Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Looking back at Alford's First Seven Years as the Head Basketball Coach at Iowa; Iowa City - the Fishbowl; Looking Ahead to Next Year

So the Iowa fan base overeacted after a couple "journalists" (and I use that term lightly) reported that Steve Alford wanted to go to Missouri... hours later, they reneged and backtracked on their previous reports. Seems these guys (Katz and Doyel to name a few) want to be the first to break the news, so they start inventing news. The majority of the Hawkeye fan base turned on Alford and started spewing out misinformation and allegations that had no basis behind them. So now the fans want Alford to come out and give an apology statement or a reassertion statement now that the Missouri and Indiana jobs have been filled. Why should he? What did Steve Alford do to warrant this type of action? Just because an A.D. from another school asks for permission to talk to another school's head coach does NOT mean that the aforementioned coach is even remotely interested in what that A.D. has to offer. Once again, the Hawkeye fan base wanted to a reason to hate Alford... they were looking for any excuse to turn on him, as if the second most wins in school history wasn't enough to maybe calm the waters a bit. Iowa City is a fishbowl. That's why Lute Olson left. That's why George Raveling left.

So Steve Alford is here to stay (well, at least for a little while longer). It's time to take a peak at what he has done at the U of I. Most fans want to sling mud at his conference record and his NCAA Tourney success (or lack thereof).

Here's what I see...

The first four years of Alford tenure were poor at best. He had no idea how to coach at the upper D-1 level coming from a mid-major school. I think he has done very well these last 3 years... problem is his first four years were so bad, it has tainted his career at UI thus far. Alford was -14 in BT games his first four years, which put him in a huge hole. His 5-11 season was the killer. But Alford has won almost 2/3 of the games he has coached the past three years.

Alford first four seasons: 73-58 overall (25-39 conf)
Alford last three seasons: 62-34 overall (27-21 conf)

I see the past three years as a substantial increase in production from the Iowa staff, others will argue it was the maturation process of this year's seniors. I believe its a bit of both, but one thing you cannot deny is that Alford is getting better as a coach.

If you break up Alford's tenure into sections, there is a lot of proof that he has performed well in spite of everything that has happened to the program.

SECTION ONE: First four years playing with Davis' recruits and not knowing how to coach at the upper D-1 level. SECTION TWO: Last three years playing with his own recruits and actually knowing what he was doing, and having Neal come into the picture the last two years.

Do you want to argue that it's only been two good years in a row? The 2003-04 season is simple to defend as one of Alford best coaching jobs of his career. Do you want to argue that 2004 was a bad year - take a closer look: Jared Reiner had a season-ending injury that hurt the Hawkeyes tremendously, as Brunner had to switch to the 5 spot. Reiner had a chance to be All-Conf. that year. Nick DeWitz and Sean Sonderleiter both left mid-season, which killed the continuity (and already short bench) of the team. Mike Henderson was ineligible for the second semester. Depending on Kurt Spurgeon and Jack Brownlee isn't something I wish upon any basketball program. I give them all the credit in the world, as they stepped up big, but let's be reasonable here. Iowa played with SEVEN scholarship players that year. SEVEN. That was a pretty nice coaching job by Alford to be able to put up a winning Big Ten record that year.

I really believe the Iowa coaching staff has put together three very good seasons in a row... and they are only getting better. Next year WILL BE the kicker!

Alford is not Lute, but let's not do to him what we did to Mr. Olson. Now I completely understand why he left Iowa for Arizona.... there is no way to win over this fan base, as they will find something to whine about. Iowa City is most definitely a fishbowl. Olson could only take a few years, Raveling stayed a few. Davis toughed it out... but holy cow, there really is no denying the fishbowl that is Iowa City and Hawkeye basketball. Iowa just came away with one of their most productive seasons (sans the final game of the year), yet fans want to speculate where this coach goes and how much they want him to leave. Iowa doesn't have any other sports to watch in the state, so everyone focuses on the U of I's major sports - basketball and football. Both sports are highly criticised by the Iowa fan base. Ferentz received a lot of heat his first few years at Iowa, as did Alford. Iowa Hawkeye sports are, in fact, a big ol' fishbowl. Not that the University thinks its on the same level as Duke basketball or Notre Dame football, but because its fans cling to the team's success because they have nothing else (and of course their love for the team, as well).

So looking ahead to NEXT SEASON. There is NO WAY you bail out Alford next season by labeling it as a "rebuilding year." Unless Haluska and Henderson get suspended or injured, there isn't an excuse for not winning next season. I see Iowa as a Top 5 team in the Big Ten, getting close to 20 wins, and making another NCAA Tourney. If Alford does not successfully bring the Hawks to their third consecutive NCAA Tourney, then I am done with him.

Next year is NOT a rebuilding year, it's a reloading year.

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