Alford's 'entire focus' on Iowa

Updated: February 17, 2006, 5:36 PM ET
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- Within minutes of Mike Davis's resignation, Steve Alford was a reluctant and tightlipped front-runner for the Indiana basketball coaching job.

The Iowa coach was Indiana's Mr. Basketball, a two-time All-American under Bob Knight and led the Hoosiers to the 1987 NCAA championship. Fans booed Indiana Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh when he passed on Alford in the NBA draft -- and instead picked Reggie Miller.

Even Davis, who coached Indiana for six years but still remained in Knight's shadow, speculated the Hoosiers would be better served by one of their own.

There's just one problem.

No matter how popular he remains in his home state, Alford is still the Iowa coach, at least through the end of the season. He refuses to comment publicly about the Indiana job or his status with the Big Ten-leading Hawkeyes (No. 20 ESPN/USA Today; No. 18 AP).

"I have this comment: My entire focus and energy is helping my team win a Big Ten championship and get ready for the NCAA Tournament," he said during an Iowa teleconference Friday. "This is my only concern. And you can underline entire and only."

Each time the question was broached, albeit in different forms, Alford repeated the mantra, "My entire focus ..."

Finally, when asked whether the questioning about Indiana was inappropriate or unfair, he groaned, "You really don't want me to repeat the thing again, do you? I've had to repeat it seven times."

But Alford will likely have to repeat it many more times before the end of the season, which still has four more games before the Big Ten tournament and then the NCAA. Especially since Indiana athletics director Rick Greenspan said he wouldn't select a new coach until after the Final Four.

That leaves a lot of time for speculation, and Alford is consistently among the first names mentioned, along with Ohio State coach Thad Matta, a former coach at Butler, and even Rick Majerus, a former coach at Utah and Ball State.

"There's a lot of talk that he does have a lot of influential alumni behind him, I think, because his name has come up twice before -- when Knight was fired and a little bit last year," said Mike Pegram of the Inside Indiana fan magazine and "A lot of people have come in contact with the Alford family through the years that are also Indiana alums. So there's always going to be some alumni support for Steve."

Pegram's Web site on Friday listed six names for visitors to vote on their preference for Indiana's next coach. With more than 800 votes cast, Matta was first with 35 percent, followed by Alford at 21 percent. Golden State Warriors and former Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, Tennessee's Bruce Pearl, Majerus and Marquette's Tom Crean were all far behind.

Back home, Alford's return would be welcomed.

"I'm sure he would be a popular choice," said Mike Bergerum, the athletics director at New Castle High School where Alford played. "That's the only thing you hear on the news. ... [But] I'm not going to speculate on anything. Obviously, he's popular."

Alford's popularity actually might work against Indiana hiring him. If he fizzles -- his winning percentage at Iowa (.593) is only slightly better than Davis's at Indiana (.589) -- it might be difficult to fire him.

On the other hand, his longtime Indiana connection might make fans and the school more patient.

Other possibilities include Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Woodson; Randy Wittman, a former Cleveland Cavaliers coach and now an assistant at Orlando; Bowling Green's Dan Dakich and Army's Jim Crews, all former players for Knight.

Keith Smart, another former Cleveland coach and a teammate of Alford's on the 1987 championship team, is also expected to be interviewed.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press