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Steve Alford's UCLA coaching deal: Everybody into the cesspool!

Compare the new Bruins basketball coach's generous financial agreement with John Wooden's compensation. And prepare to be dismayed.

July 11, 2013|Bill Dwyre
  • Revelations about basketball Coach Steve Alford's contract with UCLA raise questions about the future of the university once coached by the legendary John Wooden.
Revelations about basketball Coach Steve Alford's contract with… (Damian Dovarganes / Associated…)

The mud and slop into which big-time college athletics keeps descending never ceases to amaze. Tuesday's story in The Times about Steve Alford's financial situation at UCLA is merely more sewage on the sludge.

Let us count the ways, remembering as we go that:

•This is the school that has forever promoted and flaunted the principles of John Wooden.

•Times have changed. Athletic finances and athletic egos have become inflated.

•(Again) This is the school that has forever promoted and flaunted the principles of John Wooden.

Alford, a good coach, will be paid $2.6 million a year for seven years, or a total of $18.2 million. Wooden, the greatest coach, signed on in 1948 for $6,000 a year and, in his last season, when he won his 10th NCAA title, made $40,500, of which $8,000 was for postgame radio appearances.

Alford's checks will come from the athletic department. There will be pension benefits. Wooden's checks came from a student administration fund and were signed by the president of the student body. Since there were no payments from that fund into any pension program, Wooden got no additional benefits for his first 12 years on the job.

Alford got an $845,615 signing bonus. Wooden got encouragement to show up quickly.

Alford had agreed to a contract extension with his former school, New Mexico, two weeks before he said yes to the Bruins. Wooden, then at Indiana State, had two job offers and badly wanted one, the University of Minnesota's. But when the Gophers didn't call at the appointed time, and UCLA did, Wooden took the Bruins job. Soon, he found out that Minnesota was ready to offer him the job but couldn't call because an ice storm had knocked out the power. Wooden had made a commitment to UCLA, and, because he had, he stuck to it.

What a novel idea. It's the kind of principle that modern-era coaches demand of their players and ignore themselves.

Alford has several incentive clauses in his contract, including one for $20,000 if he wins the Pac-12 Conference regular-season title. Ben Howland did exactly that and was fired.

Other Alford contract goodies include two BMWs (one to go to the grocery store and one for the post office?), a country club membership (bet it's not Whispering Sewers) and travel expenses for his wife to road games (that $2.6 million must not be for Southwest Airlines fares).

Remember when the Dodgers signed Old Surly, Kevin Brown, for two-thirds of Ft. Knox and he still demanded a plane to fly his wife and family to games? The fans went crazy. How are you feeling in Westwood these days, folks?

While digesting all this, it is hard not to recall Wooden, sitting in the den of his modest condominium, talking about his salary during an interview and expressing a degree of discomfort because he was making more money than a history professor he knew. Wooden's frame of reference was other teachers, not John Calipari.

The main headline of Tuesday's Times story was that Alford and the school have mutual buyouts, should he decide to leave or UCLA decide to ask him to do so. If he quits the Bruins, or the Bruins him, before April 30, 2016, the payout will be $10.4 million.

Mark Levinstein, a Washington attorney who has done deals for big-time coaches, was quoted in the story as saying that schools now do these big buyout clauses because they "don't want to be used as a steppingstone to some better job."

Is there fear that Alford will become CEO of Google?

It's the UCLA basketball job — maybe not what it once was, but still a pretty prestigious position. The Bruins haven't exactly become a basketball doormat in recent years.

This is a guy who was nudged out of Iowa and had a respectable run at New Mexico, with lukewarm NCAA tournament success. And we are to worry that the Lakers are lurking about, or Duke wants to go from Coach K to Coach A?

UCLA is a public school, so The Times was able to seek, and get, the details of Alford's contract. USC is private, so we can't get the details of Andy Enfield's new deal.

But access to any big-time sports school's financials will show all too much of this. Think of UCLA's Alford contract as a leader in the cesspool.

Is it unfair to compare Wooden-era principles with current-day coaching finances and our inflation-driven world of amped-up pressure and expectations? Not if viewed as lost perspective and misguided values.

Did you want to take a shower after you read the story?

Pass the soap.

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