Iowa coach Steve Alford tells Hawkeyes he's leaving

Steve Alford

Des Moines, Iowa - Instead of rebuilding Iowa, coach Steve Alford will try to transform New Mexico.

"Things came up, and this is the decision he had to make," senior guard Mike Henderson said after Alford told players of his decision during a team meeting Thursday.

New Mexico athletics department spokesman Greg Remington said there will be a 2 p.m. MDT news conference Friday in Albuquerque.

Alford, a former star at Indiana, had a 152-106 record in eight seasons at Iowa. He led the Hawkeyes to three NCAA tournament appearances, but Iowa won just one NCAA tournament game under his leadership. Last season, the Hawkeyes were upset by 14th-seeded Northwestern State in the opening round.

Iowa finished 17-14 this season. Athletic director Gary Barta has said he didn't want to go through another year of rebuilding, stressing the team "just needed to be better than we were this year."

Alford told his players he's looking forward to the chance to start fresh in Albuquerque.

"He wanted to get his family out of this negative environment," center Seth Gorney said.

Alford declined comment.

He has been mentioned as a candidate at New Mexico since coach Ritchie McKay was fired after five seasons. McKay, who had three years remaining on his contract, was 82-65 in five seasons, including a dismal 8-41 road record.

Alford was hired in 1999 to take the Iowa program to the next level; instead, it slipped during his tenure. The Hawkeyes made the NCAA tournament nine times in 13 seasons under former coach Tom Davis, reaching the round of 16 in 1999.

They haven't been back since.

That doesn't matter to the Lobos, who see Alford as a big name who can have a major impact on a mid-major program.

"He's one of the more recognizable faces of college basketball over the last 20 years," said Joe O'Neill, a member of the advisory committee involved in the New Mexico coaching search. "He's a name coach who could be a difference maker when it comes to a kid making a decision on where to play."

O'Neill discounted Iowa's lackluster season, noting the Hawkeyes went 25-9 in 2005-06.

"He's only one year removed from a team that was a number three seed in the NCAA tournament. Obviously, the (first-round) loss in the tournament was part of his demise at Iowa," O'Neill said. "But when you list the positives and the negatives, the left side of the page looks a lot better."

Many Hawkeye fans never warmed up to Alford - who came to Iowa after leading Southwest Missouri State to the round of 16 - and his handling of the Pierre Pierce case hurt his image within the state.

Pierce, a talented scorer and defender, got into legal troubles twice during his Iowa career, both times involving physical and sexual assaults of women.

In 2002, Alford was criticized for publicly supporting Pierce, who was accused of third-degree sexual abuse. Pierce and the victim reached a mediated settlement in that case. Then in January 2005, Pierce was accused of assaulting and terrorizing his girlfriend. He was kicked off the team days after police began investigating the incident. He ended up serving 11 months in prison in connection with that case before being released last year.

Alford had his best season in 2005-06, leading Iowa to the conference tournament title, but even that campaign was overshadowed by distractions regarding his job status. Rumors that Alford was high on Indiana's coach wish list after Mike Davis resigned in midseason ran rampant that winter.

Indiana never asked permission to interview Alford, but Missouri did. Alford publicly turned down Missouri's request, reiterating his desire to stay at Iowa.

But former athletic director Bob Bowlsby, who hired Alford when he was one of the nation's hottest coaching prospects, abruptly left Iowa last summer for Stanford. He had extended Alford's contract by a year before he left, and current athletic director Gary Barta tacked on another year before last season.

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