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UCLA hires Alford as new coach

The SportsXchange

UCLA announced on Saturday that it hired Steve Alford as its new men's basketball coach.

Alford coached at New Mexico for the past six years, compiling a 155-52 record. ESPN reported that he told his New Mexico players on Friday night that he was leaving the Lobos program.

"This has been a very hard 48 hours," Alford said at a press conference at New Mexico. "The toughest decision I've had to make ... maybe ever, and that's because of how much I love this place, UNM, Albuquerque, New Mexico, the fans. It really came down to having an opportunity to go to UCLA, the pinnacle of college basketball. It's one of those lifetime opportunities that is really difficult to pass up.

"It wasn't something that I went looking for. UCLA sought me out. I think it's a great compliment to UNM and New Mexico that UCLA, an incredible university, wants something from New Mexico. I thought I was going to be here a long time; I just signed a 10-year deal, that was the plan. Sometimes plans get messed up in the timing. ... You never know what it is. I had no idea that this opportunity would present itself. I'm humbled, honored and very excited about it."

Alford will be formally introduced by UCLA at a press conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

CBS Sports reported that his contract with UCLA is for seven years at $2.6 million per year.

"I have been so fortunate and blessed in my life, and an opportunity to lead the one of the greatest programs in college basketball history is once-in-a-lifetime," Alford said earlier in a statement released by UCLA. "It is an honor to be the head coach at UCLA, yet it is also a responsibility to ensure that our former, current and future players and fans are proud to be Bruins."

Alford had agreed to a 10-year contract extension with New Mexico less than two weeks ago for about $2 million per year.

"Steve is the perfect fit for UCLA," Bruins athletic director Dan Guerrero said in a statement. "He is part of the storied history of the game of college basketball and understands the tradition and uniqueness of UCLA. Yet he also connects with a new generation of players and brings an up-tempo and team-oriented brand of basketball to Westwood."

New Mexico's vice president of athletics Paul Krebs did not give a specific timetable for hiring Alford's replacement, but promoted Craig Neal to interim head coach. Neal will oversee the program until a permanent coach is named. Neal has been with the Lobos for the last six seasons.

The Lobos won 29 games this season under Alford before getting bounced in the NCAA Tournament last week. They averaged 25 wins per season under Alford.

Alford, 48, also coached at Iowa (2000-07), Missouri State (1996-99) and Manchester College (1992-95). He has led his teams to the NCAA Tournament six times during his career. He has a 463-235 career record, including 5-7 in the NCAA tournament.

He was named Mountain West Coach of the Year in three of the past five seasons.

After playing for Indiana's famed program in the mid-1980s under Bob Knight, including starring on the 1987 national championship team, Alford played in the NBA for four seasons.

UCLA fired Ben Howland after last week's loss in the NCAA Tournament.

Virginia Commonwealth's Shaka Smart and Butler's Brad Stevens were among the coaches who reportedly turned down the job.

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