Let me start by saying I have no ill will towards Steve Alford. I did at one point, a decade ago. The reason for that was I strongly believed Alford was being disingenuous with Iowa fans related to his interest in the Missouri basketball opening in 2006.
I said on the air during my KXNO radio show that I believed Alford was lying when he denied interest in the job, because I had very, very, very good reason to believe he did have interest.
But we all move on, we all grow older and sometimes we look back on how we handled things and we come to the conclusion that we could have handled them better. That’s how I felt a few years ago, pursuant to what I just described above. So I sent then New Mexico Coach Steve Alford an email and apologized for the bombastic and sensational aspects to how I reported on those matters.
Steve emailed me back, saying he was surprised to hear from me, we buried the hatchet and life moves on.
I believe that Steve Alford learned while on the job at Iowa…learned a lot…and if he could have had a few do overs, especially pursuant to how he handled the Pierre Pierce rape allegations, he would have. But we have yet to invent time travel.
Why am I bringing all of this up now, in 2017? I didn’t intend to, but ESPN broadcaster and basketball analyst Dan Dakich decided to write some revisionist history…or speak to it, on Saturday morning.
Here is what Dakich said:
Here's Dakich comments to which I referred in previous tweet. pic.twitter.com/HmY1gcVPPX
— Rob Howe (@RobHoweHN) March 18, 2017
I don’t hold Dakich to a standard of that of a hard news reporter for an unbiased news gathering agency (those used to exist). Dakich played at Indiana, he coached at Indiana, he lives in Indiana. I get it, and I am fine with that. I actually like it when folks don’t try to hide from their biases. I also think Dakich is one of the best basketball analysts on TV today, and he hosts a successful midday sports talk radio show in Indianapolis that does quite well in the ratings. Dan’s a great talker, a talented talker and one of the more entertaining argumentative’s of his time.
But when Dakich begins this piece by saying he helped broker the deal for Alford to New Mexico, that grabs my attention. And when he implies that Alford left Iowa because of flagging fan support in Iowa and how New Mexico had better fan support, that more than grabs my attention.
HN’s Rob Howe tweeted about what Dakich said, and Dakich replied:
Dan Dakich basically just said on ESPN2 that he helped broker Steve Alford's move from Iowa to New Mexico because of fan support at NM.
— Rob Howe (@RobHoweHN) March 18, 2017
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New Mexico has a great tradition of supporting its basketball program, of that there is no doubt. So does Iowa.
Here is a link to the history of the top performing men’s basketball programs, attendance wise, since 1970. In 1978, the NCAA began tracking a Top 25 in attendance.
From 1978 through Tom Davis’ final year at Iowa, the Hawkeyes were in the Top 17 in attendance every year, as was New Mexico. More often than not during that time span, Iowa was in the Top 10, as was New Mexico. We’re talking excellent fan support for both programs. Iowa had also made the NCAA tournament three out of every four years during that time span, too.
Steve Alford was hired at Iowa in 1999. During his first three years at Iowa, the Hawkeyes ranked 13th, 12th and 12th nationally in attendance. Then something happened…
It’s at this point that I would say to Steve Aford, ‘Hey, if Dakich is your friend, you might want to tell him to stop bringing up any references to your time at Iowa. Most writers around here had little to no reason at this point to dig up old bones, but your boy Dakich is now giving us reasons to do so.’
What happened in 2002-2003? Then Iowa point guard Pierre Pierce was accused of rape. Steve Alford immediately came to Pierce’s defense and the things he said were incredibly insensitive to the alleged (at the time) victim. Alford would, many years later, apologize for how he handled things at that time.
“At that time, I instinctively and mistakenly came to Pierce’s defense before knowing all the facts,” Alford said in a 2013 release. “I wanted to believe he was innocent, and in response to a media question, I publicly proclaimed his innocence before the legal system had run its course.”
Like I wrote earlier, I am sure Alford would have handled things differently, after having had many years to reflect on how he handled it originally. I don’t doubt that all. Steve Alford is not a monster, and each of us (or at least the non-monsters) is a different person in our late 40’s than we were in our early to mid-30’s.
But the incident, Alford’s handling of the incident, a deal being worked to where Pierce could return to action only to later run afoul of the law the following season….well, a number of Iowa basketball fans were not going to support that… They chose to not support that by staying away from basketball games.
Iowa, a program that had been in the Top 17 in national attendance since they began to track a Top 25 in 1978, all of the sudden began to drop in attendance.
Dakich would likely call this ‘support’…or that New Mexico had ‘more support of basketball’ than Iowa had at that time.
Here were Iowa’s attendance rankings following the ‘Pierce Incident’
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2007: Not in the Top 25, averaging 12,196. By the way, New Mexico averaged 12,853 that year.
2007 was Alford’s last year at Iowa. To be fair, I would also say that I believe Alford was promised much needed facilities upgrades by Athletics Director Bob Bowlsby, which eventually came but after football was taken care of.
Alford brought this up during the time when he left Iowa for New Mexico.
But Dakich’s reparisal of events, or ‘support’, is lacking depth or context. There is a reason why Iowa fans stopped coming to Iowa basketball games the way they had during the first three years of his tenure, and that’s because Alford backed a rapist without any thoughts for the victim. A large enough segment of Iowa fans chose not to be a part of that in any way, and frankly, most all of Alford’s good will had eroded during that time in all minds save the sycophants.
Dakich and I had a few back and forths on twitter Saturday morning…some of the replies were snarky (mine included) and if you care about such side shows, you can read them here. But I’m really not interested in being involved in this story….and to me, this story is about dredging up tired old excuses for why Steve Alford left Iowa. I had really not given any thought to it in a long while, until Dakich went grave digging on Saturday morning.
So Dan, if you are going to do it, please try to get it right and not just be an echo chamber for what Steve told you back in 2007, which led you to ‘broker the New Mexico’ deal for him.
Steve Alford got out of Iowa City ahead of the posse. If you want to frame it in the tired old refrain that he left for a school that actually supported basketball, please be sure to include the reasons why a considerable contingent of Iowa fans no longer supported Iowa basketball under Steve Alford.
PS: Since 2014, which includes the end of the Alford era and the NCAA suspension-like Todd Lickliter era, Hawkeye attendance is back to normal…as in one of the best supported programs in the sport.
2017: Not yet released but will be in the Top 25 again.
PSS: I’d love to see Alford return to Indiana. If it happens, it means it’s something he really wanted and I am all for folks getting to live out their dreams. It would also make for some increased drama when Iowa and Indiana play one another in hoops.
But some in Indiana are already brining up Alford’s handling of the Pierce Incident at Iowa for a reason why Indiana should NOT hire him this go around.