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Editorial: A little bit of schadenfreude kicks off ’19 for Lobo fans

schadenfreude: enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others

– merriam-webster.com

Ahh … Lobos hoops fans can’t help but savor the irony.

Steve Alford arguably became the most disliked former Lobos coach – and it’s not a small club – when he agreed to a 10-year deal at the University of New Mexico only to days later unceremoniously dump the Lobos for the UCLA Bruins. This weekend UCLA just as unceremoniously dumped Alford as the Bruins foundered to their worst start in years.

But it gets better.

Because the final nail in Alford’s UCLA coffin was hammered in by a Liberty team coached by none other than Ritchie McKay – who was also highly unpopular at UNM and in fact was ousted because that program was headed for the bottom to make way for Alford.

McKay’s team pounded Alford’s Bruins 73-58 last week at the vaunted Pauley Pavilion where the legendary John Wooden hung many a championship banner. Alford’s highly acclaimed team, stocked with top recruits, committed 24 turnovers and missed 22 3-point shots as Bruin fans looked on in horror.

So, apparently, did athletics director Dan Guerrero – the guy who romanced Alford away from the Lobos.

Alford called the Liberty debacle the most disappointing loss of his 28-year coaching career – although Lobo fans would be quick to remind him of his UNM team losing to lowly Harvard in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 2013 – a year UNM was a three seed and picked by some to make the Final Four.

Alford went 124-63 at UCLA and led the Bruins to three Sweet Sixteen appearances – the promised land Lobo fans yearn for. Nevertheless, he was shown the door with McKay’s Flames providing the final push.

Gloat if you want, but shed no tears for the stylish, impeccably dressed Alford. If he wants to keep coaching he is sure to land somewhere. His $18.2 million UCLA contract includes a $2.6 million buyout. (McKay got a parting buyout from UNM, but Alford actually owed UNM money when he walked out on his contract.)

You can hardly make this stuff up, but it’s all part of the fascinating screenplay of big-time college athletics, which is the tail that, sadly, wags the higher education dog.

Since Alford left, UNM has seen Craig “Noodles” Neal go from widely acclaimed to out the door. The man who replaced him – Paul Weir, hired away from New Mexico State University for a hefty raise – is struggling to solve the riddle of a Lobo team that’s off to one of the worst starts in recent times. It will almost certainly take a conference championship for UNM to get into the 2019 Big Dance.

As the Lobo faithful trek to Dreamstyle Arena (aka The Pit) to cheer on their team, they are justifiably uneasy about the state of Lobo basketball. But they can take a bit of schadenfreude in the Bruins’ firing – courtesy, in part, of Ritchie McKay, no less – of the coach who spurned them for the glitz of LA.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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