It took just two questions at his introductory press conference last week as the new UCLA Bruins head coach before Steve Alford started feeling the heat of the Los Angeles media.
A question that seemed to catch Alford off guard about his public support in 2002 of former Iowa Hawkeyes player Pierre Pierce in a sexual assault case and how the coach’s words may have hurt the female victim involved was just the first of many questions in the past 10 days about that incident. On Wednesday, it led to UCLA releasing statements from both Alford and athletic director Dan Guerrero on the matter.
The highlight: Alford apologized for the incident and what it did to the victim — a rare public acceptance of wrongdoing from Alford and one he didn’t show just a week prior when he said he only did as he was told by Iowa officials and lawyers.
Regardless of what your thoughts are about his sincerity or the incident itself, good for Alford for finally saying these things publicly, regardless of the motivation. It is a statement long overdue one in the eyes of many in Iowa and elsewhere who would have a very different opinion of Alford today had he said these things a decade ago.
First, here’s a recap of that reporter exchange last week in Los Angeles:
QUESTION (Scott Reid of the Orange County Register):
“You’ve talked a lot about coach (John) Wooden and how he’s shaped you and (how you try to follow) his values. Do you think he would have handled the Pierre Pierce case the way you did. And in 2003 you gave an interview in which you said the whole Pierce episode made Pierre stronger. Do you think the whole episode made the victim stronger?”
“Well, that was an instance that happened years ago at the University of Iowa and all I can tell you with that situation is I followed everything that the University of Iowa administration and the lawyers that were hired, I did everything I was supposed to do at the University of Iowa in that situation. I followed everything that I was told to do.”
And here are the Alford and Guerrero statements released on Thursday from UCLA (CLICK HERE for statement link):
UCLA men’s basketball coach Steve Alford:
Over the past week, questions have arisen about my handling of an incident involving a charge of sexual assault made against a student-athlete in 2002, while I was coach of the University of Iowa men’s basketball team.
At that time, I instinctively and mistakenly came to his defense before knowing all the facts. 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. 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 now understand that such proclamations can contribute to an atmosphere in which similar crimes go unreported and victims are not taken seriously. It’s important for me personally and professionally to make sure Chancellor Block, Athletic Director Dan Guerrero, all of my student-athletes and the entire UCLA community, including our fans, understand that today I would handle the situation much differently, with the appropriate regard and respect for the investigative process and those impacted by it.
I look forward to being a Bruin and leading a program that everyone will take pride in, both on and off the court.
UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero:
I appreciate and respect Steve Alford’s statement on this issue. Everyone has regrets in their past, but acknowledging them and learning from them shows true character.
I was aware of this situation when we hired Steve and concluded that although he made an error in judgment 11 years ago, he had learned and grown from that experience. Our evaluation was based on his entire career, both on and off the court, and that is what led us to make our decision that he was the right coach for UCLA.
Steve came to us with a tremendous reputation and record in New Mexico, and I am excited to see how he can build on and grow our men’s basketball program at UCLA. I expect all of our coaches to serve as an example to our student-athletes and the entire Bruin family, displaying true character and strong values.
Working with Steve over the last two weeks I am confident that he will demonstrate the leadership we expect of all our coaches.