Only a matter of weeks were needed for newly appointed UCLA Bruins men’s basketball head coach Steve Alford to fall under an unwanted spotlight.
After dealing with Ben Howland‘s antics for 10 years, what’s the worse thing that could happen? Questions have been circulating around how Alford handled a sexual assault charge against one of his student athletes while he coached Iowa in 2002. At the time, Alford defiantly defended his player without completely knowing the situation first.
Instead of holding a press conference to address the issues of Alford’s choices during the incident, UCLA issued a press release with statements from both Alford and Bruins athletic director Dan Guerrero. The statement did not release the name of the player involved, Pierre Pierce, who was Iowa’s starting point guard at the time.
In a statement following the incident with Pierce, Alford backed the guard by saying, “I totally believe he is innocent. I believed it from day one, and I still believe it.”
Well, he wasn’t innocent, and was charged with third-degree sexual assault and ended up pleading guilty to assault involving injury, which ended with a lesser punishment. Pierce ended up redshirting and stayed with the team. It wasn’t until another incident involving assault with a deadly weapon that Pierce was dismissed from the team in 2005.
“At that time, I instinctively and mistakenly came to [Pierce's] defense before knowing all the facts. I wanted to believe he was innovent, and in response to a media question, I publicly proclaimed his innocence before the legal system had run its course,” Alford said in the statement.
UCLA and Guerrero appear satisfied with the growth Alford has made since the incident, and are happy to stand by there new coach. That’s a good sign, seeing as Alford hasn’t coached a game yet for the Bruins.
“I was aware of his situation when he hired Steve and concluded that although he made an error in judgement 11 years ago, he had learned and grown from that experience,” Guerrero said in the same statement. “Our evaluation was based on his entire career, both on and off the court, and that is what led us to make our decision that he was the right coach for UCLA.”
Obviously this issue came up during the vetting process, and the same would have been done when Alford was hired at New Mexico. He has had an impeccable record since then, and the incident can certainly be described as a lapse in judgement, and nothing more.
John Engel is a Pac-12 college basketball writer for Rant Sports and also works for ESPNLA 710 AM radio in Los Angeles. Follow John on Twitter: @engelsportsguy.