Alford apologizes for actions in Pierce incident
"I wanted to believe he was innocent"
Former Iowa and current UCLA men's basketball coach Steve Alford offered an apology today for how he handled a situation involving former Iowa player Pierre Pierce at Iowa in the fall of 2002.
Pierce was accused of sexually assaulting an Iowa women's basketball player that year, and Alford initially stood behind Pierce and declared the player's innocence. Now, 11 years after the incident, Alford issued a statement from UCLA admitting he was wrong in how he handled the incident.
"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," Alford said in a statement. "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."
Last week in his introductory news conference at UCLA, Alford told reporters the Pierce incident "happened years ago” and “I followed everything that the University of Iowa, the administration, the lawyers that were hired … I followed everything that I was told to do.”
Iowa's administration countered with an immediate response after Alford's comments: “In 2002, then interim UI President William ‘Sandy’ Boyd charged an ad hoc committee with the responsibility to investigate the university’s role in the resolution of the criminal case involving former UI student-athlete Pierre Pierce. We stand by the results of the report as issued in April 2003. No additional comments will be made at this time.”
Thursday, Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta refrained from commenting on Alford's apology. Barta replaced Bob Bowlsby as athletics director in 2006, four years after Pierce's first incident.
"I wasn't here at the time, but when I arrived on campus pretty quickly I learned that it was a real difficult time for everybody, whether it was coaches, obviously the student-athletes involved, and certainly the whole department and the whole community," Barta said. "I'm sure all of us learned a lot, and when I say all of us I mean collectively, the university. But beyond that, because I wasn't here, it's hard for me to jump in and make any specific comments.
Pierce was convicted of assault causing bodily injury after that incident and was issued a red-shirt season. In 2005, he was charged with sexual assault of another female and eventually served 11 months in prison. Alford left Iowa for New Mexico in 2007 before landing with UCLA last week.
UCLA Athletics Director Dan Guerrero also issued a statement today:"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."