In a surprising move to some, New Mexico head coach Steve Alford reneged on a 10-year contract extension to head west and become UCLA's new basketball coach.
Alford coached New Mexico to its best years since the Lobos joined the Mountain West Conference, getting his program to three NCAA tournament appearances in four years, the best stretch in New Mexico history since Dave Bliss began a series of tournament runs in 1992. Along the way, New Mexico earned its highest final AP rankings in 2010 and 2013 in nearly 40 years (placing eighth and tenth in the poll in both years, respectively).
But much like the UNM coaches before him, Alford hasn't had much success in the tournament. Hell, any at all.
Indeed, this is the biggest gripe UCLA fans have with Alford. Despite his gaudy regular season success (accentuated by the fact that New Mexico is more difficult to win at compared to rivals UNLV and San Diego State), he hasn't made any sort of real noise in the NCAA tournament. Most recently, his Lobos were bounced out on the first day of tournament play by Harvard,, a 15-seed, which highlighted the weekend's biggest upsets.
He's failed to move past the first weekend of the tournament since 1998 and never did so with New Mexico. Despite being among the top-tier teams in the Mountain West Conference (what is likely the best conference on the West Coast, at least currently), he hasn't found any magic in the postseason.
Of course, Alford is an upgrade over Ben Howland, although that's debatable. While Howland has had more success than Alford has, consider that Howland's tenure was largely defined by his final five years and less so by his first five. Post-2009 Howland isn't anywhere near as successful as Alford has been, even with the early tournament exits.
Also consider that it's a lot easier to win at UCLA consistently, and the challenge for any head coach is to win big. While tournament appearances make for success at UNM, UCLA's prestige and status as a college basketball blueblood demand that a coach go deep in the tournament regularly. Alford will have significantly more resources to do so at UCLA, where as at New Mexico, resources were geared towards just making the tournament.
Alford's a decent hire, but it's obvious that this isn't the home-run hire UCLA fans expected. When the administration leaked out rumors regarding Brad Stevens and Billy Donovan, they essentially set fans up for disappointment, even if Alford isn't a bad coach.
The hire lacked excitement and will fail to bring about a buzz in Westwood, but that doesn't mean the hire was a failure. Clearly, Alford was UCLA's top second-tier choice after missing out on coaches like Donovan and Stevens. No one should be mad at the hire, but that's not to say we aren't allowed to be cautious in our support for the new coach.
There are far less questions regarding Alford than with other coaches, but there's still a lot of uncertainty as to how he'll do in a high-pressure situation.
Time to sink or swim, Alford. It's your program now.