UCLA fans better hope Dan Guerrero made the correct decision in tabbing Steve Alford as Ben Howland's replacement, because Alford is going to be at the school for a good while.
The Los Angeles Times reported Monday night that Alford's contract with the school has huge mutual buyout provisions, with both UCLA and Alford on the hook for as much as $10.6 million in restitution should either terminate their relationship before three years have elapsed. From that point, the two-way buyout drops by a further quarter each year. If Alford is fired or quits before April 30 after his fourth season in Westwood, the price is $7.8 million. It moves to $5.2 million and then $2.6 million after years five and six of the seven-year, $18.2 million contract.
There are a couple of interesting things in play here. First off, good for UCLA to put this kind of weight into a coach's buyout clause. I have never understood schools that are willing to offer long-term security to a basketball coach with extremely minimal return commitment, especially if the program is considered one of the better jobs in the country. USA Today writer Dan Wolken suggested that this lock-in says UCLA believes it is now a steppingstone, but I disagree with that. Once guys like Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart were out of the hiring mix, UCLA had all the leverage for its hire, and it exercised it to make sure to stem any early questions about Alford's tenure and how well he's replacing a coach that took the Bruins to three straight Final Fours.
That said, UCLA is taking a major gulp with the mirror provision in the buyout clause. Having the school on the hook for such extraordinary payments to terminate a coach basically ensures Alford will be in Westwood for at least five seasons, and maybe six. There is no way UCLA is going to pay almost $8 million to fire him, and even more than $5 million may feel heavy even if things are not going well. Look at Iowa football for a comparable example of this, with the Hawkeyes not having a realistic option to terminate Kirk Ferentz, even if the school wanted to. The cost would be prohibitive. This will be very interesting to watch over the next half decade. Guerrero certainly has made a commitment to the man he hired, and that man has almost no choice but to be committed to him. It certainly serves to allay some of the initial grumbling, both about Alford as the choice and his background at Iowa with Pierre Pierce. This is now a marriage that will carry on for a sizable amount of time, even if at some point in the next few years, a divorce would be better for the kids.