When you coach a basketball program that has reached 18 Final Fours and captured 11 national championships, fans expect you to win. And when you fail to win, well, they get frustrated.
On Thursday, two days after UCLA lost to St. Bonaventure in the NCAA Tournament’s glorified play-in round, Bruins fans flew a plane carrying a banner with the words “FINAL FOURS NOT FIRST FOURS #FIREALFORD.”
— Tony Rossi (@TonyLfr23) March 15, 2018
In Steve Alford’s five seasons coaching UCLA, the program has reached the NCAA Tournament four times and the Sweet 16 three times but failed to advance past the Sweet 16. A charitable view of Alford’s tenure would emphasize that the Bruins have performed better over the last five years than they did in the second half of Bill Howland’s stint at the helm. An uncharitable one would argue that UCLA is supposed to be a national power and that alternating Sweet 16 appearances and early exits (or altogether misses) does not count as successful.
Even if UCLA had beaten St. Bonaventure on Tuesday, this would have been a fairly disappointing season. The Bruins entered the campaign ranked No. 21 in the AP Top 25 (and No. 18 in the Coaches Poll), then skidded to a 21-12 record and a No. 11 seed. No program will be thrilled with that kind of underperformance — least of all one with UCLA’s history.
If UCLA does decide to fire Alford, it won’t be cheap. The coach is signed through the 2020-21 season, and his contract reportedly includes a whopping $10.4 million buyout. For the athletic department to swallow that pill, it will have to be damn sure it can replace Alford with someone substantially better.
But even if Alford returns to Westwood next fall, he won’t easily escape the stink of this year’s disappointing finish. In the best-case scenario, he will be coaching for his job in 2018-19. Because when fans are flying planes to demand your firing, that typically means your seat is extremely hot.