Steve Alford inherits a good job at Nevada but one that also requires some immediate attention in some specific areas. Here’s a look at what should be at the top of Alford’s to-do list as he tries to get off to a strong start as the Wolf Pack’s head basketball coach.
Re-recruit Nevada’s current players
Almost the entirety of Nevada’s roster is in the transfer portal, which doesn’t mean they won’t return to the Wolf Pack. In fact, many have expressed a desire to potentially come back and are just testing the waters. But Alford will have to win them over. The core five are Jalen Harris, Jordan Brown, Eric Parrish, Jazz Johnson and Lindsey Drew. If Alford can retain all five of those players, he pulled off a miracle. If he can keep four, it’s a big win. If it is three or less, Nevada’s roster is going to be pretty thin in 2019-20. Eric Musselman didn’t leave behind a barren roster, but Alford will have to work hard to keep the talent that was leftover on campus or else his first season could be rough.
Recruit an entire 2019 class
In the best-case scenario where Alford retains every Wolf Pack player in the transfer portal, he’d still have four open scholarships for the 2019 class. The number is more likely to be around six or seven players, which is basically half your roster. It’s far from ideal to have to recruit half a team when you get a job in mid-April, but Nevada only signed one player in November’s early signing period (Parrish, who has requested a release) and didn’t have a commit from a high school player since Musselman goes hard in the transfer market and holds scholarships for the summer. Since Alford was fired in New Year’s Eve, he might not have the active relationships with 2019 prep recruits that you’d want, but he has strong ties and a lot of spaces to fill.
Put together a staff
Musselman didn’t raid Nevada’s staff, taking only assistant coach Anthony Ruta and grad assistant Michael Musselman. I also expect player development coach Hays Myers to make the leap. But I don’t think you’ll see many from Nevada’s 18-person 2018-19 coaching staff retained. Keeping Gus Argenal, who interviewed this week for the Idaho State job, could help keep some of the current roster in place. He’s a good coach. You could see Craig Neal – Alford’s childhood friend and his assistant at Iowa and New Mexico before replacing him as the Lobos’ head coach – added to the staff. He was in the mix for the position that went to Rex Walters on Nevada’s staff last year. You also could see Chris Walker, a former Lobo assistant under Alford who was most recently at Cal, on the Wolf Pack sideline.
Finish the non-conference schedule
Nevada can schedule up to 13 non-conference games since it is playing in the Paradise Jam, which gives it an exempt slot. The Wolf Pack has filled eight of those slots with home games against USC and Utah; road games at BYU and Davidson; and three games at the Paradise Jam, a mid-level tournament in the Virgin Islands that includes Nevada, Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Fordham, Grand Canyon, Illinois State, Valparaiso and Western Kentucky. There’s one more quality neutral-site game that has a finalized contract (I’ll post something on that next week). So, Alford can schedule five more games. Typically, you want to match the difficulty of your schedule to the talent on your team, so it might be tough to schedule until Alford knows who is coming back. But the Wolf Pack has the base of a pretty solid schedule in place already.
Start to build community connection
Musselman was beloved by the community, which led to historic season-ticket sales and total attendance marks, with the Wolf Pack setting per-game program highs in three straight seasons. The way he left Reno – some fans weren’t happy with some of the social media posts as he exited – makes it easier for Alford to win the community’s support. Fans seem to be pumped up about the hire, so he should find Northern Nevada a much friendlier place than Los Angeles as UCLA fans were lukewarm about his hiring from the start. The Wolf Pack is Reno’s pro sports team. Alford will, in many ways, be the face of Nevada athletics, a role he’ll have to embrace to sustain the massive crowds at Lawlor Events Center. And let’s face it: Ticket sales are as important as wins in college athletics these days.
Reach out to Eric Musselman
Musselman voiced his approval of Alford’s hiring during a radio spot on The Jim Rome show Thursday afternoon, saying: “I know Coach Alford is an incredible coach. Hopefully all of the guys at Nevada now feel they have a coach who is really, really respected throughout college basketball and a coach who has coached at the highest level at UCLA and to me that’s a great get for the Wolf Pack family and our guys who are there are in really, really good hands.” It never hurts to reach out to the person who previously sat in your seat to pick his brain about the program and players you’re inheriting. I’m sure Musselman would be open to a conversation, and it wouldn't hurt for Alford to get a little intel on his new job.
Reach out to ex-Wolf Pack stars
Alford’s contract, which includes stiff buyouts both ways, means he’s probably going to be in Reno for a while, so it’d make sense to bridge the future with the past. Musselman did a good job of building a relationship with former Wolf Pack star Ramon Sessions, who donated $1 million to help make Nevada’s practice facility a reality. Alford should touch bases with him, current NBA player JaVale McGee and try to build bonds with guys like Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Jordan Caroline, Luke Babbitt, etc. This is clearly not at the top of his list. There are much more pressing issues to address. But if this is going to be Alford’s last job, as he said in a news release announcing his hiring Thursday, it is important.
Social media classes?
Alford’s last tweet came Oct. 30, 2013, the day of the first game he coached at UCLA. It reads: “We're excited to play in Pauley tonight! Time to focus on our team. Last tweet until our season ends. GO BRUINS #8clap” It wasn’t just his last tweet until the season ended. It was his last tweet period. Alford doesn’t need to mimic Musselman’s social media presence, but social media has become a key part of recruiting, getting student support and building a fan base. One of the reasons the Wolf Pack crowds have been so strong over the last couple of seasons was Musselman’s social media push. Obviously winning games is the most important thing, but Alford could increase his social media presence, too.
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @MurrayNSN.