Sunday, March 25, 2007

New Sheriff In Town

Not having a television, Josh and I went over to my parents' house yesterday and again today to watch the tournament games.

My mother baked a ham for us for dinner last night, and tonight she stuffed and roasted chickens for us for dinner. We watched the games, and we ate well, and we all had a very nice time together.

All weekend we talked and talked and talked about Tubby Smith's hire at Minnesota and what it would mean for the Minnesota program, and we concluded that the hire was an exceptional move on the part of the University Of Minnesota Athletic Director.

Everyone here is still talking, nonstop, about Smith's assumption of the helm of the Minnesota program. It was the primary--no, it was the only--topic of conversation at church this morning, before and after the service. Opinion, from all quarters, was universally positive.

My father, a native of Iowa, is equally thrilled that Steve Alford was quietly shoved aside at the University Of Iowa--and without Iowa having to pay Alford the $2,000,000.00 buyout it would have owed him had Alford been discharged.

Iowa has a new Athletic Director, and the new Athletic Director clearly wanted to replace Alford. However, the University Of Iowa is between university presidents at the moment, so the new Iowa Athletic Director could not, from a political standpoint, discharge Alford at this time.

So what did he do? He gave a series of highly-publicized post-season interviews to the media outlets in the state, letting everyone know that he expected much, much better things from Alford next season.

When he read those interviews, my father said that the Iowa Athletic Director was letting Alford know that there was a new sheriff in town and, if Alford was smart, that Alford would find another job on his own before he was fired a year from now. And, as it turns out, Alford took the not-so-subtle hint, and left Iowa for a far less prestigious job in New Mexico.

My father is very pleased. Alford's eight years in Iowa City did near-irreparable harm to the program, a program in which Alford's predecessors had been Tom Davis, Lute Olson, and Ralph Miller, championship coaches all and gentlemen of the old school.

There is something wrong with Steve Alford. Everyone disliked him immensely in his previous job, at Southwest Missouri State in Springfield, Missouri, and they still disliked him even after he took the school to the Sweet Sixteen for the first (and only) time in the school's history. Attendance declined sharply during Alford's years in Springfield, and fans in Springfield positively celebrated after he took the Iowa job and left town.

In Iowa, Alford was disliked even more than he was disliked in Springfield, and he was not disliked merely because he was a lousy coach--he was disliked as a human being. People in Iowa took a visceral and deep dislike to Alford after he had been there about a year, and that dislike only continued to swell as his tenure dragged on and on, far too long. Attendance in Iowa City collapsed, and the program lost its good will among the state's citizens.

Iowa fans are now doing cartwheels, celebrating Alford's departure as if it were an appearance in the Final Four. But why was Alford permitted to last in the job so long?

My Dad says it was because Iowa's former Athletic Director, Bob Bowlsby, now at Stanford, would not admit that he had made a mistake in hiring Alford. This was a blind spot that Bowlsby had, and nothing would make Bowlsby change his mind about Alford, even when university officials and major contributors would try to talk to Bowlsby about the situation.

A long-time friend of my Dad, a businessman from Des Moines and a diehard Hawkeye fan, assumed that Iowa was only keeping Alford in order not to have to pay him the millions of dollars owed, by contract, if Alford was fired. My Dad's friend offered to cough up the money Iowa would need to buy out Alford's contract, and he made his offer in 2003, 2004 and again in 2005. His offer was not accepted.

Fortunately, "the new sheriff in town" did his job, and he engineered Alford's departure from Iowa City. My father is relieved, and he would be doing cartwheels, too, except that my mother will not allow it.

Over the weekend, newpapers reported that the private plane carrying Alford from Iowa to New Mexico, where Alford was to be introduced as New Mexico's new coach later that day, was struck by lightning shortly after takeoff from Cedar Rapids.

Not a good omen, I believe.

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