Alford's journey back to IU may wind through Westwood

April 3, 2013
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Steve Alford UCLAWhen I heard that Steve Alford had taken the job to replace Ben Howland at UCLA, I couldn't help but wonder why.

Of course, there's the allure of more money and a bigger stage. And I'm sure the competitor in Alford looks forward to the challenge of facing tougher opponents.

But I couldn't help but wonder if there was another end game. I couldn't help but wonder if part of the reason Alford left his comfortable job at New Mexico for the troubled waters of UCLA didn't have more to do with his desire to get back to his roots in Bloomington than his ambition to become the next Wizard of Westwood.

You see, for hard-core competitors like Alford, it's hard to let dreams die. And his dream has never been to be a Bruin; it's always been to return to the land of the candy-striped pants.

Not as a player this time. Alford already scaled that mountain when he led the Hoosiers to the 1987 national championship as a starting guard. Ever since his playing days ended, he's burned with the desire to be the first coach since the great Bob Knight to lead IU to the promised land. Desires like that aren't easily quenched.

It's true that IU has a coach, and a good one in Tom Crean. It's also true that Crean, at 46, likely isn't going anywhere for a while. But at 48, Alford, too, figures to be blowing air through a whistle for many more years. And if that IU job does somehow come open again, Alford wants to have the resume to prove he's worthy of it.

Bad timing and a poor decision worked against Alford the last three times the job was open. When Mike Davis was hired, Alford was busy dealing with his relatively new job at Iowa, a job that never was a good fit. When Davis was fired and Kelvin Sampson was hired, Alford was busy trying to salvage his reputation at Iowa.

Two years later, when Crean was hired, Alford's reputation was wrecked after he was run out of Iowa and he was busy trying to salvage his once-bright career at New Mexico. Even with six very solid years now under his belt leading the Lobos, I'm not sure Alford would be a serious candidate for the IU job even if it came open.

Again, Crean is very secure in Bloomington, so it seems strange to be speculating about this, but guys like Alford think like great chess players--two or three moves ahead. And Alford needed to take one more step on his reputation-reclamation tour to become a serious contender for the IU job should it open again. No amount of winning in the Mountain West was going to get it done.

I suppose he could have stayed there and hoped for a miracle—that the desert winds would have blown in enough talent to win an NCAA title. I don't care what Alford says about New Mexico's hoops talent, that's a long shot that only the most desperate gambler would take.

But if Alford can fly high over the City of Angels, he could be a candidate for any college-coaching job in the nation. And if Crean somehow goes south in Bloomington or for whatever reason decides to leave, Brad Stevens won't be the only name on IU Athletic Director Fred Glass' short list.

Alford, for the first time in a long time, would certainly have to be part of that conversation. For Alford, the decision to go to UCLA and the faint hope of returning to Bloomington isn't about next year or even the year after that. If he does reasonably well, Alford will be at UCLA a minimum of four years when his son, Bryce, graduates a Bruin.

For Alford, this might be about an aging dream and a faraway hope. The idea of Alford's someday becoming IU's head coach might seem unrealistic, ridiculous and even insane. But I refuse to believe that hasn't been and doesn't continue to be Alford's dream. And like any competitor, he's trained to put himself in the best position to make that come true.

He's a few short seasons in L.A. from making at least that much of the dream a reality.

(Photo: Associated Press)

  • Fired from Iowa?
    Alford may have been on thin ice at Iowa, but my recollection is that he resigned and took the New Mexico job.
    • Filed under clueless
      Anthony, I general take the complete lack of facts and quotes in your articles with a grain of salt, but you've been drinking the candy-striped, 'wish Knight was still the coach' kool aid on this one. By the way, Crean can't coach. And this coming from and IU fan.
    • Booooooring
      What a waste of time, Last straw I am finished with this stupid IBJ.
    • Iowa not a good fit...
      seems a rather kind version history regarding Alford's actions as head coach at Iowa. West Hollywood should be a great fit!
    • Come on man!
      IU Fans: People outside of IU nation read stuff like this and laugh AT you.
    • I like Alford
      I do like Alford and I agree that he could want to come back to IU (and I'm a Purdue person) When he moved to my neighborhood in New Castle I was long gone from the town and the local basketball scene but he did give the folks there a continuing tradition of excitement over the game which carried through and past his IU days. I'm sorry things didn't work out at IOWA (another Big 10 school when it was 10) but maybe he is better off where he is now.Perhaps he could bring the idea of winning and the excitement back to UCLA. Not that I don't like Crean because he's a saint compared to the prior idiot and thug but hopefully if its Alfords dream may it come true.
    • you can lead a horse
      About the comment that Crean can't coach. I don't watch IU that much but I didn't always know which team was going to show up this past season. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. I think it applies to coaching as well.
    • He has 5 years...
      Brian's recollection is technically true...Alford was trolling for every open job out there...Missouri, New Mexico, etc...that and the scandal with Pierre Pierce, and the fact that his athletic director benefactor had been replaced, led Alford to "find" something before he was fired. Now he is on the hot seat...Ben Howland went to 3 final fours in a row and he is gone. Alford will have to win an national championship eventually to keep that job. I love how the IU fans trot out the "Crean can't coach" thing too...whatever...if you are basing that on the Syracuse game, neither can anyone else who has played them in the tournament, Marquette scored 39. Next up...John Beilein, who never beat Beiheim one time in nine attempts at West Virginia (Beiheim by the way has more wins than Knight, which is probably the only person a lot of IU fans think can coach. Crean's team got beat up physically...Syracuse was simply more physical, and more athletic...Crean couldn't get them a heart transplant at halftime, which is what they needed. That game had nothing to do with coaching strategy, it was about who wanted it the most, and IU folded like a cheap suit...Guess they should have gone to see the Wizard...the Tin Man got a heart there. If you can't get mentally ready for a Sweet 16 game, you need more than any coach can give you.
    • Hairspray Steve
      Good to know that you are "in the know" with coach.
      Thank goodness Alford went to UCLA! They will be mediocre for years now (comon, they lost to Harvard). And thank goodness they didnt hire the coach from Florida Gulf Coast---UCLA would have been a powerhouse. We slipped a bullet there. Thank you Steve!
      • Iowa
        I know Iowa admin and athletic people as well as Iowa City residents and alums who were fed up with Alford's "you owe me" cockiness. He didn't expect to pay for anything in town and let you know it. The issue wasn't just basketball; NOBODY in town liked him. Hope he's matured.
      • Keep alford on the West Coast
        There is no need to specualate for Alford to be at IU as a head coach. Too many good coaches would take the job before Alford ever had a chance. The land of Candy stripes is clearly Tom Crean's for the foreseeable future!
      • Agreed!!
        Absolutely true!
      • Alford's Last Stand
        Alford took the best job he'll be offered for the rest of his coaching career. If he doesn't bring UCLA back to prominence (and right away)then his time is basically done as a top tier coach. Seriously doubt he'd be considered for IU job due to age and lack of big-time success at his previous jobs. Also laughing big time at the experts who comment that Tom Crean can't coach. As if any of them have any first hand knowledge.
      • Right on
        Anthony really knows how to write a thought-provoking blog post. I think he hit this one right on the money. Alford has always wanted to be at IU, and he's putting himself in perfect position should the job comes open. I think he may be more qualified for the job than Tom Crean, and could once and for all unite the post-Knight IU support base.
      • Nice try
        There you go again Anthony with your anti IU BS. you are just trying to be divisive with the Knight crowd vs. the Crean fans. Very transparent. Especially around final four weekend when IU fans are frustrated. You are a hack and your routine is tired.
      • What?!
        Mark, how on earth is this post anti IU? I think it even states that Crean is a good coach. It says nothing bad about Knight. Sounds like you, like sooooo many IU fans, are hyper sensitive. Have fun watching Syracuse's 2-3 zone in the Final Four. Oh, and CJF, get a clue and learn the difference between a news article and a blog post.
      • hahaha
        ORRRR maybe he wants to be the head coach at UCLA, a school with more than TWICE as many championships, and just as big a legacy. I'm a huge IU booster, but come on. More money, bigger legacy, following John Wooden (who, like Alford, was from Martinsville), plus HE GETS TO LIVE IN LA. This is a no brainer, and has nothing to do with the IU job.

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