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Why Steve Alford could make Nevada the final stop in his coaching career

Steve Alford
UCLA was too good of a job to pass up for Steve Alford, but he plans at being at Nevada for the long haul. (UCLA handout)

Steve Alford's 10-year contract with Nevada isn't the first time he's signed a decade-long pact.

After six highly successful seasons at New Mexico, Alford inked a 10-year, $20 million deal with the Lobos in March 2013. Less than two weeks later, and before the contract even officially started, Alford left for UCLA.

“It’s UCLA. It’s 11 national championships,” Alford said at the time. “It’s not just the top tier ... it’s the most storied men’s-side program in the history of college basketball. That’s a huge draw when you’re a gym rat.”

Alford's run at UCLA ended last December when he fired after five-and-a-half seasons on the job, including three that ended in the Sweet 16. Nevada quickly scooped him up with an unprecedented deal for the Wolf Pack, a 10-year, $11.6 million fully guaranteed contract that is twice as long and more than twice as expensive as any contract the school has ever handed a coach (the previous record was Eric Musselman's five-year, $5 million deal signed in May 2017).

One of the reasons Nevada athletic director Doug Knuth and university president Marc Johnson made such a long-term commitment to Alford was the belief the fan base wanted a coach who would stick around for the long haul after Trent Johnson (Stanford), Mark Fox (Georgia) and Eric Musselman (Arkansas) all used Nevada as a steppingstone to higher-paying power-conference jobs in the last 15 years.

Alford has moved around his fair share during his career with stops at Manchester University (four years), Missouri State (four years), Iowa (eight years), New Mexico (six years) and UCLA (5.5 years). But the belief with the Wolf Pack is Alford is ready to make Nevada the final stop in his coaching career, which now spans nearly three decades.

Alford has already had two stops in power conferences (UCLA in the Pac-12 and Iowa in the Big 10), and he said the ambition to coach in the big conferences has already been satisfied.

“I’ve been there, I’ve done that and I don’t get wrapped up in that," Alford told Nevada Sports Net last month. "I’ve seen it now. You look at Loyola Chicago. They made a Final Four. They had a Cinderella run. That’s the top of the food chain. It’s not easy to do. Fans need to understand that. I don’t care where I’ve been. It’s hard. When you have 68 teams that make it out of (353) and you’re playing on neutral sites, you have to stay healthy, you have to be playing your best basketball, you have to be a solid defensive team and you have to be a team that can make shots. There are a lot of things that go into advancing in that tournament. Matchups are a big key and you don’t have any control over that. The selection committee does. It’s hard to even get in the tournament. It’s harder to even advance. But that’s pie in the sky for us, building something that hasn’t been done before and hopefully we’ll be able to accomplish those things, but we’re definitely in it for the long haul.”

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Alford has a genuine love of the MW, where he won five conference championships in six years with New Mexico when the league was at its peak. Asked what most excited him about the Nevada job, he said getting back to the conference where he had his greatest success.

“Maybe just getting back to the league," Alford said. "The bookends of the Mountain West for me was the Big 10, which I played in and coached in for eight years at Iowa, and UCLA, which obviously when you think about tradition it doesn’t get any better than that. Obviously, it’s a Pac-12 school. So squeezed in between that was a Mountain West experience and we just had an incredible experience those six years of building a culture we wanted to build and I think those levels and the bookends, very blessed to have those opportunities, but each different.

"I’m glad I got those opportunities. But now at 54 almost 55 years of age, almost 29 years in the business, we have the blueprint and we know how we want to do it. Getting to a place like Nevada with an AD, a boss like Doug Knuth and an administration that believes in your and wants to help you, I think the things are there to build what we were able to do at New Mexico and build it here. Obviously it’s a little bit different than what we took over at New Mexico. The high level is here, the attention is here, the support is here. Now it’s about consistency. I have no interest in moving. I want to make roots and settle down late in my career and build something very special.”

At Nevada, Alford will be tasked with taking an NCAA Tournament-caliber program and trying to elevate it. After his run at UCLA, he's used to high expectations, as simply getting to the Sweet 16 in Westwood was deemed more a failure than a success. Most Nevada fans would take a Sweet 16 appearance three times in five seasons like Alford accomplished at UCLA, but doing so won't be easy.

“This just looked like the perfect storm for me because I love being out West," Alford said of taking the Nevada job. "I love the weather out West. I love the cities that we visit and play out West. Everything I’ve been able to research of Reno, the people, I looked at the coaches who have been here who have coached here and come back. Players who have played here and come back. That’s a telltale. If you end up coming back, that means it’s a pretty special place. All of those things and the administration, everything seemed to align here and it just so happened Muss has got it at a high level of winning. It’s a Top 25 program. Now, can we sustain that and continue to build on it and make it something that’s consistent?”

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