Wednesday, April 12, 2006

When Players Bail Out and Assistant Coaches Are Fired, It Could Be a Signal That There's More Trouble Ahead for Alford and His Hawkeye Program

It’s pretty obvious to me what’s going on in the University of Iowa’s basketball program.

It was bad enough when two more players –- Alex Thompson [left] and Carlton Reed –- quit the team.

But when two assistant coaches, Greg Lansing and Rich Walker, were fired, it could be just the calm before the storm.

Indeed, the unrest might be at least a small signal that the end is getting closer at Iowa for head coach Steve Alford.

It happens frequently in collegiate athletics. When a head coach is in trouble, the first move is to fire some of the assistants.

When that doesn’t work out, the head coach might be the next to go.

Alford [right] certainly won’t be shown the door now. The former Golden Boy of Indiana high school and collegiate basketball was the hand-picked choice for the Iowa job by athletic director Bob Bowlsby.

And Bowlsby isn’t going to dismiss a guy who won 25 games and the Big Ten Conference’s postseason tournament this year.

However, I have seen very few scenarios in coaching where a guy can go 25-9 in his seventh season and fans have a ho-hum attitude, at best, about him.

I mean, this was a winter that saw just about everyone who knows something about basketball assume Alford would become Indiana’s next coach, and more than a few Iowa boosters were saying, “Take him. He’s all yours.”

Alford’s team led the Big Ten standings for part of the season and finished in a tie for second place.

But the Hawkeyes –- who already had lost Big Ten road games to Northwestern and Minnesota, teams they should have beaten -- were victims of the biggest shocker in the first round of the NCAA tournament when lowly Northwestern State upset them, 64-63.

Obviously, Alford made himself available to other jobs once the season ended. He embarrassed Iowa and its fans by winding up on Missouri’s short list, and everyone assumed he’d go to Indiana if he got the opportunity.

But neither school interviewed him. Consider that –- especially the stiffing job by Indiana –- as a bigtime personal setback to him.

With Greg Brunner and Jeff Horner, standouts on the 2005-2006 team, gone next season, Alford figured to have a difficult time in his eighth season in Iowa City.

It doesn’t help matters that Reed and Thompson won’t be around,, even though I’m not convinced that either of them is, or could be, a standout player.

Alford’s coaching history doesn’t show that his players make progress from one season to the next.

The best any Hawkeye fan could have hoped for out of Reed , a 6-4 sophomore, and Thompson, a 6-9 sophomore who perhaps could’ve started at Brunner’s power forward position, was that they would be capable journeymen.

Now they’re out of the picture.

And speaking of pictures, the Hawkeye basketball picture, as a whole, is suddenly a lot more out of focus today.

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[Ron Maly is a four-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year and also is the best-selling author of "Tales from the Iowa Sidelines," which is in its second printing as both a hardback and softback book. The book is about the rich football tradition at the University of Iowa. Maly has a heck of a lot of fun doing what he's doing. Ron's columns about sports, newspapers, his family, medicine, travel, the people he knows, the people he doesn't know, a few people he'd like to know better, a few people he once knew and is trying to forget, a few people he has already forgotten, and anything else that trips his trigger appear regularly at and When you call 515-201-5495, either Maly or the person who recorded the message on his answering machine will respond].