the memes and the criticisms blew up on social media.
Everybody has paid attention to what happened with UCLA under Alford. With the state of the basketball program, frustrated fans wasted no time venting their displeasure. When word leaked out the night before about Alford’s contract buyout, fans then called for him to be canned.
The Bruins have won only one national title since 1975, beating Arkansas in 1995. They have only four Final Four trips since 1980. Former UCLA coach Ben Howland led the team to three consecutive Final Four appearances from 2006 to 2008.
For the Bruins to make fans forget about a disastrous season that was a cause for alarm, they need to take the right approach in their coaching search. The firing will put more heat on Guerrero during the hiring process to make certain he brings in a recognizable coach with an established background.
No, Alford wasn’t their coach for the long haul, after only a six-year run that ended a day before we counted down to the start of a new year.