SA: really appreciate you all being here. It’s been a very, very hard 48 hours. The toughest decision that I’ve had to make, maybe ever and that’s because of how much I love this place. UNM [University of New Mexico]. Albuquerque. New Mexico. The fans. Our entire setup here has been amazing. It really came down to making the decision to have an opportunity to go to UCLA. It’s the pinnacle of college basketball. It’s one of those lifetime opportunities that is really difficult to pass up. it wasn’t something that I went looking for. UCLA sought me out. I think it’s a great compliment to New Mexico, to UNM, that UCLA, and when you’re talking about UCLA, you are talking about the pinnacle of college basketball, an incredible university that wants something from New Mexico. And it’s about as good a compliment that I can give UNM and New Mexico.
I thought I was going to be here a long time. I just signed a 10-year deal. That was the plan. Sometimes plans get messed up and the timing, you never know what it is but I had no idea that this opportunity would present itself. I’m humbled, I’m honored. I’m very excited about it. I’m excited about the challenges of leading a program and being at an institution that… my childhood. One of my childhood heroes in John Wooden who’s from Indiana. Obviously walked that sideline at Pauley. Still eerie and probably hasn’t sunk in yet to the meaning of all of that.
But I just can’t thank UNM and I can’t thank the people of New Mexico and the Albuquerque community enough. Our family has had nothing but good times here. The people have treated us unbelievable. As a media group, you have been tremendous. It’s been a great relationship over and through everything. I can’t say enough. And I can’t say thank you enough. This was something that came out of left field. That was an opportunity that I just felt, from our family and for my career, I couldn’t pass that up, and I’m excited about it. It had nothing to do with UNM. It had nothing to do… I’m very very proud of what our program’s been able to do through six years. We’ve built something very special. Winning 6 championships in 6 years. And winning back to back championships for 2 straight years is one thing. and those titles will always mean something to me but I think the biggest thing that I’ll take with me and the lifelong friends that I’ve developed in the area is one. Secondly will be what I’ve seen our young men grow into and that’s always been a big push of mine that it’s, yeah, we’re about excellence. We’re about championships. We’re about winning. That’s the business we’re in. But having the young men grow, develop, graduate, and now go into other committees and be positive citizens and make a difference. That is what this is all about.
And I’ve been very fortunate of the players that I’ve been able to coach here and really appreciate the efforts that they’ve done. Very much appreciate the efforts of Paul [Kreb, University of New Mexico Vice President of Athletics] and his staff and the administration. Of everybody that has helped the success that we’ve had. They’ve bought in and believed in our six years here and I really appreciate that.
Q: Steve, on Wednesday, you were really emphatic about committing to New Mexico. And you really made that a point of emphasis. When you were saying those things, did you consider this was maybe a possibility?
SA: no idea. And the press conference Wednesday, was I think, not so much a commitment to New Mexico, I’ve always had a commitment to New Mexico. It was a commitment that we had a very good season. Wednesday’s press conference was just about, how are we talking about a season that was very good. That’s what that press conference ended up being about. It wasn’t so much about the next ten years or anything else. There wasn’t hardly any contract talk, if I remember, at all, that Wednesday. That press conference was all about Jim Rome and The Wall Street Journal and why I think we had a good year. That’s what I remember in that press conference.
Q: Coach, are you going to take Kory and Bryce with you?
SA: yeah, we’re family. The family’s excited about it, but, you know, there’s sadness too. We’ve loved it here. Every family member here has loved it. We’ve had great times and we’ve got incredible friends that, you know, hopefully now will follow us in what we’re doing in LA and we’ll continue to have one eye on what’s going on here at UNM and what the Lobos are doing. It’s just a career path but we’re excited as a family. We moved here from Iowa City, not knowing a whole lot about what was going to happen or take place and we couldn’t have been more thrilled about what took place in those six years. And we hope that those are the same feelings we have, six years from now, in Los Angeles.
Q: Coach, is Coach [Craig] Neal going to be the next head coach here?
SA: well, Paul’s… that’s Paul. Paul’s the boss. Obviously, if you’re asking me for my endorsement, Coach Neal is ready. Coach Neal’s been my associate head coach now for 9 years. 3 years at Iowa. 6 years here. And if you look at our track record over those 9 years, we’ve averaged 26 wins a year. We’ve been to postseason every year except our last year at Iowa. And Rudy Davalos would tell you they made a mistake in the NIT. We finished fourth in the Big 10 and we should’ve been in the NIT that year. So 8 of the 9 years have produced postseason play. We have won 7 championships in those 9 years. League championships of some sort. He’s got an incredible basketball mind. Of all the people I’ve ever worked with or been around, nobody knows the game of basketball more than he does. And he knows our team. He knows the climate. He knows the culture of UNM. He knows what it’s like to walk down the ramp, and he knows what it’s like to organize a basketball team in a lot of different ways. And I would highly endorse him because I think he’s ready. I think the players will respond to him. I think the fans and boosters would respond very positively to him, but ultimately, that’s an administrative decision but I 100% believe in what Coach Neal can do.
Q: aside from that next decision then here at UNM, what coaches… have you talked at all with anybody about the coaching staff at UCLA?
SA: well, I’ve obviously talked to my staff this morning. Difficult meeting because it probably shocks them and a difficult players meeting because that’s not easy. They’re all part of our family. And not just them but our coaches’ families. And then the players become like your kids. So those are two difficult meetings. So it’s about getting through today with these meetings and then we’ll sit back and look about what my staff is going to look like in moving forward. Hopefully, Coach Neal can get this opportunity. If not, obviously he’s the top candidate for me.
Q: Coach, when other coaches have left here at UNM, they talked about the fish bowl and the pressure and, you know, “it’s too much” and the high expectations. That sort of stuff. Did any of that and the press conference on Wednesday alluding to, you know, some fans who didn’t have a grip on reality. Did any of that have to do with the reason you’re leaving?
SA: I’m going to UCLA. You know, if I was going somewhere else, you might be able to come up with that rationale but I’m going to UCLA. It’s 11 national championships. The expectations there. The pressure there on a national stage is maybe as great anywhere. It’s a university of excellence. There’s a lot. I think, in my business, there’s pressure at every turn. You look at what we’ve done in six years, to have a press conference like we had on Wednesday, yeah, that’s odd. It’s odd to me because of what we’ve done in six years but it is. It’s “what have you done lately?” “Well, what have you done lately? Well, you lost to Harvard.” You forget that we cut down nets at UNLV. And that was fine. I want our fans to remember that. They can change the floor at UNLV, they can change the signage at UNLV, but I guarantee those are the nets they shot on and to cut those nets down 2 years in a row, that’s a lot of fun. So that had nothing to do with it. In fact, Wednesday, I had no knowledge of anything. This has really been a quick 48 hour period. A lot of stress. A lot of talks with the family. But it just felt right. It feels awful to leave here because you’re so happy, and I know I could’ve been happy here for a long, long time. And we would’ve continued to win. We would’ve continued to win championships. But when an opportunity presents itself like UCLA, it was just really difficult in the end to say no to that.
Q: you talked about it being a hard decision. Was being happy like you just said… part of it then were you thinking about loyalty and all the stuff. Or what you built here…
SA: yeah, you think about all those things. And I hope, you know, I know there’s going to be, I know, people are going to be upset and be frustrated. That’s all part of emotion. I feel those same things. Trust me, there’s a lot of sadness that comes into this. Because we’ve put our stamp on a lot of things. The Pit was renovated during our tenure here. This wing at The Pit, I helped… Paul did a great job in allowing Coach Neal and I to be a part of those drawings and actually being the architect of this wing. We got to see the flow of our strength room, our training room, our locker rooms. We got into the planning of all of that. And then you look at the pictures in our offices. That’s our fingerprint so it’s hard. But the 4 rings that we’ve won here, will go with me. It’s not like I put them in a safety deposit box. Those things will be out. And I’ll look at them often. I’ve got fond memories from here and nothing be great things and experiences about UNM. And six years ago, I didn’t know if that would be the case. But what Paul told me in the interview six years ago, those things happened. You don’t always get a chance to work for bosses like that and a university like that, that tells you something and then follows through with it. Nobody is more appreciative of the time that they’ve had coaching here than I have. And I hope fans have appreciated it, and I hope the fans will continue to be who they are. Lobo fans that support the student-athletes that are going to run down that tunnel, run down that ramp, and do the things that they do on the floor.
Q: when did you find out?
SA: when did I find out?
Q: when did you make the decision?
SA: last night.
Q: and was it to them? Was there a phone call?
SA: to the athletic director. Last night.
Q: you said you just signed a new deal that kicks in on April 1st. So as far as the buyout goes, your new buyout was a million dollars. Is that still the situation?
SA: I have no idea. That’s for legal people. I don’t know anything about that. I wouldn’t know. I’m sorry.
Q: that 48 hour period. When were you informed… was it presented to you by [audio difficulties] was it a done deal? Or did you know that talks were ongoing?
SA: talks ongoing…
Q: to Paul… sorry.
SA: yeah, no, I was basically talking to UCLA and their administration. And then I texted Paul last night and we got on the phone early this morning.
Q: but Paul, was it presented to you as a done deal, the first time you heard it?
Paul Krebs: I got a call from Dan Guerrero late last night. I was… I had already retired for the evening so I didn’t get the call but Dan left me a message. And then Coach Alford and I talked this morning. Steve’s done a great job here and it’s sad and as disappointed as I am, you know, Steve was very direct in our conversations and very honest and very appreciative of the time here. And it was clear that he had made up his mind, and that’s what he thought was the best interest of he and his family and I respect that.
Q: Coach, what was your reaction when you heard that UCLA wanted you?
SA: it’s hard. I think it just grew on me. The initial reaction, you’re comparing it to what we have here. And I think what we have here is a top-20 program. Not just team. Top-20 program, and we’ve proven that. So I think as I start thinking about it, it was a humbling experience because of my roots. I grew up in Indiana. From first grade through fourth grade, I lived in Martinsville, Indiana, home of John Wooden. I was going into the gym that he went to a lot. So I’ve grown up knowing that. The Breakfast of Legends to honor John Wooden is something I’ve been to every year at the Final Four on a Saturday morning and they honor John Wooden in that breakfast. And you know, now you start thinking about, “I’m going to be there on Saturday. I’m walking into that breakfast as the head coach at UCLA.” There’s a… It’s a very humbling experience. It does prove that what we’ve done here, people have noticed at the highest level and I think that’s what I’m going to be most proud of as I start my new era of coaching at UCLA. It’s how proud that I can look back and say these doors were opened and this opportunity presented itself because of what took place at UNM.
Q: Coach, are the players on the current UNM team talking about what their future is? I’m curious about what your message would be to them. Would you accept transfers from UNM?
SA: well, it’s hard, you know. I don’t want anything but success for this program. I want them to continue to be successful. There’s going to be a lot of emotion today. Players… they should be upset. They should be frustrated. I’m upset. I’m frustrated even though I’m very excited and it’s a happy day for me and my family. There’s some sadness to it too and part of that is the players because you grow very attached to them. You’re with them every day, you’re developing them in every way shape and form, socially, academically, athletically. There’s a lot that goes into it. I think sometimes you don’t know how attached coaches get to their players so those emotions… and so those emotions will… you’ve got to let some time go by. And those emotions… I will always have contact with our players. Continue to help them as much as possible. We missed a lot of schooling with all of our travel. Our last two games were on the road. Vegas was all week. We were gone again for the national tournament. Their concentration right now is academically. There’ll be time to see how all those things of how players react to it… there’ll be time for that.
Q: [audio difficulties] what are some things that strengthened you as a coach here at UNM that are going to aid you in the future that made you attractive?
SA: well, I’m 6 years older. You know, I’ve had 8 years at the University of Iowa. At a BCS school. And then I had 6 years here. Previous stops at Missouri State and Manchester College. So now, I’m getting into my mid 20s as far as experience goes. It’ll be my 23rd, 24th year next year. So this place helped to equip me for trying to keep and take UCLA to higher levels of excellence. The excellence that we’ve had here for six years. It’s been consistent. From day one, we’ve consistently strived for excellence. Our record shows that. Our academic record shows that. Graduation rate from placing our student-athletes in jobs. All those things point to excellence and I think UCLA is about excellence. So hopefully I can continue the things that we were able to do here at UNM at the same kind of level there.
Q: Coach, with that being said, are you able to admit that the lack of NCAA Tournament success here doesn’t show excellence?
SA: yeah. Yeah.
Q: how about future Lobos? Guys that have signed [audio difficulties] are they going to try to follow you now? Or what’s what [about]?
SA: well, again, I think the emotion will die down, you know, in 48 hours or so. And you know, the school will obviously be in contact with those individuals and just try to work through it in the best possible way. And hopefully that means that they’ll stay at UNM and be Lobos.
Q: Paul, what are your thoughts on Coach Neal and him being the possible lead candidate for this job?
Paul Krebs: Coach Alford’s made it clear to me and to Tim Cass [UNM Associate Athletic Director] that he has the highest respect for Craig. You know, if you’ve been around the program for the last 6 years, it’s not hard to understand that Coach Neal has had a strong impact on the program. Coach Alford’s given him a lot of freedom within the program and Craig’s a critical part of the success. I think Craig’s an outstanding coach. We have named him interim head coach. He’s in charge of the program. Craig is a candidate for the head coaching job. A permanent job. But beyond acknowledging that, I’m not going to really talk about any candidates regarding the search itself. But I think Craig adds stability to the program. I think, as Steve as alluded to, this is a very emotional time. There’s no good way to break the news to the young men in the program. Those are the guys that I feel sorry for. Feel for right now because it’s such an emotional time. Coach Alford’s been such a huge part of their life and their development as people as well as basketball players, and they’re all losing a father figure so it’s hard and there’s a lot of raw emotion right now. I think… my expectation is that Craig creates some immediate stability and continuity in the program. That he’ll reach out, if he hasn’t already, to the recruits. And our challenge is to find a permanent replacement. Be that Craig or somebody else as quickly and as thoroughly and as judiciously as we can.
Q: Paul, you talked about the $1 million buyout in the new 10-year contract being a little bit of a protection for the program. That contract, correct me if I’m wrong, does not take effect until April 1st. so there is no million dollar buyout, is that correct?
Paul Krebs: I’m not a lawyer. You heard Steve. Coach Alford and I haven’t talked about that. There was a letter of agreement signed. Is that a contract? Our lawyers… here is what I know, Jeff, Coach’s old contract had a buyout in it. And the new contract that was being written based off the letter of agreement had a buyout in it. One way or another, there is a buyout. How much that is, Steve and I haven’t talked about it. Our respective lawyers haven’t talked about it. So I can’t tell you what that number is. I do know there is a buyout.
Q: Steve, did you talk with Dan Guerrero at all about a possible buyout? UCLA being on the hook for any sort of buyout?
SA: well, I’m not going to talk about our contract negotiations. Most of that happened between Dan and his staff and my agent. So I’m not for sure what all was talked about.
Q: Paul, talk about how you feel about [audio difficulties] I know coaches come and go all the time and stuff like that but you guys had just [audio difficulties]
SA: A.D.’s just stay forever, don’t they, Ben?
Q: well, it must be disappointing every time something like this happens when, you know, you guys are thinking that he’s going to be here for awhile but he’s got to go with what’s best for his family.
Paul Krebs: well, I certainly didn’t think I’d be sitting here today having this discussion. But you know, when you really… let’s take a step back. 6 years ago, we’re in the play-in… we’re in the pig tail game in the Mountain West Conference. We’re getting our ass kicked. We were not a very good basketball team. And the previous writer for the journal was always fond of reminding us an alleged crowd of X number of people in the building. The program was struggling. We’re 6 years removed. We’ve won back-to-back regular season and conference championships. We’re ranked. We’ve been in the NCAA Tournament. The crowds were consistently averaging over 11,000 a year in season tickets. When you look at where we were and where we are, this program is in remarkably better shape. We’re probably a top-25, top-20… we’re going to be ranked, most likely, heading into next year at the beginning of next year. So you never want to see a coach leave, but when they have an opportunity to leave and better themselves, you know that that’s part of the business. What I’ve always maintained is that when a coach leaves, you want the program to be better off than when they came. And I’ve just stated, there’s absolutely no question that this program’s been moved in tremendous ways and the national profile and all the attention. So I can’t sit here and be critical of Steve. He has to make a decision that he thinks is in his best personal and professional interest and family interest. Our families are good friends. So it’s disappointing, but I understand it. It is part of the business. And our challenge now is to go out and find the next leader, be that Coach Neal or somebody else to advance this program even farther. Take it even higher than Coach Alford has. That responsibility rests with me and my staff. It’s really how an AD is ultimately judged?
Q: Coach, do you have any regrets in the past 6 years?
SA: no. No, I’ve had an incredible journey here. I’ve loved everything about UNM from administration to my coaching staff to our players to the staff that’s under me from whether it’s marketing or sports information or trainer or strength coach or academic advisor, travel agent… we’ve had so much help in developing our program and as Paul has alluded to, we took over a tough situation, and now he’s exactly right. It’s a top-20 program. And to do that and build that in a 6 year period and graduate our young men, everything that we dreamed of as a coaching staff from day one or that trip we took to the Bahamas that we didn’t think we could even come back and win 5 games, the things that we have been able to do in my mind are remarkable. And I feel very pleased with that, of the mark and the program. Yeah, it’s a sad day for me in a lot of ways in that I’m leaving something that I’ve had a lot of hand in building. But it makes me very proud that I feel like it’s in much better shape. And the culture of men’s basketball has a real identity to it. Not just on the court, but in the classroom as well.
Q: Coach, you told us Wednesday, that Sweet 16 wasn’t the specific benchmark you were putting on this program. Is UCLA going to accept not having Sweet 16’s?
SA: I have no idea what UCLA is going to accept. Sweet 16, as I alluded to Wednesday, no other UNM team has made it to the Sweet 16. So there’s obviously is a hang-up here on “Sweet 16, ” but no other team has ever done that. If you look at our 6 years here, we’ve got a lot of firsts. A lot of firsts. There could be another press conference to talk about all the firsts that we’ve done from road wins to championships to grad rate to APR’s to you name it. There’s been a lot of firsts. And the one thing we weren’t able to do in 6 years was to become the first Lobos team to make it to the Sweet 16. And hopefully the next guy that comes in here will be able to do that.
Q: UCLA is one of the most storied teams in college basketball, but they aren’t what they used to be type deal. Was there any hesitation in this job, thinking that maybe you could do more in the immediate future here, this next year and the year after than you could at UCLA?
SA: well, all of that plays in. As Paul’s already talked about, we’ve got a top-15 team coming back regardless of Tony [Snell] comes back or not. It was going to be a top-15 team. We liked what was coming in, recruiting-wise. And the guys that were sitting out, you know, sometimes those guys sitting out, you kind of forget about them, but they’ve have great sit-out years and worked very hard so… yeah, all that plays into it. I thought it through. I thought through everything I possibly could. And again, it’s not about… It has nothing to do about UNM. It has nothing to do with Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s been arguably one the favorites places we’ve ever lived as a family. I guarantee you, if you ask our family members, this has easily been our favorite place that we’ve ever lived. So those decisions are hard. Those are really hard. But when you look at the big picture of UCLA and everything that comes with that, I just thought it was the best decision. But it had nothing to do with… “[that] there wasn’t something right here.” Everything was in place. That’s what made the decision so very difficult was that everything was “right” here. And that makes it very very hard.
Q: Steve, [audio difficulties] you’ve got an incredibly passionate fan base whose emotions have been all over the place the last few days. They’ve heard about loyalties and concessions and long-term contracts. And now they have to come to grips with this. And the criticism is going to be all over the place. What are you going to say to that long-term, loyal Lobos fan who’s just been all over the place the last few days?
SA: I understand that, and it’s hard. It’s trying to understand this business. Early in the week, UCLA wasn’t even in the picture. Nobody would even talk about UCLA because there was no UCLA. You don’t know when those phone calls come. You don’t know when those opportunities come. I would tell that fan base, “What have we created in the last 6 years have to been able to create an opportunity like UCLA?” And after looking at it, I just thought it was a great opportunity for me. It was a great opportunity for my career. For our family. But again, it had nothing to do with… as on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I thought this was where I was going to be. I could see myself retiring here. We love the community here. We love the people. There’s so many positives about it. But this is… in my business, this is the pinnacle of my business.
Q: what put you over the top because it is one of those top tier traditional schools? Was it the money? Was it the package? Was it the…
SA: no, it’s not.... Obviously, contracts are contracts but no. It’s UCLA. It’s 11 national championships. There is no… it’s not just a “top tier.” It’s not just “one of.” It’s the most storied college basketball in the men’s side program in the history of college basketball. And that’s a huge draw. When you’re a gym rat, when you… you know, you look back at your kindergarten days and your first grade days and you’re just in the gym just trying to heave the thing to the basket and you’re doing that in John Wooden Gym in Martinsville, Indiana, and all of a sudden UCLA calls, you listen. And it was tough. I’m being very honest with you. It’s tough. It’s not like I’m leaving here for a low Division I job or a mid-major. It took a place like UCLA. The best of the best. When you speak excellence, it is the top of the list. It took a place like that to make me think, “Let’s try it. I’m 48 years old. Let’s try it.” I don’t know how long I’m going to do this. We had a chance to do something very special at a very high level. Let’s try it. I’ve done everything I could here to make it a better situation for the next guy that will be here. I’ve had a wonderful 6 years, but it was UCLA. Had it been anybody else, and there were others, had it been anybody else, it’s emphatically, “no.” But UCLA’s different.