New Mexico gets some payback

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Updated: 5/20/2013 10:57 am

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Congratulations Steve Alford, you and your New Mexico Lobos just lost to underdog Harvard in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, please accept your parting gift of a seven-year, $18.2 million contract with UCLA.

Granted, this didn't take place in recent days, it was a deal struck at the end of March, but Alford is back in the news even before leading the Bruins onto the floor to tip off the 2013-14 campaign in Los Angeles.

Over the weekend, Alford's former employer in Albuquerque announced that it had come to an agreement in principle about the coach's buyout and even though the amount is in the six-figure range, in some minds it is not nearly enough to counter the manner in which Alford handled his transition from UNM to UCLA.

Initially, New Mexico had asked Alford to write a check for $1 million, but the coach balked. The coach was willing to hand over $200,000 instead, but that simply wasn't in the same ballpark. For the most part, the sides have agreed on a figure of $625,000, with some finer details still to be hammered out.

Perhaps the divorce between the two sides would not have been so contentious were it not for the manner in which it played out over a span of barely two weeks during that maddening month of college hoops.

Alford, a high school phenom who was named Indiana's "Mr. Basketball" before choosing to play for Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers, has certainly paid his dues when it comes to steadily climbing up the college coaching ladder. After a brief professional career in the NBA, Alford began his ascent by taking over tiny Manchester College in Indiana, a Division III program, back in 1991.

At Manchester, Alford built a highly successful program that reached its pinnacle with an appearance in the D-III championship game in 1995, the squad finishing second in the nation with a record of 31-1. He finished with a record of 78-29 during his tenure there.

Onto Southwest Missouri State where Alford guided that group to a 78-48 mark and a spot in the NCAA Tournament where the Bears bowed to Duke in the round of 16 in 1999.

Iowa then came calling on the rising star and although the Hawkeyes had a tough time competing in the Big Ten Conference (61-67), Alford still led the program to six postseason appearances and a record of 152-106 overall.

Over in the Mountain West Conference with New Mexico between 2007-2013, Alford raised his visibility considerably. In each of his six campaigns with the Lobos the team won at least 22 games and finished in at least a tie for first in the league standings four times. Nationally ranked this past season, the Lobos again won the MWC Tournament in Las Vegas with victories over Wyoming, San Diego State and host UNLV, but there was still more to accomplish.

An automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament was the reward for the entire team for their efforts in Sin City, but Alford had his sights set on a much bigger prize, one that would fit neatly into his bank account, and the university was more than happy to accommodate.

Just days after taking out the Runnin' Rebels at the Thomas & Mack Center, New Mexico Vice President of Athletics Paul Krebs announced a new 10-year agreement with Steve Alford to remain as the head basketball coach of the Lobos.

"I have said from our first game in The Pit that this was a special place and that it was a tremendous honor to be the head basketball coach at the University of New Mexico. Now six years in, we have built a Top-25 program on and off the court," said Alford of the agreement.

Sounds promising, right?

"There is no other place I would rather coach than at UNM, representing the best fans in the country ... I'm very excited about what we have accomplished in our first six years, and I look forward to building on those successes in the future."

Apparently Alford, who made those statements on March 20, has a different idea of what the "future" is compared to the rest of us.

One day later, the Lobos hit the hardwood in Salt Lake City, UT against the Crimson in the second round of the NCAA Tournament (actually, the first game of the event for UNM) and promptly dropped a 68-62 decision and headed home.

Sure, the end came far too soon for New Mexico in 2013, but the promise of Alford continuing to lead this squad for another decade was still an exciting prospect. The coach has one of the better winning percentages, .663 (463-235), in the game and was clearly the right man for the job in the Land of Enchantment.

That is, before the coaching carousel kicked into high gear as the bulk of more than 40 job openings at the Division I level went up for grabs.

Just days after expressing his love for his team, the school, and the Albuquerque community, Alford had a change of heart. That change was precipitated by the firing of Ben Howland at UCLA, after he failed to live up to the lofty expectations that come with a program that has won 11 national titles.

Under the radar, through back channels, on the down low, however you want to describe the secretive talks, Alford went from being beloved at UNM to someone they would want to throw into The Pit and torn to shreds by actual wolves.

"I don't want anything but success for this program," Alford said of UNM on his way out the door. "Players (UNM), they should be upset, they should be frustrated. I'm upset, I'm frustrated even though I'm very excited and it's a happy day for me and my family, there's some sadness to it too."

Those statements sounded rather hollow however. Disingenuous comments made by a man trying to get out of town without causing civil unrest and remaining in one piece.

Fast-forward to April 2 and Pauley Pavilion where Alford was back with more spin control during his introduction as the newest head coach of the Bruins.

"As I started looking into this opportunity, and it was a very difficult decision, it was a leap of faith, it was a family decision ... I just saw a place that could really help better everything about our family."

I suppose what he is trying to say is that there are new opportunities opening up for his family in a new locale, and not so much that his brood had outgrown New Mexico, but still it came off rather elitist in nature nonetheless. Nothing like pretending to care so much about the people you deserted, and hope that they can look beyond your insincerity.

How can you even begin to trust someone like Alford who claimed to embody all the University of New Mexico stood for, made a significant commitment to the Lobos only days earlier, and then scurried away when he was presented with another opportunity? How do players and fans stay loyal to a coach when the values are not reciprocated?

Congratulations New Mexico for being treated like the ugly step-child in all of this, but at least you've proven that you are the bigger man.

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