Neal up for pair of national coaching honors

He was the first University of New Mexico first-year men’s basketball coach to take the Lobos to the NCAA Tournament and Craig Neal also set a rookie head coaching record for the program with 27 wins in his first season.

Now, he’s a finalist for a pair of national coaching awards.

Neal is one of 10 finalists for the Joe B. Hall Award given to the top first-year head coach in Division I basketball. None of the other nine finalists are at a major conference school and Neal joined two finalists — Stephen F. Austin’s Brad Underwood and American University’s Mike Brennan — in the NCAA Tournament this season.

Neal is also a finalist for the Jim Phelan Award for National Coach of the Year, joining his UNM predecessor, Steve Alford (UCLA), and Mountain West Conference rival Steve Fisher (San Diego State) and 12 other finalists.

The winner of both awards will be announced at the CollegeInsider.com awards banquet April 4 in Dallas.

Here are all the finalists for the awards:

Joe B. Hall (rookie head coach)

Mike Brennan, American
Tim Craft, Gardner-Webb
Pat Duquette, UMass-Lowell
Bobby Hurley, Buffalo
Robert Jones, Norfolk State
Dan Majerle, Grand Canyon
Nicholas McDevitt, UNC Asheville
Craig Neal, New Mexico
Brad Underwood, Stephen F. Austin
Will Wade, Chattanooga

Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year

Steve Alford, UCLA
Rick Barnes, Texas
John Beilein, Michigan
Tony Bennett, Virginia
Ed Cooley, Providence
Billy Donovan, Florida
Steve Fisher, San Diego State
Danny Manning, Tulsa
Gregg Marshall, Wichita State
Sean Miller, Arizona
Greg McDermott, Creighton
Tim Miles, Nebraska
Craig Neal, New Mexico
Brad Underwood, Stephen F. Austin
Jay Wright, Villanova

LOBO LINKS: Geoff Grammer’s blog | Schedule/Results | Roster

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Alford, McKay crack list for sexiest men in college hoops

Steve Alford, left, and Ritchie McKay, right, are both former New Mexico Lobo basketball coaches.
Steve Alford, left, and Ritchie McKay, right, are both former New Mexico Lobo basketball coaches.

It isn’t often Steve Alford and Ritchie McKay crack the same Top 100 list pertaining to college basketball, at least outside of Top 100 past University of New Mexico basketball coaches.

But on Valentines Day, the folks at CollegeInsider.com unveiled the hard-hitting, stop-the-presses news of who they consider the 100 Sexiest Men in College Basketball (players not included).

And wouldn’t you know it, McKay, who coached UNM from 2002-2007, and Alford (2007-2013) each made the list, as did former New Mexico State coach Reggie Theus.

Of Alford, College Insider wrote:

I’ve always viewed Coach Alford as a no-nonsense guy who will tell you what you don’t want to hear. Those are excellent qualities. Over the years he’s also shown some terrific qualities as a head coach. Good things are around the corner at UCLA.

Of McKay, College Insider wrote:

The Virginia assistant coach combines friendly with “coolness.” A devout family man, McKay is a pretty quiet and reserved individual. He had success as a head coach and will likely be in charge of a program again one day. Really good guy.

Of Theus, College Insider wrote:

The former NCAA and NBA star is back in the college game. The head coach at Cal State Northridge is one of the sharpest guys in the business. Sure some of that NBA coin got him some serious threads, but not everybody can sport it like Coach Theus.

Of course it should be noted that any list that includes media members who cover college basketball that doesn’t include yours truly on a “sexiest” list can’t be taken all that seriously. Much like the NCAA Selection Committee, these guys discriminated against low majors.

By the way, you’re welcome for bringing you this very important story.

LOBO LINKS: Geoff Grammer’s blog | Schedule/Results | Roster

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The DNA of Lobos Basketball: The Journal’s coaching series

The Journal is publishing this summer a nine-part series on the DNA of Lobos basketball by profiling the coaches of the modern era (Bob King to present day) of the program.

While the series kicked off with a bio/profile piece on new head coach Craig Neal, who has yet to be the head coach of a single game for UNM, the rest of the series is going in chronological order starting with the father of Lobos hoops, Bob King.

I’ll link each story below as the stories publish (though in the interest of chronological order of when they actually coached, I’m including Craig Neal both at the top of the list since his story already published and at the end since he’s the latest coach):

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UPDATE: Alford attorney, UNM talk Final Four reinbursement

UPDATE (Wednesday, 11 a.m.)

Prior to the Journal’s article publishing Wednesday morning (that article in its entirety is unaltered below), the attorney for former UNM head coach Steve Alford and UNM’s general counsel discussed reimbursement of the Final Four tickets and airfare UNM purchased for Alford prior to his leaving for the UCLA job.

When the Journal asked UNM Athletics Director Paul Krebs on Tuesday afternoon if any arrangements for reimbursement had been made by Alford, he said no arrangements had been made on behalf of Alford to reimburse those expenses. On Wednesday, Alford’s attorney Patrick Cooper told the Journal that Krebs was not involved in those discussions on Tuesday regarding reimbursement.

Tuesday afternoon, UNM’s general counsel released to the Journal, per an open records request, the Final Four expenses.

Cooper said Tuesday, in wrapping up the recent buyout settlement issues, including vacation pay owed Alford, was the first time UNM mentioned the Final Four expenses. Cooper told UCLA about the Final Four expenses, and attorneys at UCLA authorized him to arrange reimbursement with UNM. Cooper told the Journal he sent an email Wednesday morning trying to arrange reimbursement.

“That issue was promptly addressed by Steve, myself and UCLA once they brought it up Tuesday,” Cooper told the Journal. “I was immediately authorized by UCLA to arrange reimbursement of the fees.”

UCLA will cover the buyout payment of $300,000 Alford owes UNM and the Final Four reimbursement, according to Cooper. Final details on the vacation pay, the Final Four expenses and other taxable income matters are still being addressed.

UNM on Friday announced an agreement in principle on the buyout, though no agreement between the two parties has yet been signed.

– Geoff Grammer


School paid for his airfare, tickets

Steve Alford’s final trip on the Lobos’ dime wasn’t to Salt Lake City, where his team was upset by Harvard in the round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament in March.

It was to the Final Four.

Fulfilling an Inspection of Public Records Act request, the University of New Mexico on Tuesday released to the Journal travel-expense figures the athletic department covered for the Lobos basketball coaching staff traveling to last month’s Final Four festivities in Atlanta.

Alford, who at the time of the Final Four was already the head coach at UCLA, had his two tickets to the Final Four ($560) and his airfare ($316.10) paid for by UNM. Those expenses were paid for by UNM prior to Alford’s March 30 announcement that he was leaving the school to coach the Bruins.

In the wake of last week’s announcement of an agreement in principle with UCLA on UNM receiving a $300,000 buyout from Alford, the $876.10 travel expense can be chalked up as a parting gift for his six years of turning the program around.

“He has not made an attempt to reimburse that money to my knowledge,” UNM athletic director Paul Krebs said. “And at this point, we’re moving on. We’re closing that chapter.”

It is unclear when UNM and UCLA will sign their formal agreement on the $300,000 buyout – one UNM initially had hoped to be $1 million and Alford had hoped would be $200,000.

UNM issued a news release Friday afternoon saying they were receiving a net-benefit of $625,000 in the buyout negotiations, but those negotiations only dealt with the $300,000 buyout. The additional $325,000 in savings UNM said it received through the negotiations are in the form of deferred compensation, a final check and incentive bonuses that will not be paid to Alford. It was money neither Alford nor UCLA sought in the negotiation process.

Alford’s lodging and other expenses on the Final Four trip were not covered by UNM; only the tickets to Final Four games and airfare were, according to the document.

UNM also paid $250 for a Final Four ticket for new head coach Craig Neal. The airfare plus lodging, meals and other expenses for the current UNM coaching staff members who attended Final Four events – Neal, Drew Adams, Craig Snow and Brandon Mason – totaled $6,814.14, according to the record.

While it is common knowledge that socializing within the coaching fraternity and networking are among the main purposes of the week of Final Four events, the annual trip for college coaching staffs from around the country also serves as an annual industry convention of sorts for coaches and administrators with clinics, informational seminars on industry trends in coaching and other events.

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UNM, Steve Alford come to buyout agreement

The University of New Mexico and former men’s basketball coach Steve Alford have reached an agreement in principle on the buyout he owes his former employer.

UNM issued a news release Friday stating the buyout amount plus savings of deferred compensation payments, incentive bonuses would net the university a “favorable” outcome of $625,000.

UNM had demanded $1 million and Alford had offered $200,000. After sorting through who owes who what, the additional “hard” dollars Alford and his new employer, UCLA, will owe UNM come to $300,000.

UCLA, meanwhile, said it was blindsided Friday afternoon by UNM’s announcement. The two sides have not yet signed any agreements, and UCLA made it clear that it is not paying the $625,000 initial media reports implied in UNM’s statement.

“On Friday afternoon, the University of New Mexico issued a news release stating that they had reached a buyout agreement with their former Men’s Basketball Coach, Steve Alford, who last month accepted the head coaching job at UCLA,” read an emailed statement UCLA sent to the Journal on Friday.

“The UNM news release does require some clarification. While there has not been a signed agreement, New Mexico has agreed to accept $300,000 of their original $1 million demand. A larger figure included in UNM’s release appears to include certain bonuses which Coach Alford previously agreed to forego (sic) when he decided to terminate his contract there and accept the offer from UCLA.”

UNM’s initial news release acknowledged there were “still some final details to resolve,” but added that the resolution “results in a net benefit of approximately $625,000, which is clearly a positive for UNM.”

“It’s pretty convoluted but the simple answer is, and these are approximate figures, approximately $325,000 in savings to UNM for compensation not paid and then $300,000 in buyout,” said Kimberly Bell, associate university counsel at UNM. “And it’s an agreement in principle, nothing signed yet. There are some details to work out.”

Alford on March 30 announced he was leaving as the head coach of the Lobo men’s basketball team to take the same position at UCLA. The contract extension for which he signed a term sheet March 18 stipulated a $1 million buyout penalty if he left UNM. That contract was supposed to go into effect April 1.

The term sheet also made clear that the agreement was contingent on a final contract that Alford never signed.

UNM has maintained that since Alford did not give a 30-day notice, required of both his previous contract and the one supposed to start April 1, he was still employed by the university through April 29. Thus the extension went into effect, and so did the $1 million buyout clause.

The Journal’s understanding of Alford’s bonuses and incentives is that in June he would have collected a $100,000 payment (deferred compensation) into his retirement account. He also may have been due approximately $165,000 in incentive bonuses, among that payments for winning the Mountain West regular-season and tournament titles, being named the league’s coach of the year, his team beating multiple Top 25 ranked teams during the 2012-13 season, and reaching the NCAA Tournament.

There likely would have been legal debate over whether he could have accepted those incentives since he would not have been employed in June, when incentives and deferred compensation are dispersed.

Alford said in an email to the university in April that he was not seeking that $265,000.

Alford had stopped his direct deposit arrangement between UNM and his bank, so on April 29, operating under the premise he was still under contract, the university issued a hard check and asked his wife, Tanya, who still lives in Albuquerque, to come pick it up. But she never did.

The gross amount of that April 29 check was $75,485.63 and the net was $44,230.48. It included only base salary and none of Alford’s additional salary for such things as media and community service obligations.

Alford’s April 29 check (gross pay), plus the deferred compensation UNM says it is saving ($100,000) and incentive payment savings ($165,000) total $340,485.63 that UNM says is savings, but Alford and UCLA say they weren’t seeking.

Regent praise

In prepared statements, UNM Board of Regents President Jack Fortner and University President Robert Frank expressed pleasure with the deal.

“On behalf of the UNM Board of Regents, we are pleased that Pres­ident Frank and our Office of University Counsel evaluated the costs and ben­efits to UNM under Coach Alford’s pre­vious contract and the April 1 contract,” Fortner said. “This resulted in an agree­ment that is fair to all parties and avoids costly, lengthy arbitration. Through­out this process, UNM has acted in good faith and never lost sight of its respon­sibil­ity to the UNM community.”

Said Frank: “We worked diligently to find the best possible outcome under the circum­stances. The result is within $50,000 of the net amount UNM would have received had Coach Alford paid the $1 million buyout. The outcome is favorable for UNM and allows us to move forward with the assurance that we have been good stewards of university resources. Most importantly, we have the great fortune of having Coach Neal to lead the UNM Men’s Basketball team to its next outstand­ing season.”

Bell told the Journal there was “comfort” in reaching an agreement before pushing the matter to arbitration — when the final outcome would have been out of the university’s hands. She said there is comfort in resolving what was a high-profile dispute for Lobo basketball, enabling the program to move on without further distraction.

Assuming the agreement in principle leads to a signed agreement between Alford and UNM, all that will be left to sort out is his accrued vacation pay.

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Steve Alford's email to UNM regarding buyout

Here is the email former UNM basketball coach Steve Alford sent to UNM associated counsel Kimberly N. Bell regarding his buyout clause and his intentions to repay $200,000, not the $1 million the school seeks (CLICK HERE for article on the matter from Tuesday’s Journal):

Dear Ms. Bell:

I understand that UNM is taking the position that my resignation was not effective on March 30 and that I will continue as a University employee until April 29 or 30. I also understand that UNM intends to deposit money into my account representing salary from March 30 through April 29 or 30.

My resignation as Head Coach was effective March 30. I performed no services after that date and am not entitled to any salary for services rendered after March 30. I will not accept any such payment.

The Term Sheet of March 18 never became effective because UNM and I never reached agreement on a final written employment contract including those terms. My obligations and those of UNM are governed by the agreement in place before the Term Sheet.

I am not entitled to any additional deferred compensation payments from UNM. Although I performed the conditions that would have entitled me to receive additional incentive salary, my contract with UNM provides that I am not entitled to receive such incentive salary because of my contract termination. I will not accept any unpaid deferred compensation or incentive salary.

My contract with UNM provides that if I terminated the contract before March 31, 2013, I would agree to pay the sum of $200,000. I hereby offer that amount to UNM.

Steve Alford

For clarification on another matter, Alford said in a press conference in late March his buyout was $150,000, which has been referenced in media reports. The actual buyout per his former contract was $200,000.

LOBOS LINKS: Roster | Schedule/Results | Geoff Grammer’s blog

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Alford tells UNM he doesn't plan on paying $1 million buyout

The $1 million question surrounding the buyout of former Lobos basketball coach Steve Alford is still unanswered.

Monday afternoon Alford, for the first time, formally contacted the University of New Mexico on the matter stating “he offered to comply with the terms of his previous contract” and its $150,000 buyout and that “he believes his last day was March 30,” according to an email obtained by the Journal written by Associate University Counsel Kimberly N. Bell.

EDITOR’S NOTE: CLICK HERE to read the email Alford sent.

Alford on March 18 signed a term sheet agreeing to a 10-year contract including a $1 million buyout. That contract was to take effect April 1, two days after he announced he was resigning to take the coaching job at UCLA.

The previous contract Alford says he will abide by included a 30-day notice of termination requirement. UNM maintains that means March 30 was the day Alford gave notice and Monday, 30 days after he took the UCLA job, was his official final day of work. That would bring into play the unsigned April 1 contract and the $1 million buyout.

“Coach Alford has not made any payment toward his buyout obligation to UNM,” Bell wrote.

UNM is now considering taking the matter to arbitration to seek the full $1 million.

Messages left with Alford and the representative who negotiated his contract with UNM were not returned Monday night.

• On a note of clarification, Alford told media in late March his previous buyout was $150,000, which has been reported in numerous media accounts. The contract stipulated the previous buyout was actually $200,000.

• Here is the April 3 Journal article with attachments to UNM’s demand letter for payment of the $1 million spelling out their side of the matter: UNM: Alford owes us $1 million

• Here is the April 18 article in which Alford thanked fans, discussed Pierre Pierce and addressed the buyout (by not commenting): UCLA ‘changed the whole landscape’

LOBOS LINKS: Roster | Schedule/Results | Geoff Grammer’s blog

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UCLA 'changed whole landscape'

Ex-coach thanks New Mexico for time spent here

The dust is starting to settle from the whirlwind of change that blindsided Lobos basketball three weeks ago.

The “Noodles” era has begun with Craig Neal now fully entrenched as the program’s new head coach, but many fans haven’t yet come to reconcile feelings created by the abrupt parting of ways with his predecessor.

University of New Mexico head basketball coach Steve Alford announces that he is leaving the Lobos to take over UCLA's basketball program, Saturday, March 30, 2013, at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)
University of New Mexico head basketball coach Steve Alford announces that he is leaving the Lobos to take over UCLA’s basketball program, Saturday, March 30, 2013, at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Since taking the job at UCLA, Steve Alford has been taking a beating from many New Mexico fans about loyalty, and from California and national media about issues dating back to his coaching position at the University of Iowa.

While in Albuquerque this week for an awards banquet for his son, Alford drafted a handwritten letter (published as a companion piece to this article at bottom) thanking New Mexico fans.

And in a wide-ranging interview with the Journal on Wednesday, he addressed questions ranging from his decision to leave Loboland to his reception at UCLA.

Thanks to UNM fans

In the letter, Alford said he and his family will forever be grateful for their six years in Albuquerque.

“Thank you New Mexico for making our lives better,” he wrote. “There will be no greater Lobo fans in the Los Angeles area than the Alfords.”

While that may be true, there are some Lobo fans left behind who have not yet forgiven Alford – and maybe never will – for the timing of his resignation (announced 12 days after he signed a term sheet agreeing to a new 10-year contract) and for his repeated declarations of his love for the fans.

“We know that with everything we’ve done over a six-year period that there’s some frustration,” Alford said. “The timing was obviously difficult. I had just agreed to a 10-year extension, then all of a sudden UCLA calls and it just changed the whole landscape. So I understand that. I totally get that.”

He added that he and his family have received plenty of support and well-wishes in the past two weeks from Lobo fans and friends around the state.

The Alfords have not begun looking for a house in Los Angeles yet and will still be based – minus Dad, of course – in Albuquerque for the near future, while sons Kory (UNM) and Bryce (La Cueva High School) and daughter Kayla (also at La Cueva) wrap up the school year.

Ticket price tiff

Alford and UNM athletic director Paul Krebs announced March 20 – the day prior to the team’s NCAA Tournament loss to Harvard – the agreement for a new 10-year contract (signed March 18).

Later that evening, Krebs told the Journal the raise Alford was to receive likely would be funded at least in part through increased ticket and concession prices.

It was a public announcement that didn’t sit well with Alford.

“It was agreed upon that if ticket prices and concessions and things were going to be raised in the future, that would be brought up at a different time,” Alford said. “… It was the timing. It would be discussed at a later date about the ticket pricing and the other stuff, so there was no need for any kind of announcement the day of the contract being announced.”

Krebs said Wednesday that he wants to focus on the future of Lobo basketball rather than its past, but does have a different take on the matter than Alford.

“Steve’s gone and my focus is on Craig, and I’m not interested in reliving a lot of history, but he is not correct,” Krebs told the Journal. “It was made incredibly clear during the negotiations about the ticket price increase. We never talked about how or when it would be rolled out, but we made it very clear.”

Krebs and UNM have not finalized whether ticket and concession prices will still increase this offseason now that Alford and his roughly $1.25 million base salary and compensation package have been replaced by Neal and his $750,000 one (both before incentives).

As for the size of the buyout to be paid to UNM, both Krebs and Alford said they will leave any talk of that to lawyers. UNM contends it is owed $1 million, while Alford has said that he felt he was still under the old contract, with a buyout of $150,000.

Pierre Pierce

One of the first questions Alford faced when he took the UCLA job was regarding his handling of a sexual assault case against his former Iowa Hawkeye player Pierre Pierce in 2002. His answer was an abrupt, ” I did what I was told to do.”

Alford last week issued an apology, through a prepared release issued by UCLA, for his handling of the case in which Alford was emphatic years ago in proclaiming Pierce’s innocence. He now says his comments were insensitive and hurtful to the victim, especially when not knowing all the facts. They also made it more difficult, Alford said, for future victims to come forward with such allegations.

Pierce pleaded guilty to a lesser charge in the case and was not kicked off the team. Three years later, he pleaded guilty to assaulting another female with a knife and served 11 months in prison. That incident led to his dismissal from the team.

“I made a mistake. I think it was 12 years ago, in a press conference – at the Big Ten media day,” Alford told the Journal. “I did. I regret those remarks very, very much because that was never my intent to be disrespectful in any way, and I apologize for that comment.”

Alford’s apology came after Los Angeles, Iowa and national media skewered him for him saying at his UCLA introductory news conference that he just did what he was told to do by Iowa officials.

Asked whether he regrets not apologizing earlier, he said that’s not what bothers him most.

“I just wish I could have went back 12 years ago and changed what took place,” Alford said.

While the Pierce situation was reported by both the Journal and the now shuttered Albuquerque Tribune at the time of his 2007 hiring, it was not scrutinized during his six years at UNM to the degree it was in just one week at UCLA.

Krebs said UNM was well aware of the issue when Alford was hired, however.

“It’s safe to say that we vetted Steve’s background, and we discussed the issue with Steve when he was hired,” Krebs said Wednesday.

Neal-Alford bond

Alford said he is happy Neal got the UNM job and wasn’t surprised his close friend choked up at his introductory news conference as UNM’s new coach when talking about missing the Alford kids – including Kory, who is on scholarship and still a member of the Lobos team until the end of this semester at UNM.

“We’re just very attached,” Alford said. “We’re obviously attached to the Neal family and to the whole staff, as well. They’ve all been a huge part of that.”

UCLA reception

Asked about the media and fan reception since being hired at UCLA, Alford focused more on the internal welcome he’s received at UCLA as opposed to commenting on the media coverage, which has been largely critical.

“It’s been terrific,” Alford said of the UCLA administration, boosters and players. “My bosses have been terrific. The community has been great. … The neat thing about UCLA is everybody is together right there on the campus, from coaches to the student population and everything else.”

Since he was hired, he’s assembled a coaching staff that includes 10-year UNM assistant coach Duane Broussard and has largely focused on quickly establishing relationships with current Bruins players and recruits, three of whom signed with former coach Ben Howland in the fall and have held firm with UCLA, Alford said.

“Most of our recruiting has been with the six guys there and the three guys signed in the fall, in addition to Bryce and Kory,” Alford said. “Just making sure everything was good. Now most of our (recruiting) efforts are in the 2014 class.”

One player the Bruins won’t have back is Shabazz Muhammad, who declared for the NBA draft after his freshman season this year at UCLA.

“We’ve known Shabazz is a lottery pick, and I knew probably before I was even hired at UCLA, before I was even thinking about UCLA, that Shabazz was probably leaving school,” Alford said.

UCLA vs. UNM?

As for whether the Lobos and Bruins may one day meet on the basketball court, it may happen, just not anytime in the next few seasons.

“Obviously that would be a lot of fun for us,” Alford said. “I don’t know that I look forward to standing next to Snake (Mark Tichenor, UNM “superfan”) at the other end of the bench. That doesn’t seem real appealing to me. But I want coach Neal to put his personality on this thing and move it forward the way he thinks it should move forward.”

LOBOS LINKS: Roster | Schedule/Results | Geoff Grammer’s blog

Letter From Alford

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an open letter to UNM fans submitted by Steve Alford as a Letter to the Editor submitted to the Journal.

I would like to take this opportunity to say “thank you” to UNM, the Albuquerque community, and all the fans throughout New Mexico.

Six years ago our family arrived in Albuquerque not knowing a single person. There was a lot of uncertainty to what was in store for our future. I simply cannot say thank you enough for all the great people of New Mexico. We have been treated so kindly and have been given unbelievable support. It’s been a community, an institution in UNM, and a state our family will have very fond memories of.

I love UNM, the Albuquerque community, and the great state of New Mexico. The decision to leave for UCLA is simply an opportunity for my family I could never imagine. The Alford family will always have a deep appreciation for our six years here. There have been so many people touch our lives in such a positive way.

Thank you New Mexico for making our lives better. There will be no greater Lobo fans in the Los Angeles area than the Alfords.

We are New Mexico!

— Steve Alford & Family

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Alford apologizes for 'insensitive' handling of sexual assault case at Iowa

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?”

ALFORD’S ANSWER:

“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.

LOBOS LINKS: Roster | Schedule/Results | Geoff Grammer’s blog

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Breaking: UNM to hire Craig Neal as new men's basketball coach

Craig Neal coaches from the sidelines during UNM's game against Wyoming on March 2, 2013. UNM announced on April 3, 2013, that Neal will be hired as the team's next head coach. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)
Craig Neal coaches from the sidelines during UNM’s game against Wyoming on March 2, 2013. UNM announced on April 3, 2013, that Neal will be hired as the team’s next head coach. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

UPDATED: Click here for the full, updated story on the Craig Neal hire that appeared in Wednesday’s Journal.

The Journal has learned Craig “Noodles” Neal will be named New Mexico’s next men’s basketball coach on Wednesday.

The contract will be for five years with a base salary and compensation package of $750,000 per season, plus undisclosed performance incentives.

“I love the fans of New Mexico and am very happy to be their new head coach,” Neal told the Journal in a text message.

Shortly after the news broke, UNM Vice President for Athletics sent out a very simple tweet confirming the news to the masses that read simply “Noodles.”

The 49-year-old Neal, known since high school to most by the nickname Noodles, was a standout player at Georgia Tech and played in the NBA and has served as Steve Alford’s associate head coach for the past nine seasons (six at New Mexico and three at Iowa).

Alford announced Saturday he would be leaving the Lobos to take the head coaching job at UCLA, where he was formally introduced on Tuesday.

“I am so very happy for Noodles,” Alford told the Journal Tuesday night in a text message. “He’s earned this. He’s so ready to be a head coach. I’m so pleased he is leading the UNM program. Wow, great day!!!”

There is a press conference scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

Check back later for more on this breaking story.

 
More about UNM’s coaching transition:

 

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