Eleven days ago, New Mexico announced a 10-year contract extension for Coach Steve Alford, who agreed to coach the Lobos until 2023. But on Saturday, U.C.L.A. announced that Alford would be its next coach, the latest man charged with returning the Bruins to glory.
After his seven-year, $18.2 million deal with U.C.L.A. was announced, Alford said in a teleconference that he loved New Mexico, the university and his team. He said he loved Albuquerque, and that his family did, too.
“I thought this was long term,” he said, but that he was leaving because his new job was a chance to coach “the premier basketball program in the country.”
“It goes back to the four letters: it’s U.C.L.A,” he said.
Even if, it seems, that what he is inheriting is no longer the U.C.L.A. of John Wooden and his 10 national titles.
Coach Ben Howland was fired last week after 10 seasons. He took the Bruins to three straight N.C.A.A. Final Fours through 2008 but failed to make the tournament’s Round of 16 in five seasons since. This season, U.C.L.A. (25-10) lost its opening game by 20 points.
Coaches were not fighting one another for Howland’s job. Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart and Butler’s Brad Stevens were said to prefer their current positions. They have found success, especially in the tournament. Alford has not.
In six seasons, Alford coached New Mexico to three N.C.A.A. tournament appearances — as a No. 3 seed in 2010, a No. 5 in 2012, and a No. 3 this season — but never reached the Round of 16. And yet U.C.L.A.’s athletic director, Dan Guerrero, said he believed Alford could deliver “sustained success.”
Guerrero was vague in defining success. He did not demand championships or Round of 16 berths or conference titles. He praised Alford, 48, as a competitor, a teacher and a builder of programs.
He said Alford, most important, was “an individual who wanted to accept the challenge of being the head coach at U.C.L.A.”
Asked if he could handle the pressure, Alford pointed to his decorated high school career, his participation in the 1984 Summer Olympics for the United States, his four seasons at Indiana under Bob Knight and his 22 years as a college coach.
“So nobody understands pressure any more than I do,” he said.
Guerrero said: “He’s not the kind of guy that will shy away from what U.C.L.A. basketball is all about. He’ll handle the expectations with dignity, with understanding and with class.”
Alford started his coaching career in 1991 at Manchester College, a Division III program in Indiana. He made stops at Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State), Iowa and then New Mexico, where he went 155-52 but lost to Harvard in the opening round this season.
At U.C.L.A., Alford’s “first order of business,” Guerrero said, would be to re-establish the program’s recruiting presence in Southern California. That connection, which was “critically important,” had been lost, Guerrero said.