Alford apologizes for insensitive comments

Steve Alford, hired as UCLA’s basketball coach nearly two weeks ago, issued an apology Thursday for past comments about Pierre Pierce, a player for Alford at Iowa who was accused of sexual assault in 2002.

Alford on a handful of occasions vehemently defended his player, saying he was innocent. Pierce pleaded guilty to a lesser charge. In 2005, Pierce was thrown off the Iowa team after another incident involving a woman. He pleaded guilty to two charges of first-degree burglary, assault with intent to commit sexual assault and fourth-degree criminal mischief. Pierce spent 11 months in prison.

Alford was asked about Pierce at his introductory news conference at UCLA last week. Said Alford: “I just followed everything the University of Iowa told me to do.” Asked whether university officials instructed him to proclaim Pierce’s innocence at Big Ten media day, Alford said, “There wasn’t anything done at that point.”

On Thursday, Alford released a statement, saying: “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.”

Alford was Iowa’s coach from 1999 to 2007.

UCLA Athletic Director Dan Guerrero also issued a statement supporting Alford, saying, “Everyone has regrets in their past, but acknowledging them and learning from them shows true character.”

— Chris Foster