UCLA's administration, pressured by UCLA's fans, decided back in 2013 that it wanted somebody other than Ben Howland to run its basketball program. So it didn't really matter that Howland had just enrolled the nation's second-best recruiting class and won an outright Pac-12 title by playing faster than anybody else in his league -- or that he'd taken the Bruins to three Final Fours in the previous eight years. When these people make up their mind, they make up their mind. Which was always a bad sign for Steve Alford.
He was a not-great fit from the jump.
Everybody knew that.
But it's never been accurate when people say "UCLA fired Ben Howland to hire Steve Alford" because that's not what UCLA did at all. What UCLA did is fire Ben Howland because it wanted to move on from Ben Howland, plain and simple, for better or worse. And when that decision was made, trust me, the folks in charge, most notably athletic director Dan Guerrero, did not think they were going to hire a coach with a 5-7 NCAA Tournament record. But when UCLA couldn't lure Brad Stevens, Shaka Smart or any other top-tier candidate, that's exactly what UCLA did. UCLA hired Steve Alford. And he's lived on the hot seat pretty much ever since despite the fact that he's one of only nine coaches to make at least three Sweet 16s in the past five seasons.
Alford's time in Westwood ended Monday.
The Bruins were ranked 21st in the preseason Associated Press poll thanks in part to another heralded recruiting class. But they've limped to a 7-6 record featuring double-digit losses to Michigan State, North Carolina, Cincinnati, Ohio State and Liberty. And their current four-game losing streak that includes losses inside Pauley Pavilion to a pair of mid-majors pushed Guerrero to make a change on New Year's Eve.
"Throughout my career, I have maintained a belief that making a head-coaching change during a season is rarely in the best interests of our student-athletes or program," Guerrero said. "In this case, however, it is now clear that what is best for our current students, and for the overall good of the program, is to make this change now. While Steve led us to three Sweet 16 appearances, we simply have not been performing at a consistent level -- and our struggles up to this point in the season do not bode well for the future."
As I wrote when the hire was made, and as I mentioned on the latest episode of the CBS Sports Eye On College Basketbal Podcast, I never thought Alford-to-UCLA made sense from UCLA's perspective. But, that said, I do believe Alford was mostly fine -- not great, but definitely fine -- in his first five seasons that included four NCAA Tournament appearances and those three trips to the Sweet 16. Problem was, the fans who were against him from the jump -- and especially the ones who flew a above campus just months before the enrollment of Lonzo Ball helped create a 31-win season -- never got on board. As has been the case with most, if not all, UCLA coaches post-John Wooden, UCLA fans never thought Steve Alford was good enough even when he was doing well. And when your fans don't care much for you even when you're doing well, well, good luck trying to make that last.
Simply put, this was always how this would end.
And it should be a lesson for all coaches, really. If you never win over the fans, or if you lose them at any point, you're almost always just one bad season away from being fired provided the school can afford to do it. Tom Crean learned this at Indiana in March 2017. Steve Alford learned it at UCLA in December 2018. And now this Pac-12 institution will embark on another coaching search -- once again looking for somebody who can consistently provide what the program's rich history has its fans convinced is possible even though UCLA's last national title came before any current UCLA players were even born.