Steve Alford is squarely on the hot seat after an awful season in his third year as the head coach at UCLA. On Sunday, Alford sent a letter to fans essentially apologizing for the season and, in an unprecedented step, saying he would return the one-year contract extension he signed after the 2013-14 season. Before the announcement, he had been under the contract through 2021.
The Bruins finished 15-17 overall and 6-12 in the Pac-12. They also lost to crosstown rival USC three times and looked bad doing it. Despite a wealth of talent, UCLA never got things going and Alford took a ton of heat from the team’s fanbase as a result. While he surely won’t be fired for his performance this season because of a ridiculous contract that includes a $10.4 million buyout, Alford has to know things are dicey for him heading into next year.
Here’s the full text of the letter.
"Dear UCLA Family, Friends, Alumni and Supporters, Since leaving the locker room in Las Vegas, I’ve spent countless hours dissecting our program, evaluating our staff, meeting with our young men and breaking down game film to address our struggles and begin the process of improving as a team. I know none of that makes the ending to our season any better or changes how we all feel about our year, but constant review and improvement is imperative in my job – a job that I take extremely seriously and one that’s an absolute privilege to hold. The fact remains that no matter how much time passes, the way we finished this past season will eat at me for a long, long time. Our record speaks for itself and is simply unacceptable. There’s nothing that I can say or write that will change that fact. This happened under my watch, it begins and it ends with me. The buck stops here. Because of this, I let Dan Guerrero know that I wanted to return the one-year contract extension I received after the 2013-14 season. This request has since been processed. At the end of the day, year three was clearly not up to UCLA standards. My coaching staff and I fell short not only of our own expectations, but the expectations of Dan, the Chancellor and you, our fans. As a coaching staff, we intend to earn that extension back. This has been a difficult time, there’s no doubt about that. Difficult times, however, build resolve. It’s easy to just say we’ll be better next year. We’re excited to prove it, and that begins now. Over the course of my career, teams that I’ve led have owned, on average, a defensive rank in the top 50. This year we ranked outside the top 100. This can never happen again. We must return to the basics and instill defensive fundamentals in our young men from day one of permissible workouts. While our returning letter-winners are upset about this past year and can’t wait to work on their games with our coaches over the next few months, on June 20th, they will be pushed even harder with the arrival of our new class in Westwood. There will be fierce competition in both the backcourt and frontcourt this offseason, which not only accelerates growth, it builds character. While I don’t expect this letter to change any opinions or take away the pain from this difficult season, I do hope it reflects my commitment to UCLA and shows that we will address areas in which we fell short. At this point, it’s well documented that basketball is my life. I came to UCLA to experience the pinnacle of the sport. I wanted to bring my passion for this game to the place where the game itself was ultimately taken to unprecedented levels of grace, dignity and success. In the process, it’s become my home. I hope you’ll continue to support our fine young men that will be working this offseason to get better as well as the new class of young men coming here this summer, eager to experience everything that is great about UCLA. I know our entire program is already looking forward to future successes. Thank you, and Go Bruins! Coach Alford"
While he certainly seems focused on improving next year and fixing the program’s litany of problems, you can’t blame UCLA fans for feeling this bit of accountability is too little, too late. I’ve never heard of a coach giving back money and Alford has chosen to do that because of he did a poor job this year. I applaud that, but it doesn’t change the facts on the ground in Westwood.
The simple truth is that Alford is and always has been an average basketball coach. He has a great group of recruits coming this summer, but he hasn’t ever shown he knows how to deploy talented players correctly.
If he doesn’t turn things around next season, Alford will almost certainly be looking for another job.