By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - With each day that passes without Indiana hiring a new men’s basketball coach, it looks more like Steve Alford soon will head home to coach his alma mater.
That could be because Brad Stevens and Billy Donovan apparently don’t want the job.
But either way, Alford is the choice for many Hoosier fans to lead their beloved men’s basketball program. The hope is that by reconnecting with its rich past, which Alford represents as a former All-America Hoosier guard, Indiana will rise to elite status once again.
Alford currently has UCLA playing at an elite level in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. So in addition to being an Indiana legend, Alford is hot right now, unlike a year ago when he gave back one year of his contract just to appease angry Bruin fans after a rare losing season.
Most coaches probably would consider leaving UCLA for Indiana to be a lateral move at best. But Alford isn’t like most coaches in this case.
What’s incredible, and disturbing at the same time, is that Alford is even in the position to leave UCLA for Indiana.
You would think that two of college basketball’s most storied programs would be above hiring somebody with Alford’s baggage off the court and his lack of success on it.
The same coach who defended as many rapists during his eight seasons at Iowa as he won NCAA Tournament games hasn’t just survived since bolting from Iowa City in 2007, but has thrived in a profession in which he leads and molds young men.
For me, Alford is like a scab that gets ripped open just enough to where it never fully heals.
His hiring at UCLA in 2013 brought back horrible memories, made worse by Alford saying at his introductory press conference in response to questions about his handling of the Pierre Pierce sexual assault case that he simply followed orders and did what University of Iowa officials had instructed him to do.
In other words, Alford threw the University of Iowa under the same bus where many of his former players have been left to rot. The same school that paid him handsomely for eight years, while putting up with a lot petulance and self-absorbed behavior and winning just one NCAA Tournament game was no use to Alford anymore. So he tried to pass the blame and minimize his role in the Pierce case yet again.
Instead of being a man and saying upon his hiring at UCLA that he had learned from his mistakes and inadequacies and felt horrible about the consequences in the Pierce case, Alford took the cowardly route and catered to his need for self-preservation and image control.
“All I can tell you with that institution is that I followed everything that the University of Iowa, the administration, the lawyers that were hired, I did everything that I was supposed to do at the University of Iowa in that situation,” Alford said at his UCLA introductory press conference. “I followed everything that I was told to do.”
Anybody familiar with the sordid details in the Pierce case knows that isn’t true.
UI officials certainly made some mistakes in their handling of the Pierce case.
For one, they kept Alford as coach and eventually gave him a contract extension. So what kind of message did that send?
UI officials also should have instructed Alford to stay silent from the beginning while the facts in the Pierce case sorted themselves out.
But Iowa never told Alford to declare Pierce’s innocence to the press, nor was Alford instructed to get Athletes in Action involved as a way to persuade the victim to not press charges.
Alford did that on his own because that’s the kind of person he is, a manipulator and a master of self-preservation no matter whose feelings might get trampled.
Alford had no choice but to dismiss Pierce from the team after Pierce assaulted a second women in 2005, this time his girl friend in an incident that allegedy turned violent.
Only after he was forced to apologize in a written statement because of growing public discourse did Alford finally show any contrition for the female victim in the Pierce case.
“I wanted to believe he was innocent, and in response to a media question, I publicly proclaimed his innocence before the legal system had run its course,” Alford said in his statement. “This was inappropriate, insensitive and hurtful, especially to the young female victim involved, and I apologize for that.
“I have learned and grown from that experience and understand that such proclamations can contribute to an atmosphere in which similar crimes go unreported and victims are not taking seriously.”
I’d sure like to know how many of those words Alford actually wrote, and it still doesn’t change the fact that it was too little and much too late.
It was damage control, a way to survive a public relations disaster.
Some of my friends want Alford to coach Indiana because they want nothing more than a chance to welcome him back to Carver-Hawkeye Arena with perhaps the most hostile and energized environment since it opened in 1983. My warning to them is be careful what you wish for because the thought of Alford basking in the glow of a win for Indiana at Carver-Hawkeye Arena is depressing because you know his ego wouldn't allow him to handle it well.
I’m just shocked and disappointed that so many people seem willing to always give Alford a free pass for behavior that leaves so much to be desired from an integrity standpoint.
Somebody reached out to me on Twitter on Wednesday night, saying he hopes UCLA wins the NCAA title because of how unfairly Alford has been treated since the Indiana job became available.
Others defend Alford by saying the Pierce case is old news and that time heals emotional scars.
And then there’s Dan Dakich, the former Hoosier who now works for ESPN, and who judging from his pro-Alford posts on Twitter, believes strongly that Indiana should hire his good buddy and former college teammate.
Those who disagree with Dakich, he ridicules or dismisses as being clowns.
Dakich apparently doesn’t take into consideration the reasons why Alford is such a polarizing and divisive figure.
And just like Dakich, I’m biased when it comes to Alford the person because my family also was impacted by his failure to take a stand against Pierce.
My niece was nearly attacked by Pierce about a week after the first incident involving a UI female student in September, 2002. My niece was a UI freshman at the time and was in her dorm room when Pierce shut the door and refused to leave.
Fortunately, my niece had protection from being in a crowded dormitory and Pierce eventually relented and left.
I reported the incident to the Iowa Sports Information Department, who then forwarded the complaint to the UI basketball coaching staff.
I know this to be a fact because shortly thereafter I received a letter from then Iowa assistant coach Greg Lansing, who seemed more concerned about praising and defending Pierce than learning what actually had happened.
As for Alford, I never heard anything from him, nor did anybody on his staff ever try to reach out to my niece or her father, who played football at Iowa. Alford was asked about my niece’s incident after being hired at UCLA, and predictably, he denied having any knowledge of it.
So Lansing, who is now the head coach at Indiana State, either neglected to inform Alford about the incident during a time in which tensions already were high in the wake of the first Pierce assault case, or Alford just swept it under the rug.
Either way speaks to a lack of character and common decency, but few in positions of power seem to care that Alford has little of either.