I picked a bad week for vacation. Actually, the school system picked the week by making it Spring Break, but anytime you're a Sports Director, and you're out of town for what's potentially the biggest story of the year, it's not what you'd call ideal timing.
I was at Jellystone Park with the kids, six hours away, when Steve Alford did the University of Iowa a big favor, and bolted for New Mexico. I was also sick with next to no voice, but as it turns out, Shawn Terrell had my back, not to mention our viewers'. He did a fantastic job, and even indulged all my text messages and phone calls. It's tough being in the woods.
I knew Alford was generally disliked by Iowa fans, but I had no idea how much. I've never seen anything like it. I'm surprised people didn't celebrate in the streets. Maybe they did; I was gone.
Contrary to Alford's thinly veiled cheap shots, Iowa used to be a basketball school, in the same way that Ohio State and Florida are basketball schools (football first, but basketball still followed with passion). Alford's overall lack of meaningful success and inability to make any kind of connection with the fan base slowly made Hawkeye fans apathetic. Apathy is about the worst thing that can happen to a program in these days of runaway cash needs. As we've seen since Alford left for New Mexico, the passion is still there, it had just been lying dormant.
Alford is not a bad basketball coach. He's been above average since Craig Neal arrived at Iowa. The problem is twofold: Alford said he'd take the program to another level, and then did, it just wasn't the direction anyone expected; and Alford turned off too many fans, reporters, and recruits.
Anytime I've interviewed Steve, he's been courteous and professional, if not quite warm. He's never done anything to me, and I personally know people who have worked with him and played for him who think he's a great guy. However, over the years, Alford rubbed a lot of other people the wrong way. Many think he's a "phony". I can't support that claim with evidence, but I have other observations.
He had a way of taking credit for wins, but blaming losses on his players. He loved talking about his career at Indiana, even when the question was actually about one of his players at Iowa. He never seemed to truly want to be here, probably because he didn't truly want to be here. He wanted to coach Indiana, which is understandable, and did everything he could to try and make that happen (two different times), but he didn't want to admit it. In fact, he got angry when we asked about it. After all, why would we? We're from "FREAKING IOWA".
Alford tried to turn Big Ten Tournament titles into Big Ten championships. He won one NCAA tournament game in 8 seasons (one less than Tom Davis won after he was forced out), and lost more Big Ten games than he won. Worst of all, the Pierre Pierce debacle. We all understood a coach standing by his player, what we couldn't take was Alford intimating the victim was lying. There was just no reason for that. Support your guy, but don't play judge and jury. Especially if you're wrong.
Alford had some success too. Those Big Ten Tournaments were exciting. That first win over #1 ranked UConn raised expectations to an all time high, and the Hawks almost never lost at home, even if smaller crowds watched each year. Winning forgives most sins and shortcomings, and the Hawks simply didn't win enough when it mattered.
Steve Alford is being hit hard, some would say piled on, and most of it has to do with his personality, not his record. Our own "What's Bugging Andy" is being passed from fan-to-fan all over the country (you can watch it on our video player). Most viewers on our whotv.com online poll say Andy "nailed it", but one in 15 think he was "dead wrong and way out of line". Yes, Alford has his supporters. I know because I've heard from them. Some want Andy fired, others will settle for an apology. Neither will happen. The show is called "SoundOFF". It's an opinions show, including those of the hosts. We want Andy to give his unfiltered takes. There's plenty of solid fence-sitting, just the facts television out there if that's what you're after. One viewer who demanded Andy's dismissal said opinions have no place in journalism. I asked him if he's ever heard of Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite. Those guys shaped public opinion and shook American policy. I could name many others, some responsible with that power, others who misuse it.
Not to go all patriotic, but I'm sincerely thankful we live in a country where both you as a viewer, and I as a journalist, can give our opinions without dire consequences. Sure, Andy and I receive the occasional piece of hate mail, but that's a small price to pay for freedom of speech. Don't you agree?
Let's end by giving Alford credit. He did what was best for him and best for Iowa; He left. Sometimes divorce benefits all.
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