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    Sunday, April 01, 2007

    Iowa Basketball: Part One - A New Hope

    I'm an Iowan, a grad of the U of I, and a fan of Hawkeye athletics. As such, I am required by state law to have an opinion on the basketball coaching situation. Fortunately for all of my readers (both of my readers?), I do. Let's organize them into some nice groups, split them into several posts, and with any luck, I finish before a new coach is named. Let's start by discussing the man of the moment, Steve Alford.

    One of the things you see said most often is that Alford caused a split among Hawkeye fans. He didn't. The split existed before he got here. It was a split between fans who liked Dr. Tom Davis, the previous coach, and those who wanted him gone, despite the fact that he was incredibly successful and a wonderful human being. These were the people who wanted a coach to take us to the next level, because competing for a Big Ten title every year, making a postseason tournament and winning a game or two every year, well, that just wasn't good enough. No, these fans wanted a different coach, and they were loud enough and vocal enough that they convinced the Athletic Director to give Dr. Tom his walking papers. Oh, sure, he was given one last year before he was forced out, but he was forced out, and the fans played the greatest role in that process. More on those fans later.

    Enter Steve Alford. Alford was hired from a small school in a mid-major conference. In his four years there he had two teams that did well and two teams that didn't. He had never coached at a major college in a major conference. But a deep run in the NCAA tourney that year made him the hot coach, and everyone thought we were lucky to get him. Everyone including Alford. See, he was a cocky guy - always had been, going back to his playing days. But that's what we wanted, see, we wanted that cockiness, that swagger, because, well, because. These were things that were common knowledge about the man when we hired him.

    But here's the thing. There's a very thin line between being cocky and being an arrogant prick, and guys who have had only a moderate level of success at a small college are going to have a lot to learn about coaching at a major college in a major conference. Which means that we had, in essence, hired an arrogant prick who had a lot to learn. Guess how well that went over, especially among fans who had regarded Alford as the savior come to lead us to the promised land.

    Well, he didn't. Instead he came in and got off to a rough start among Iowa faithful. There's a litany of fan complaints - he never took responsibility for anything that went wrong, he blamed his players, he took all the credit, he didn't recruit well, he was a bad in-game coach, he rubbed people the wrong way with his attitude - and they are all accurate. At least they were all accurate with regards with his first few years here.

    But there's this thing human beings do - they grow, they change, and Alford was no exception. He changed, he grew, and by the time he left last week most of those complaints were no longer valid, or at least were not valid to the extent to which they were when he first came here, because we all occasionally fall back on our old habits, no matter who we are. But the instances of the behavior fans complained about, that fans still complain about (check out some of the fan letters in today's Press-Citizen for examples, and keep that link handy, because we'll be coming back to it in Part Two), became fewer and farther between.

    There was one complaint that didn't go away, however, the complaint that he rubbed people the wrong way. Now, I think it's fair to ask if people would have been so annoyed with him if the Alford we got the last four years had been the Alford we got the first four years. Personally, I don't think they would have been. But that's irrelevant speculation at best, because the fact of the matter is that by the time Alford left last week, there was a vast contingent of fans so thoroughly annoyed with the man that it didn't matter what future success he might have here, he was never going to be accepted.

    Don't believe me? Then you're wrong. The aforementioned Dr. Tom had the sort of record many fans now claim is what they want most. Further, even his detractors regarded him as a genuinely nice human being. Yet it wasn't good enough. It wasn't the mythical next level. Alford, who these fans regard as Satan incarnate - well, maybe not Satan incarnate, but Lord knows, they don't like him - would not be given any breaks for anything. How do I know that? Because he wasn't given any this year.

    Think back to our season last year - we contended for the Big Ten regular season title, we won the Big Ten tourney, we didn't lose a game at home, and we graduated two of the most popular players in recent history. If there was ever a coach who had earned himself a free pass for a year, it was Alford. And what did he do this year? He took a young and inexperienced team that was a preseason favorite to finish ninth in the Big Ten and finished in a tie for fourth. Fourth! His reward for finishing fourth? A de facto vote of no confidence from the Athletic Director and fan scorn.

    So he left. Took another job. You can't really blame him for that. You can blame him, however, for his return to form that he had seemed to have shaken, for the potshots at the school and the program, for his "so long suckers" attitude in his departure. Tough to blame him entirely, though, because certainly many Iowa fans and media have earned that attitude. But that's better saved for another post.

    (Yes, I know A New Hope is actually the title of what is now Star Wars 4. So sue me.) (I don't mean sue me literally - you'd have no grounds for any sort of court action.)

    1 comment:

    Kimmah said...

    I care, my dear, I care. I don't really have a clue who these people are, but I care because YOU care.

    I don't actually watch basketball, but I do know that we like both our basketball coaches at my alma mater. Who couldn't like Pat Head Summit, of course. They named a street after her, but now we have the Pearl (Pearle?) guy and all is well in Tennessee.