This past April, fans of Nevada men’s basketball were shocked to hear former head coach Eric Musselman planned to leave to take the same position at the University of Arkansas.
His decision to leave blindsided fans as the Wolf Pack had just wrapped up another successful season with him at the helm. Less than a week later, Steve Alford was brought on to replace Musselman.
Micheal Aboussie, a student manager under Musselman, reacted to the news with hopefulness.
“My initial reaction was that we didn’t take any steps back in where Nevada basketball was going,” Aboussie said in an interview to The Nevada Sagebrush.
Alford, who coached at New Mexico, Iowa and most notably UCLA, comes into his first season here in Reno on a tight schedule. His hiring in April gave him roughly seven months to solidify his roster, implement his system, hire his coaching staff and flesh out a rotation consisting of largely young players.
Alford signed a class of seven recruits and has shored up depth across the roster. Alford has secured players from here in Reno and as far away as France.
Aboussie praised Alford for being able to find players that are often overlooked and fit the system he is trying to implement.
“He [Alford] is really good at finding those players to fit the things that all of the coaching staff likes,” Aboussie said. “Even if it is a guy that you might not see the long term potential for.”
Pack fans that grew accustomed to Musselman’s style of play should expect a very different approach from Alford. Alford’s early teams at UCLA were a model of efficiency, high ball movement and pace. Musselman preferred a half-court offense which often set a slightly more grueling tempo.
In regards to selfless play, both coaches are about even. Alford’s most recent team at UCLA averaged 14.3 assists per game, while Musselman’s team last team averaged an even 15 according to statistics compiled by ESPN.
Alford’s teams have also been less three-point centric than Musselman’s, as last year’s squad shot the three-ball 121 more times than Alford’s Bruins. Pack fans can expect this year to be the opposite, as Alford has repeatedly stressed that this year’s team will be hucking the three-ball from all over the three-point range.
Above all, hiring Alford shows a different level of commitment from Nevada Athletics. Instead of hiring from within the program, they chose to target one of the top names on the board.
Many local outlets responded positively to the news, and Alford’s introductory press conference was filled with locals, students and press alike. At Alford’s introductory press conference in April, he made it clear to Pack fans that his plans for Nevada are long term.
When Alford was looking for another head coaching position, stability and a feeling of the home was at the core of what him and his wife, Tanya were looking for.
“To be able to continue my career in a tight-knit community that has demonstrated its support for the basketball program is exactly the opportunity that Tanya and I were looking for, and we are thrilled to be in Northern Nevada,” Alford said. “I can’t wait to get to work as we look to build off the established tradition and momentum of this great program. I want this to be the last stop of my coaching career.”
Stability was definitely at the heart of the contract given to Alford. The contract is the longest in Nevada coaching history, keeping Alford in Reno till April 30, 2029. In total, the deal is worth $11.6 million. His base salary opens at $500,000 and peaks at $1.5 million
If Alford breaks his contract with Nevada, it will come with a hefty fine. Alford will owe Nevada $8 million if he breaks his deal within the first year. The total decreases every year through year six, where it plateaus at $1.5 million in fines.
Time will tell if the decision to bring Alford in will pay off, but the future is bright for Pack fans, despite a rocky start to the season.
Devansh Mehra can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.