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Harty: Once again, Steve Alford lands on his feet

[ 0 ] March 30, 2013 |

Hang on because I’m all over the place with this column.

Let’s start in New Mexico where Steve Alford will soon be like the aliens that supposedly visited the state more than a half century ago. You’ll probably never see Alford set foot in New Mexico again with him being hired at UCLA, but he’ll never be forgotten there. And unlike the aliens, Alford’s six-year stay in New Mexico was witnessed by thousands of Lobo fans on a regular basis.

Say what you want about Alford, which many of us have, but the guy is like a cat in how he always seems to land on his feet.

He bolted from Iowa City one step ahead of the posse in 2007 after a controversial eight-year reign, but not until he had secured the head coaching gig at the University of New Mexico.

He endeared himself to Lobo fans by rebuilding their once-proud program and by signing a 10-year contract that was announced on the eve of this year’s NCAA Tournament.

But you knew Alford’s ego and his quest for success at the highest level wouldn’t let him stay at a mid-major school, even while receiving the red carpet treatment. And you knew, or you should’ve known, that signing a 10-year contract is far less binding than the gel in Alford’s hair.

In fairness to Alford, he did his job at New Mexico and did it quite well with exception to having success in the NCAA Tournament. And he’s just one of many coaches who have bolted for greener pastures after making a commitment to stay put. So more power to him.

Alford also probably realizes that his chance of coaching at his beloved alma mater, Indiana, is fading with him pushing 50 and with current Indiana coach Tom Crean having returned the Hoosiers to elite status. So Alford did the next best thing by landing a job at one of the few schools that has a richer tradition in men’s basketball than Indiana does. It’s yet another case of him landing on his feet.

The strange thing is I never thought I’d see the day when UCLA would hire a head men’s basketball coach who was just average in the same job at Iowa. Alford wasn’t UCLA’s first choice, but that doesn’t really matter now. The same person who led Iowa to just one NCAA Tournament victory in eight seasons is now leading the most storied program in the history of college basketball.

UCLA cashed in big when it hired a former standout basketball player from Purdue named John Wooden to coach its men’s basketball team. But the program in some ways is still haunted by the Wizard of Westwood’s legacy and by the unrealistic expectations that come with it. So they’ve turned to a former Hoosier to restore order.

But if Alford thought the media was tough on him at Iowa, just wait until the reporters and columnists and bloggers and tweeters from Los Angeles start questioning his decisions.

QUITE A STATEMENT: The Iowa men’s basketball team had just defeated Virginia minutes earlier in the NIT quarterfinals Wednesday when my phone rang. It was actually my landline for those who don’t believe that some people still use them.

Legendary radio announcer Jim Zabel called to get my reaction to the victory and to share his, which stunned me. The 91-year old Zabel ranked the 75-64 victory at Virginia as one of the five most important wins for the Iowa men’s basketball program during his lifetime. Zabel has been known to get carried away during times of success, but that’s still quite a statement.

He ranked it that high because of the difficult circumstances with this Iowa team having failed to win a pivotal road games up to that point and with the program having struggled for much of the past decade.

YAWN: Sunday marks the start of the Major League baseball season, but as a frustrated Chicago Cubs fan I couldn’t care less. Even the thrill of attending games at Wrigley Field has lost its appeal because the Cubs simply lose too many games and because they celebrate each Cub victory with that lame “Go Cubs Go” song.

It makes no sense why the Chicago White Sox can stay competitive over long periods of time while the Cubs usually stay mediocre or worse.

Bring on football.

MARYLAND PIPELINE: Speaking of football, spring practice started this week for the Iowa football team.

A depth chart was released Wednesday and one thing that stood out to me is that three of Iowa’s 11 starters on defense are from the state of Maryland. I’ll go out on a limb by saying that never has happened before.

Sophomore Darian Cooper, who is from Elkridge, Md., is listed as the starting defensive left tackle, junior Nico Law (Clinton, Md.) is the starter at strong safety and sophomore Jordan Lomax (Upper Marlboro, Md.) tops the depth chart at right cornerback.

Lomax missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, but Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has spoke highly of his ability.

UPON FURTHER REVIEW: The NCAA is doing the right thing by reconsidering its decision to allow unlimited texting between football coaches and prospects entering their junior year of high school. Unlimited texting to me has trouble written all over it because some coaches and prospects — and parents of prospects for that matter — won’t know when to stop.

Ferentz apparently shares my opinion on this subject.

“My gripe about texting is I can easily envision one of my sons with his phone under his desk in English class looking at his texts,” Ferentz said. “Not that that’s not happening anyway. That is just the world we’re living in right now.

“At some point a kid ought to be able go to English class and listen to the teacher, and then go to the cafeteria and sit with Suzy Smith for a while and talk to her and do whatever.”

GIVE ME DORIS: Of all the people employed by ESPN as college basketball color analysts, my favorite is Doris Burke.

She not only knows her stuff whether it men’s or women’s basketball, or the NBA, but she delivers it in a way that’s highly informative and easy to understand. She also doesn’t dominate the stage by going on long rants, which some former coaches-turned-color-analysts have a tendency to do.

Bill Walton, on the other hand, gets carried away at times while providing color commentary, but for some reason he doesn’t get on my nerves. I enjoy listening to Walton blow things out of proportion because he’s wacky and informative at the same time. He’s also a huge fan of the Grateful Dead, which earns him points with me.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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