New UCLA basketball coach Steve Alford apologized Thursday for past comments about Pierre Pierce who was accused of sexual assault while playing for Alford at Iowa 10 years ago.
Alford's handling of Pierce was raised during questions at his introductory UCLA press conference last week.
Alford strongly defended Pierce in 2002 -- going so far as to say his player was innocent -- of a third-degree sexual assault charge before Pierce later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. Iowa suspended and red-shirted Pierce that season.
In 2005, the Hawkeyes starting point guard was charged with sexual assault again, accused of threatening an ex-girlfriend with a knife and choking her. He was dismissed from the team before charges were filed, and eventually spent 11 months in prison after pleading guilty to two charges of first-degree burglary, assault with intent to commit sexual assault and fourth-degree criminal mischief.
Alford's standing with Iowa supporters waned during the ordeal. He left Iowa City to coach New Mexico in 2007.
"That was an instance that happened years ago,'' Alford said via the Associated Press. "I followed everything that the University of Iowa, the administration, the lawyers that were hired ... I followed everything that I was told to do.''
Alford released a statement Thursday:
"Over the past week, questions have arisen about my handling of an incident involving a charge of sexual assault made against a student-athlete in 2002, while I was coach of the University of Iowa men's basketball team. At that time, I instinctively and mistakenly came to his defense before knowing all the facts. I wanted to believe he was innocent, and in response to a media question, I publicly proclaimed his innocence before the legal system had run its course. This was inappropriate, insensitive and hurtful, especially to the young female victim involved, and I apologize for that. I have learned and grown from that experience and now understand that such proclamations can contribute to an atmosphere in which similar crimes go unreported and victims are not taken seriously. It's important for me personally and professionally to make sure Chancellor Block, Athletic Director Dan Guerrero, all of my student-athletes and the entire UCLA community, including our fans, understand that today I would handle the situation much differently, with the appropriate regard and respect for the investigative process and those impacted by it. I look forward to being a Bruin and leading a program that everyone will take pride in, both on and off the court."
UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero also released a statement on the subject:
"I appreciate and respect Steve Alford's statement on this issue. Everyone has regrets in their past, but acknowledging them and learning from them shows true character. I was aware of this situation when we hired Steve and concluded that although he made an error in judgment 11 years ago, he had learned and grown from that experience. Our evaluation was based on his entire career, both on and off the court, and that is what led us to make our decision that he was the right coach for UCLA. Steve came to us with a tremendous reputation and record in New Mexico, and I am excited to see how he can build on and grow our men's basketball program at UCLA. I expect all of our coaches to serve as an example to our student-athletes and the entire Bruin family, displaying true character and strong values. Working with Steve over the last two weeks I am confident that he will demonstrate the leadership we expect of all our coaches."