by Anne Gregory, Manchester University Media Relations
NORTH MANCHESTER, Ind. – He was a Mr. Basketball, an IU standout, a gold medalist and NBA player before coming to what was then Manchester College.
Steve Alford was in his fifth year playing for the NBA, beginning to have problems with his Achilles tendon, and his wife was pregnant with their first child when he got the fateful call from Manchester President Bill Robinson that began his coaching career in 1992.
"Here, at 26, I could be a head coach with my own program," he told hundreds gathered Saturday at Cordier Auditorium on the Manchester University North Manchester campus.
He said Robinson gave him a whistle and a book by legendary coach John Wooden. Himself the son of a coach, it didn't even occur to Alford that he would need to order practice gear. Luckily, he had a lot of support along the way.
From the beginning, Alford said, the Manchester community "put its arms around me and my family."
He turned around a program that had only two winning records in the previous three decades and in three years took three teams to the NCAA Division III tournament. In 1995, the Spartans went all the way to the national championship, losing to Wisconsin-Platteville and finishing the season with a 31-1 record.
"You'll never know what impact you will have," he said Saturday. He urged students in the audience to take the time to say thanks to those who push them to do their best, to show up on time.
He said college is a time to build your character and integrity. "It's what happens when no one is around," said Alford. College is a time to enjoy your new freedoms, he said, but it is important to learn the lessons "that will direct your future."
After coaching at several major universities, Alford is now men's head basketball coach at the University of California, at Los Angeles. He guided UCLA to a 28-9 overall record and appearance in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 in 2013-14, his first season in Westwood. He led the Bruins to their first Sweet 16 appearance and first Pac-12 Tournament title since 2008.
Alford, who will enter his 24th season as a college head coach in 2014-15, helped UCLA finish second in the Pac-12 Conference standings in 2013-14. He has a 491-244 (.668) overall record in his career. He is not yet 50.
He said members of Manchester's 1994-95 team were successful because each player knew his role, the team had strong bonds, and they all grew and learned from defeats.
At a luncheon Saturday, he said player Brad Knoy wasn't just a good player but the kind of team member who followed the ebb and flow of a game, and he knew what needed to be done to win.
Alford said success comes not just from the coach, but from players acting as their own coaches, a supportive administration, active fans and the entire community.
He spoke about going into the team room one day and finding some sound advice written on the chalkboard: "Put it in at one end and keep it out of the other." It was written by a custodian.
Alford received MU's Distinguished Honor Award on Saturday from new MU President Dave McFadden and later helped induct two of his former players, Lafayette business owner Brad Knoy and Indianapolis attorney Kyle Hupfer, into the Manchester University Athletics Hall of Fame. Alford was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.
Hupfer and Knoy, who were approved for the honor several years ago, asked to be inducted when their coach could be there, so the special ceremony was conducted Saturday.
Hupfer, at 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds, transferred into Manchester from a North Carolina school and "gave us that inside threat we needed" for the championship push, Alford said.
The coach said successful teams need chemistry and to "build bonds" so that they won't break when things start to go bad. They accommodate for strengths and weaknesses.
"Do the right job right, and do it right all the time." You won't always be perfect, Alford said, but it's a strategy that works.
The Alford visit and special Hall of Fame event were part of a big athletic weekend on Manchester University's campus. The Spartans hosted Buffalo St. in football, their annual volleyball invitational and the women's golf fall invitational.