Steve Alford, who led New Mexico to unprecedented success over the past six seasons to the tune of 155 wins, four regular season titles, and two conference tournament titles, has been named as the new head coach at UCLA, taking over a storied Bruins program rich in tradition.
The announcement was made by UCLA via twitter at 10 a.m, by UCLA director of athletics Dan Guerrero.
Alford leaves UNM with record of 155-52 in his six seasons, and 463-235 in 22 seasons overall at four universities. Alford's teams have qualified for the postseason in 12 of the last 13 seasons, including six NCAA Tournaments. Overall in 22 seasons has has had 10 NCAA Tournament appearances, 17 postseason appearances, and 14 20-win seasons. He has won at least 24 games in a season at each of his four stops: Manchester, Missouri State, Iowa, and New Mexico. He has a 10-10 NCAA Tournament record, including 5-7 at the Division I level.
"This has been a very hard 48 hours," said Alford, addressing a large contingent of local media members at The Pit media room. "The toughest decision I've had to make…maybe ever, and that's because of how much I love this place, UNM, Albuquerque, New Mexico, the fans. It really came down to having an opportunity to go to UCLA, the pinnacle of college basketball. It's one of those lifetime opportunities that is really difficult to pass up."
Alford added, "It wasn't something that I went looking for. UCLA sought me out. I think it's a great complement to UNM and New Mexico that UCLA…an incredible university, wants something from New Mexico. I thought I was going to be here a long time, I just signed a 10-yaer deal, that was the plan. Sometimes plans get messed up in the timing…you never know what it is. I had no idea that this opportunity would present itself. I'm humbled, honored and very excited about it."
In heading to UCLA, Alford will follow in the footsteps of fellow Indiana native John Wooden, who is from Martinsville, Indiana. Alford from first through fourth grade lived in Martinsville and shot baskets at John Wooden Gym.
Alford is the only coach in the history of UNM to win 22 games in each of his first six seasons, and he has qualified the Lobos for the postseason in all six seasons, including three NCAA Tournaments in the last four seasons. The Lobos under his leadership have won 155 games in six years, an average of just under 26 games per season.
New Mexico has won four regular season titles in the last five years, a streak matched by only Kansas and Gonzaga, and UNM has won both the regular season and Mountain West Tournament titles in each of the last two seasons back-to-back, one of only five schools in the nation to make that claim.
The Lobos under Alford are currently 29-5 heading into their Second Round game with Harvard. The 29 wins are the second-most in school history, behind the 2009-10 teams' 30-5 record. Both the 2009-10 and 2012-13 teams earned a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament, tying a program record for highest seed.
In all six seasons with New Mexico, the Lobos have had at least one First Team All-Mountain West selection and one First Team USBWA All-District VIII selection. Alford is a three-time Mountain West Coach of the Year and a two-time USBWA and NABC District Coach of the Year.
Along with the successes on the court, Alford's student-athletes have been just as successful off the court. He has graduated nine of his 10 seniors, and all three seniors this season are scheduled to graduate. The team posted a perfect 1000 APR last year, and will have a second perfect score when it officially gets announced later this year. The team has had a program record 11 consecutive semesters of a 2.7 grade-point average or better.
Vice President of Athletics Paul Krebs said in regards to replacing Alford, "I think that the urgency (to get a new head coach) is self imposed. We want to get someone in here as soon as we can for the sake of our student-athletes."
While Krebs will be looking towards the future with the upcoming hire, he complimented Alford on the shape the program has been left in, especially academically.
"We've done a lot of good things here, and we are not done," said Krebs. "It's a program that should be successful every year and we had a leader who really moved this program forward in so many ways. Steve talks about the championships and I don't want to discount that because they are huge and measurable with all the wins and losses, but if you really look at it, what that staff has done from an academic standpoint…I don't think people have really clued in how bad our graduation rates were, how bad our APR was, we were at the bottom. Embarrassing...nobody was graduating. Just horrible, and six years later we have an APR of 1000, almost every senior that has matriculated through has graduated. We play, we win, we graduate."
Krebs has not stated a specific timetable for the hiring of a new coach, but Craig Neal has been promoted to Interim Head Coach, and will oversee the program until a permanent coach is named. Neal has been with UNM for all of the last six years, four regular season titles, and two conference tournament titles.