UCLA men’s basketball fans have been chanting “Stevens from Indiana” since Bruin athletic director Dan Guerrero fired former coach Ben Howland a week ago, but through the wind rustling through the pines and down the hillsides of the scenic Westwood campus, Guerrero was hearing “Steve from Indiana.”
With that in mind, Guerrero announced on Saturday that he had hired former Indiana basketball legend, Steve Alford as the next UCLA coach.
"Steve is the perfect fit for UCLA," Guerrero said in a release. "He is part of the storied history of the game of college basketball and understands the tradition and uniqueness of UCLA. Yet he also connects with a new generation of players and brings an up-tempo and team-oriented brand of basketball to Westwood.”
What made Alford the “perfect fit for UCLA,” aside from the fact that VCU’s Shaka Smart and Butler’s Brad Stevens had both said no to Guerrero? Alford is the right coach because he’s seemingly always the “perfect fit” (Iowa City residents might disagree, however) wherever he lands.
Alford has been the “perfect fit” since he was born.
He was raised in a basketball family (his father Sam is an Indiana high school coaching legend) at just the right time. His father coached in the world’s largest high school gymnasium (New Castle’s Chrysler Fieldhouse) and Steve had enough athletic ability to star in the early 1980s when the factory cities of east-central Indiana were still cranking out automotive parts, people had regular paychecks, and North Central Conference games often outdrew the Indiana Pacers.
Alford went on to have an All-American career under Bob Knight at Indiana, again, the absolute “perfect fit” for a 6-foot-2 shooting guard with limited point guard skills and a deficit in his vertical jump number.
While in Bloomington, Alford was selected for the 1984 United States Olympic team after beating out (according to the coach, who also happened to be Knight) Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton. Knight has often said that Alford was a “perfect fit” as a conduit from the coach to the players for this team.
The NBA can often be the place where dreams go to die, but even Alford had a dose of success under the one NBA coach (Don Nelson), who could figure out how to utilize Alford’s skill set and make the limited player “fit” into Nelson’s offense. But when reality began to set in and Alford’s playing days were ending, he parlayed his stardom into a head coaching job at Manchester College, whose coach had quit mid-season.
He was the “perfect fit” for the Spartans, as Indiana high school players began to turn down Division I offers to play in a bandbox of a gym in a quaint town that preaches peace, not pace, just to be coached by the Hoosier icon.
Alford later had successful stints at Southeast Missouri State, Iowa, and New Mexico, where he signed a 10-year contract extension this past week.
Who could turn a moderate run (many speculated Alford was close to being fired at the end of his time at Iowa) with the Hawkeyes into one of the best college jobs (New Mexico) in the country?
Only Alford, who is always the “perfect fit.”
Which coach could turn exceedingly high NCAA Tournament expectations this month into an opening game loss, to a team that doesn’t offer athletic scholarships, yet still get a decade of security heaped upon him?
Alford has few peers in turning that trick.
Now he’s set to make $18.2M over the next seven years and even received $200,000 from Guerrero just for signing on with the Bruins.
"I have been so fortunate and blessed in my life, and an opportunity to lead one of the greatest programs in college basketball history is once-in-a-lifetime," Alford said. "It is an honor to be the Head Coach at UCLA, yet it is also a responsibility to ensure that our former, current and future players and fans are proud to be Bruins. I am grateful to Chancellor Gene Block and Dan Guerrero for this amazing opportunity and I can't wait to get started."
If any UCLA fans are skeptical as to whether reaching back to the Hoosier State will reclaim its past glory or not, they needn’t do so. With Steve Alford, things always seem to find a way to work out for the better. He’s always the “perfect fit.”