• Brian Curtis 2003 book profiles Steve Alford, Mike Brey, Steve Lavin And Bill Self (at Illinois). Curtis was a coach and Fox talking head writing about coaches lives over a season. Great book from little Taylor publishing. No bling. No muck. No star making. Just an insightful look at our great coach and three others in mid career before the torch passed to them! This is the old style of sports journalism that was once and could be again. Reminds that not only are investigative journalists no longer working, but journalists with intelligence and experience in coaching are no longer getting published in non spectacular, but insightful work.

    You will know each of these coaches better after this book.

  • @jaybate-1.0

    Taylor Publishing is huge. They used to be the largest independent publisher of books in America. I’ve been in their main facility in Dallas… I think you could fly F16s in that building! They also have a school yearbook division. Think Balfour (class rings) acquired that part.

  • @drgnslayr

    My bad. That’s what I meant: independent. But I think you are confusing Taylor dba Balfour publishing in Dallas with Taylor Trade Publishing, a subsidiary of Roman Littlefield. RL began as University Books Press in 1948. The latter published this book. Still, this publisher is not tiny either. But not one of the giants either.

  • I’m impressed that you guys know so much about publishers!! Now I’m off to my local library to see if I can check out a copy. Thanks for the heads-up.

  • @jaybate-1.0 Thank you for the tidbit, 'Bate. So, before I read the book, what is your impression of Steve Alford? I know he has bit off a mouthful over there at UCLA…

  • @Careful-you good to see you buddy. Hope all’s well.

    @jaybate-1.0 thanks for the suggested reading. Need a new Self book. 👍

  • @ralster

    Alford comes off much more human in the book and less inscrutable and aloof than he projects.

    He faces the same kind of cultural barrier at UCLA that Wooden and Lavin did. Midwesterners are northerners and underneath the surfer jams and kicked back SOCAL surface, SOCAL is the Deep South come west, as surely as San Francisco is the old Northeast come west.

    It’s tough for most northerners to relate to true southern Californians in the same way they struggle with most true southerners. Lavin learned how to be appealing to SOCAL media, but even with Wooden and Pete Newell strongly behind him, he could never really win over the UCLA alumni. It’s more than just W&L and rings. They are a different breed, kind of like UNC’s alumni. So: you have to separate Alford from the culture to assess how he is doing.

    Also, Alford is subject to the same apparent petroshoeco recruiting constraint that Self appears to be at KU, only Alford has 10-20 million local SOCAL folks to offset it some what with. Still: you gotta separate Alford from the apparent embargo effect, too.

    As a Coach he totally masters Bob Knight ball, and seems to pick up Coach K’s innovations, but he is also greatly influenced by his father’s game, as the book makes clear and I suspect the departures from classic Knight/K ball are him trying to adapt his dad’s ideas to D1. His dad was a high school coach and Alford says in the book back at Iowa that he relied heavily on his dad’s philosophy too. I suspect Alford is a bit like Huggins in trying to use a father’s high school coaching ideas in D1. But whereas it’s straightforward with Huggins–Hugs often runs his dad’s old offense, it’s not clear to me exactly what Alford is borrowing from his pop. I suspect folks in Indiana would know. The book does not make it clear.

    I think Alford probably knows as much about the game, as a coach, as Self does, and played at a much higher level than Self ever did.

    But I have never watched him closely, so my impression is only 2 cents worth. It’s this: Alford’s deficiency is that so far anyway, while a fine game tactician and teacher, he is not charismatic and he has not innovated strategically in any way that gave him and his teams a decisive edge, as Self has done. Alford learns from others just as well as Self does, indicating flexibility, but he has not yet transformed any aspect of the game with his own vision, as Self has done in several aspects of the game.

    Best I can do so far.

  • @jaybate-1.0 Thank you. I’m simply curious how Alford will do compared to Ben Howland. I mean, after not going back to the Final 4 for a few yrs, Howland was done, a victim of his own past success, it seems. The UCLA faithful seemed impatient, but how patient will they be with Alford? How much time, I wonder, will they give him.

    Alford coached at Univ of New Mexico, where my dad got his PhD. I was born in Albuquerque, moved to KS when I was 3. So some odd reasons to follow Alford a bit. He also resurrected the college career of JRGiddens at UNM.

  • @jaybate-1.0 “SOCAL is the Deep South come west, as surely as San Francisco is the old Northeast come west.”

    Please expound on this idea. One difference between SFers and NYers that I’ve noticed is that SFers are way more into being recognized as exceptional individuals almost to a masturbatory extent. New Yorkers just want to get the job done right and can be short and to the point. But in my opinion, NYers are way more conducive to Midwestern culture and oddly not as arrogant about being from NY as you might expect.

  • @ralster

    Howland had some good success at UCLA… then he went off the deep end. He said crazy stuff, and he looked the other way while one of his players basically rednecked on other team members. That caused HS coaches and AAU coaches to pull their support and direct players to other schools.

    Howland is unique and unpredictable. I try to keep following him sometimes just to see what happens.

    Alford is the direct opposite of Howland. UCLA big dogs like him a lot. He’s kind of a rock star after they dealt with Howland.

    I’m sure the honeymoon may end someday. The fans and alums have good basketball knowledge and are also aware of the problems being so far west.

  • @ralster

    Howland was never the UCLA kinda guy IMHO. He wasn’t smooth and smart enough. Lavin had the look, but he confused Hollywood slick with UCLA smooth.

    It’s not enough to win big.

    It’s not enough to be SOCAL smooth.

    It’s not enough to be smart.

    You have to be all three.

    Wooden was very straight, but they can accept that if you are smooth, smart and win big.

    I think Alford is getting smooth, even though he is a straight arrow, as Wooden was.

    He’s very smart; that is huge at UCLA. Persons forget that UCLA is second only to UC-Berkeley in academic stature among state universities across the country, and ranked much higher than several Ivies. It’s really a great school academically. And SOCAL is very driven to be great academically. The association of small colleges including Pomona, Occidental, Claremont etc. are modeled off Oxford and have out stripped both the Big and Little IVYs in some kinds of rankings. They are to American spookdom what Oxford is to British Spookdom. And Cal Tech is just another realm above everything in physics and insane technologies. SOCAL is brainiac central behind the smog and road rage. So the UCLA coach needs sports pedigree and he must be smart. Smooth, not slick, astronomical standards but no swag, fierce but graceful. Hugely confident but no bragging. And win rings!

    They like a guy who is smart enough to outsmart the smartest. He’s close but not yet showing any genius.

    And he isn’t winning big. They will endure that if the coach can bring the rest.

    But can he?

    He’s probably go two more seasons at most to prove it.

  • @jaybate-1.0 I read somewhere a few years back that UCLA didn’t like the Howland grind it out offense, and preferred Alford’s uptempo game because it resembled Wooden’s offenses. I wonder if that factored in as well as the cultural differences you adeptly pointed out.

  • @jaybate-1.0 I love your followup post, because perhaps unwittingly, in your explanation of soCal culture, it made me think of 2 things, regarding “hollywood slick” and smooth, etc…–>

    First, is that if Alford moves on, UCLA can get Jay Wright. A perfect fit. I find it interesting that Gregg Marshall turned down UCLA’s offer. Maybe he didnt think he would fit in with the culture. I know he cannot recruit to the ability UCLA would need, and maybe Marshall knows that too. Or maybe the shoeCo’s would show some kids his way, who knows…But Jay Wright could be a “shoe-in” for the SoCal crowd.

    Second, your explanation goes a long way into explaining why a zany, tangential, metaphorical character like Bill Walton can be allowed to do color commentary for PacWest games. I can see that segment of SoCal society you describe, probably love Walton’s intellect. And make no mistake, he is “allowed” to have that on-air personality, just as Dick Vitale directly told my brother in law that he is told to have that on-air persona he is now infamous for. ESPN knows exactly what its target audiences want…

  • @ralster

    Good additions. Walton is a great example, as were Kareem, and Wilt In Southern California, you don’t have to conceal being smart, because so many persons are. You also can’t be pretentitious about it, because high IQ is not a scarce commodity. The important thing is that you are smooth beyond it. Intellect necessarily has sharp elbows in its field of application, so to live there successfully Even the bright folks have to chill. I think this is why persons would be surprised to find that Bill out of the limelight is probably very chill. Everyone there knows lots of exceptional people and they get used to it. For every nut you find there you will find ten, or a hundred incredibly bright people that are actually doing impressive things with their abilities; this some outsiders overlook, when forming stereotypes of Southern Californians. It attracts both types–The truly bright and those trying to fake that they are.

    The amazing thing about those three all time great big men is how overtly and unapologetically intellectual they were. SOCAL was a great fit for them. They wore their brains on their shirt sleeves, so to speak. Southern Californians are on the western perimeter of conus. They like smart people that leave the program, achieve massively, and come back to tell about It. People forget that those celebrities at the game are not just celebrities, but exceptionally talented at one thing or another. It’s like NYC in its share of bright persons, but not so urban, pressured and in your face.

    Walton is about as pure SOCAL as you can get. Californians totally get him.

    Jay Wright might adapt, but he may be more stylish than smooth. I can’t say. He would have to want to adapt some, as Jerry West did, but he seems smart, like Zeke from cabin Creek. West is an example of someone who could adapt, but obviously always wanted to get back to his home culture. There are few that can both.

  • @jaybate-1.0 As a counterpoint, even seemingly different Midwesterners like Self or Fred Hoiberg, would be far more comfortable and accepted in a midwestern setting, than maybe they would be at UCLA. Hoiberg goes from IowaSt to Chicago Bulls. Self staying Midwest so far his whole career, as @KULA once so poignantly noted.

    One final thought for UCLA: What if Brad Stevens wants to leave Celtics and go back to college ranks? Would he fit in SoCal? Seems smart enough. Not sure about the smooth, or the win “big”. Along those SoCal criteria, Shaka would get a big fat NO. He is more like the rebel “outsider”. And yes, his manner and demeanor does offend my midwestern sensibilities. His body of work is a flash in the pan. Brad Stevens has more credibility, but not much more. But he carries himself way differently. And that got him an NBA gig, didnt it. So there’s a clue about his smooth perhaps…

  • @jaybate-1.0

    Jay Wright would need a complete new wardrobe. His style is pure North East and would clash big time with the ubber casual Southern Cal style.

  • @JayHawkFanToo

    Without adaptation, yes. But Wooden seemed an unlikely adaptation. You can learn a lot about which coaches will fit, by studying the range of professors that are accepted and endowed by the admin and alumni. A coach that can play an admirable role of what faculty wishes it could be, instead of what it often has to be, is always accepted…if they win. Bill Self has to get down and crawl in the shoe slime, but he makes players go to class and talks about doing it the right way. He is not holier than thou. This appeals to KU faculty that have to crawl through slime for grants and still some how teach students to do it the right way. Self makes faculty feel better about themselves, because he makes the same compromises they do, but tries to put the best foot forward as they would like to do. And the foot he puts forward is very Positive midwesterny.


    I am not sure that many KU fans remember this, but the chancellor that put UCLA on the map and made it become what it is today was previously KU Chancellor Franklin Murphy, born KC, KU ‘36, and Ku’'s chancellor who turned KU largely into what it is today. Murphy was a brilliant ( Phi Beta Kappa) medical doctorate physician educated at University of Pennsylvania, that Was a World War II army veteran, who came home and joined KU Med medical faculty and within a few years became its director, built it up, then became KU’s Chancellor. After a fallout with Gov. George Docking, Murphy accepted an offer from the great UC system President Clark Kerr to come and take UCLA to the next level. No telling how much greater KU would have been had Murphy stayed. Murphy is credited with turning UCLA into the world class graduate research university we know to day and launching UCLA MEDICAL SCHOOL to the elite level. He birthe the Jules Stein institute and it was Murphy who shepherded UCLA through the 1960s without the student and police violence that wracked Berkeley under Kerr and KU under Wescoe. Murphy was a great chancellor by any measure. I swear, when I once walked UCLA’s campus I could feel some kinship between KU and UCLA in the culture and design of both schools he so strongly influenced. It’s a feeling and attitude, not a look.

    UCLA started humbly from a juco. It lacks the legacy snobbishness of UC and Stanford. It was born in the era of the Depression and war when many Southern Californians were displaced midwesterners. No doubt they found connections to Steve on many levels, for he is not on the surface a UCLA guy. But they value the Wooden legacy like we value Phog and they want to do right by it and the game. But doing right there is more complicated because LA IS different than Lawrence. There are more constraints to meet.

    People forget that they have often outsourced for basketball coaches, between trying to hire there own… They hired LB before KU did. LB was an appeal to the old KU tradition through DEAN AND UNC. They hired Lavin, who only looked slick, but was actually a Gene Keady guy from Wooden’s Purdue and Keady was a Sutton guy and a Kay grad. Howland was hired because he had assisted for a time at UCLA, but otherwise he didn’t really have the pedigris.

    If Alford can get players under the apparent embargo, he could make it. They like a smart square every now and then. And Wooden told them endlessly his game descended from Big Ten ball and from Iba. Wooden did not like Knights mouth and physical aggression with players and refs. But he thought Knight was a great coach and Alford and “Indiana” kind of person. That explains Alford and Lavin and so on.

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