Steve Alford found himself in an unusual position on Tuesday as he was introduced as the 13th men's basketball coach in UCLA history. One of the greatest offensive players in college basketball history spent nearly a half hour on the defensive as he fielded questions at his introductory news conference.
“I'm optimistic about this,” Alford said. “I understand the challenges. But this is a challenge that I've been patiently waiting for, and now that the opportunity has come my way, I'm ready.”
The Hoosier icon may be ready, but the Bruin Nation, which preferred VCU's Shaka Smart or Butler's Brad Stevens, doesn't appear to be.
Alford lands in Westwood with 22 years of head coaching experience, while a few miles to the south, the Bruins' rival, USC, introduced its new men's basketball coach (Florida Gulf Coast's Andy Enfield) on the same day, who claims just 22 months of experience. But you wouldn't have known that by the pulse of the basketball fans throughout Southern California.
“Andy's brand of basketball - an up-tempo offense and a stingy defense - is fun for players to play and fans to watch,” Trojan athletic director Pat Haden said enthusiastically. “He is an excellent fit at USC who will resonate well with our players, our fans and our community."
Haden was lauding Enfield for his “Dunk City” theme to his Florida Gulf Coast squad over the past two seasons, while Alford (whose name was continually mispronounced by UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero) had to continually explain why and how he'll succeed.
“I'm excited about this challenge,” Alford explained. “I can say that I understand it, but until you walk it every day, until you work at it every day, it's going to continue to sink in. But it is an opportunity and it is a challenge that I think through my experiences, having more years in coaching than I had as a player, I'm really excited about now being at an institution that is at the top when it comes to college basketball.”
What was clear from the tone of the questions (which included an inquiry regarding his handling of troubled former Iowa player Pierre Pierce a decade ago) was that the honeymoon will be short – if not non-existent – for Alford. UCLA fans demand excellence and Alford expressed appreciation for that level of expectation, as well as absence of patience by the Bruin faithful.
“The top two levels of (the Pyramid of Success) by coach (John) Wooden, you have faith on one side,” Alford explained, “and I've said that this was a leap of faith. And on the right side, you have the word patience. My family would tell you that I'm not very patient.”
Alford fielded questions regarding his ability to recruit Southern California, his thoughts on former UCLA coach Ben Howland's being fired after winning a Pac-12 Conference title last month, as well as his comprehension of the tradition of the UCLA program.
The pressure and cynicism was virtually palpable. But Alford, who talked of playing in front of 10,000 fans nightly as a high school player, as well as handling playing for Bob Knight, professed his preparation proves that he is the man to satisfy the sun-tanned skeptics.
“All you have to do is walk the Bruin Walk, walk through Pauley Pavilion, you walk around and you get to see what is expected here,” Alford said. “You get to see the high level of excellence that comes with this basketball job. That's why I'm very optimistic that I've prepared myself.”
For his professional sake, he better have.