Since the legendary John Wooden retired after the 1974-75 season, his successors as head coach of the UCLA Bruins basketball team have been under a microscope.
Current coach Steve Alford is no exception. And the former Indiana University star — never a favorite of many Bruins’ fans — saw any popularity he had plunge this season as UCLA stumbled after a decent start and lost 10 of its last 13 games to finish 15-17 overall and 10th place in the Pac-12 Conference.
The situation is so sticky that the New Castle native returned a one-year extension of his contract and wrote a letter apologizing to UCLA alumni and fans — fans who circulated petitions during the season asking that Alford be fired.
At least one fan took the disgruntlement to a new level. Twice last week, an airplane flew over the Westwood campus with banners that read: “MARCH MADNESS IS NOT FIRING ALFORD!” and “UCLA DESERVES BETTER! FIRE ALFORD!”
Add this from former UCLA star and basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: “It’s real ugly, man. I have to say that. I watched them in the playoffs. They don’t even know how to run the fast break. You know, I’m not trying to sit on the sidelines and throw stones at Coach Alford. He has a tough job. But people used to learn how to play the game at UCLA. I don’t think that’s happening now, and I think that’s a real disappointment to those of us who are part of the tradition.”
Jabbar made those comments on SiriusXM NBA Radio — prior to the the 2015-16 season.
Alford, whose assistant coaches include former Connersville Spartan player Ed Schilling, Duane Broussard and David Grace, returned a one-year extension of his contract that was previously agreed to. Surrendering that extension means the contract’s original terms are in place: Alford is UCLA’s head coach until the completion of the 2020 season.
If the school decides to part ways with Alford by April 30, he will receive a $10.4-million buyout, according to the Los Angeles Times. The buyout amount drops each year, to:
• $7.8 million through April 30, 2017;
• $5.2 million through April 30, 2018;
• $2.6 million through April 30, 2019.
No ouch about those figures — which have enough zeroes to take away the sting of anything Jabbar or anyone says.
“The way we finished this past season will eat at me for a long, long time,” Alford’s letter reads, in part. “Our record speaks for itself and is simply unacceptable. There is nothing I can say or write that will change that fact. This happened under my watch, and it begins and ends with me. The buck stops here.”
The Bruins are 65-40 under Indiana’s 1983 Mr. Basketball. UCLA was 28-9 in his first season (2013-14) and 22-14 the following campaign. The team was eliminated in the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament both seasons.
“While I don’t expect this letter to change any opinions or take away the pain from this difficult season, I do hope it reflects my commitment to UCLA and that we will address areas in which we fell short,” Alford wrote.
There is a bright spot for Alford. UCLA loses just one player, 6-9 senior Tony Parker, and has a highly-regarded recruiting class entering school this fall, including 6-6 guard Lonzo Ball, the 2016 Naismith High School Player of the Year who also won the 2016 Morgan Wootten Player of the Year award.
Ball averaged 25.4 points, 12.9 assists and 11.5 rebounds for Chino Hills High School (33-0), the nation’s No. 1-ranked team which averages over 98 points per game.
Also joining the Bruins is T.J. Leaf, a 6-9 forward who averaged 28.5 points, 12.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists for Foothills Christian High School in El Cajon, Calif.
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