Knipfing’s Notes: ‘Noodle’ ReboundApril 5th, 2013 at 9:00 am by Dick Knipfing under Latest Posts
Ever break up with your steady in high school? It’s tough. Heartbreaking. Sad.
Neil Sedaka sang it true when he was singin’ blue in 1962:
Don’t take your love away from me
Don’t you leave my heart in misery
If you go then I’ll be blue ’cause breaking up is hard to do.
“Breaking up is Hard to do” as we learned once again this week.
One of those “where were you when you heard?” moments swept across Albuquerque last Saturday morning when word leaked that Steve Alford who had led Lobo basketball to such heights, was bailing for UCLA. It was especially stunning given the highly hyped announcement just ten days earlier that he had accepted a new ten year deal to stay here.
There’s endless speculation about what led to the gut-wrenchingly sudden change of heart. UCLA not only upped the ante, it doubled the deal, giving Alford a package of at least $2.5 million a year. And, after all, UCLA is one of the legendary programs in college basketball. Hard to turn that down even though Alford said just two months ago how happy he was here, adding “One of the things you don’t usually mess with is happy.” Guess we should have read more into that word “usually.”
Some people blame negativity from the Albuquerque media for driving him off. Alford was mightily miffed when reporters pressed him during a news conference a few days after the Harvard loss about how big a blemish that was on the season. Alford had an edge in his voice as he insisted that despite the shocking NCAA upset, UNM had a great season. No argument there but he didn’t seem to understand how that loss was such a total bummer for so many longtime fans who have suffered so many letdowns for so many years. Whatever! If questions about that, and other media negativity, did contribute to his UCLA decision, he’s already learned that he’s in for much worse there than here.
The second question at Alford’s UCLA introductory news conference was about his handling of sexual assault charges against one of his star players at the University of Iowa in 2003. A Chicago reporter who originally covered that story, headlined his blog on Alford’s move to UCLA: “UCLA Hired a Scum Bag”, going on to accuse Alford of acting to “shield a violent criminal and intimidate the victim, both publicly and privately.” Alford insists he did nothing wrong, the he simply followed the instructions of the Iowa administration in handling the incident. Whether he did or didn’t, the questions about the Iowa incident are a clear indication that he’s in for a rough time from the LA media. One LA columnist even described him as a “dolt”.
The ugly break up here may pale in comparison to the ugliness Alford faces there. Maybe he should have thought harder about that “don’t mess with happy” line.
On top of all that, UNM has now decided that he owes a million dollar buyout and has sent him a demand letter.
No, it was not a great first week on the new job for the ex-Lobo leader. But, in the end, from a strictly basketball perspective, UNM fans, no matter how unhappy they are about his sudden departure, owe Steve Alford a big “thanks” for taking a program that was a wreck six years ago and making it a perennial champion. He did the job he was hired to do, and did it well.
Now his long time top assistant, Craig Neal, has the job. There was great happiness about his hiring Wednesday. His basketball pedigree is top notch, the players clearly wanted him to succeed Alford, and his emotional and often funny news conference showed us a likeable personality that rarely surfaced in public during the Alford years. Besides, how could you not like a coach whose nickname is “Noodles.”
Just remember, though, that if “Noodles” does as well, or better (we hope), than his ex boss, we’re likely headed for another break up a few years down the road. It’s the nature of college basketball and football that when a mid-major coach succeeds, he gets offers from the big guys that are hard to turn down.
Keep that Neil Sedaka record handy.