Where does Alford’s first season rank in Nevada Wolf Pack history?
Steve Alford was set up to succeed in his first season as the Nevada Wolf Pack’s men’s basketball coach.
The former UCLA, Iowa, New Mexico, Missouri State, Manchester College head coach received the largest and longest contract in school history ($11.6 million over 10 years). He was handed a program coming off three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. He was given a fan base that showed up in record numbers (10,878 per game) the year before. He was handed one of the best home-court advantages in the nation (just five losses at home over the previous four years combined).
And Alford did not disappoint.
The Pack went 19-12 overall, finished tied for second in the Mountain West at 12-6, won 12-of-15 home games and put an average of 8,721 fans in the seats for each home game.
Alford, without question, turned in one of the best rookie years as Pack head coach in school history among the 19 coaches that have led the program since 1913.
“I think we nailed it,” athletic director Doug Knuth said last April when Alford was introduced at Lawlor Events Center as the next Pack coach.
Yes, Knuth could have hired all 18 of the previous Pack coaches for the $11.6 million he gave Alford. And, yes, when a former Big Ten and Pac-12 coach, let alone one that has already dominated the Mountain West, wants to come to Nevada, well, you better nail it before he changes his mind. And Knuth did exactly that, taking roughly five minutes of reflection before offering Alford the job last April after Eric Musselman was seen donning a pig nose in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
But Knuth did indeed nail it, just the same. So where, exactly, does Alford fit in with the other Pack coaches after their first season in Nevada? As we said, Knuth nailed it.
“I don’t know all the history of all the coaches that have been hired here,” Alford said last April, amid the fireworks and cheerleader leg kicks and smiles at Lawlor. “I look forward to learning all about the history.”
The following is that history, and where Alford fits in with the other 18 Pack coaches after their first year.
19. CHESTER SCRANTON
First season: 1929-30
Biggest win: After opening the season with six consecutive losses against extremely tough teams (two each against Stanford, Utah, BYU), the Pack beat San Jose State 39-33 at home in its Far Western Conference opener.
1929-30 season: Pack lost first six and last five, though Scranton led them to respectable 6-4 record in conference. Season opened at home with pair of losses on Dec. 23 and 24 against Stanford. “It became apparent early in the contest the Wolves are not the smoothly functioning unit they were last year,” the Reno Evening Gazette newspaper reported after the first game, a 26-15 loss (it was 14-5 Stanford at halftime). After the second game, a 33-24 loss, the paper wrote, “There is in them the promise of a cracker-jack team.”
18. CHARLES SCHUCHARDT
First season: 1939-40 (season lasted from January through February 1940).
Record: 5-9 (Nevada media guide incorrectly lists 7-7 as record, giving two victories to the Pack in the final two games against UC Davis when, in fact, the Pack lost those games).
Biggest win: John Radovich scored 16 points in 48-41 win over Fresno State on Feb. 2, 1940.
1940 season: This was the Pack’s last season in the Far Western Conference (they joined in 1925-26) before returning in 1953. Radovich was joined on the roster by “Little John” Etchemendy, Gordon Thompson, Ted Olson, Walt Powers (father of future Wolf Pack baseball coach Gary Powers) and others.
17. C.E. HOLLOWAY
First season: 1912-13
Biggest win: 37-18 over Santa Clara, the only true collegiate team the Pack played in its first season. “The largest crowd of the season at the university gymnasium saw the battle and enjoyed dancing afterward,” wrote the Nevada State Journal.
1913 season: The Pack played just four games from Feb. 1 through March 1, 1913 to officially tip off the program. Holloway had to show Pack players what a basketball looked like, where the baskets were located and how to put on their shorts correctly in the first season of Pack basketball. Before a 48-26 loss to the San Francisco Exhibition Five, Holloway (the newspapers repeatedly spelled his name as “Holway” that season), a Reno newspaper wrote, “Coach Holway of the local band is taking no back talk from the San Francisco press agent (who predicted a San Francisco win). He points out the visitors are likely to slip on the slippery floor and get so badly out of breath in the high altitude.” It wouldn’t be the last time a Pack coach was proven wrong.
16. JIM AIKEN
First season: 1944-45
Record: 8-9. (Season lasted from late January through middle of March, 1945).
Biggest win: 57-32 over the Fallon Merchants. Two new Pack players from Chicago, Cliff France and Norbert Smolinski, joined team for this game, the second of the season, on Jan. 30, 1945. France scored 20 points and Smolinski had 14.
1944-45 season: Aiken was also the Pack’s football coach at the time. The Pack, because of World War II, did not have a program the year before. Aiken, who would later coach quarterback Norm Van Brocklin at Oregon in the late 1940s, took over the basketball program for just one year, playing mainly against military teams. The most important thing to happen in Aiken’s first season was the opening of the “new” gymnasium on campus that seated a whopping 3,000. The Pack had to wait until late January to start the season while the new floor at the new gym was installed. That “new” gym, by the way, is now referred to as the “Old Gym.”
15. DOC MARTIE
First season: 1923-24
Biggest win: 45-16 over the Northwest Athletic Club on Jan. 27, 1924. It was the Pack’s first win of the year, its most lopsided win and featured the season high for points scored.
1923-24 season: Pack started 1-7 in Martie’s first year. Six of the losses, though, were to St. Mary’s, Cal and Stanford (two each). School had total enrollment of about 625 students, 10 of which played basketball for Martie. After a 30-20 loss at home to St. Mary’s on Jan. 19, 1924 in the second game of the season, the Nevada State Journal wrote, “The game almost came to an abrupt end when George Hobbs, Nevada forward, resented the tripping tactics of Lawless of St. Mary’s. Referee Elfrink disqualified both players.” Martie, whose name is now on the prestigious award given to the Pack’s senior male athlete of the year, would go on to coach the Pack in 14 of the next 15 years, winning a then school-record 129 games.
14. SILAS ROSS
First season: 1913-14
Biggest win: The Wolf Pack beat California 33-14 at home on Feb. 14, 1914 in a Pacific Athletic Association game. Yes, the Pack was in the same conference as Cal.
1913-14 season: Pack, in its second season, started 6-1. A narrow 25-24 loss at Stanford on Feb. 21, 1914, saw the Pack rally from a 17-5 halftime deficit. “The Stanford boys were clever and the cardinal team is the best yet pitted against the invaders (Nevada),” wrote the Nevada State Journal. A grueling five-game road trip (all trips in 1914 were grueling) to northern California saw the Pack lose twice, at Stanford and St. Mary’s.
13. RAYMOND COURTRIGHT
First season: 1918-19
Biggest win: A 47-22 win over St. Ignatius (the University of San Francisco) gave the Pack a perfect 6-0 record in the Pacific Athletic Association and its first conference title.
1918-19 season: “Corky” Courtright, who coached both football and basketball at Nevada, was a former star athlete at Oklahoma and was just 27 when he took over the Pack. The team was led by center Noble Waite. The season began with two losses (28-17, 20-13) at home against an all-star type of team called the “Los Angeles Blues.” The Blues, according to the Nevada State Journal, was “a team without peer in the country” and “gave the finest exhibition of teamwork we have ever seen.“ Nevada Governor Emmet Boyle witnessed the season opener.
12. TRENT JOHNSON
First season: 1999-00
Biggest win: 80-55 over Washington State at Lawlor in the season’s first game in front of a crowd of 6,191. It was the biggest Pack win over a then Pac-10 team since school went to Division I in 1969.
1999-00 season: It was a trying year (the Pack’s last in the Big West Conference) for Johnson, the former Stanford and Washington assistant. Johnson was basically building a program from the ground up and started four players in the season opener who had never played a Division I game before. Terrance Green would emerge as the top scorer at 13.3 points a game.
11. JACK SPENCER
First season: 1959-60
Biggest win: It took over a month before the home crowd saw a Pack win, 72-47, over Humboldt State on Jan. 9, 1960.
1959-60 season: Spencer, the former Iowa Wesleyan coach, had the misfortunate of taking over the program for Pack legend Jake Lawlor. Lawlor, who became athletic director in 1959, did not hire Spencer until September, just three months before the season started. The Pack, a scrappy bunch led by the 5-foot-11 Val York from Fallon, did win seven of 12 games from Dec. 29 to Feb. 19. The Pack, though, did not have a player taller than 6-3. “I know we’re going to get killed on both backboards most of the season,” Spencer told the media. “We must be the smallest team at any state university. Most high school teams are taller than we are.” Joining York were Bob Lyon, Ken Longero from Carson City, the 5-8 Lyle Damon from Winnemucca, Ed Allison, freshman Joe DeArrietta, Morgan Sellett and others.
10. PAT FOSTER
First season: 1993-94
Biggest win: Foster’s Pack stunned UNLV 93-88 on Feb. 5, 1994 in front of a crowd of 11, 105 at Lawlor Events Center. It was the Pack’s first win over UNLV since Nov. 23, 1984.
1993-94 season: Foster, a former head coach at Houston and Lamar, took over a team that had won nine games the previous season. Foster’s first Pack team featured a solid lineup with Jimmy Moore, Eathan O’Bryant, Jerry Hogan Shawn Pughsley and others. The win over UNLV, though, was the clear highlight of the first year. “All of the questions about why we hired Pat Foster are over now,” Pack athletic director Chris Ault said after the UNLV game.
9. JIM PADGETT
First season: 1972-73
Biggest win: The Pack beat UNLV 76-74 on two free throws by Carson City freshman Greg Davis with four seconds to play. Marv Buckley had 20 points and the coach’s son, freshman Pete Padgett, had 10 points and 14 rebounds. It would be just one of four wins over UNLV the Pack had from 1966-94.
1972-73 season: Padgett, the former Cal coach, was hired in April and immediately endeared himself to Pack fans, calling UNLV “that branch office.” Padgett took over a floundering program that had won just five games combined over the previous two years and did a wonderful job. Not his fault, though, was a blunder at the home opener, a 70-69 loss to Seattle at the Centennial Coliseum. The Wolf Pack came out wearing uniforms that read Wolfpack (one word) across the chest. New athletic director Dick Trachok called it a manufacturer’s error. “I told Jim (Padgett) to have the guys run fast so nobody could see it,” joked Trachok to the Reno newspaper. Padgett would coach four seasons at Nevada and never turn in a winning season but he did give the Pack his son Pete and Edgar Jones (in 1975-76), two of the greatest players in school history.
8. SONNY ALLEN
First season: 1980-81
Biggest win: The first win at a new school is always big for a new coach, even if it is against a Division II school. Allen’s Pack fell behind 50-48 at halftime against Mankato State but rallied for a 96-78 win at the Coliseum. B.B. Fontenet had 20 points and Mike Legarza had 19.
1980-81 season: The Pack never won more than two games in a row and finished 5-9 in the Big Sky Conference. But Allen, a former head coach at SMU and Old Dominion, did build the nucleus of a solid team in his first season with Fontenet, Legarza, Greg Palm and others that would win between 17 and 21 games over the next four years and go to two NCAA tournaments (1984, 85).
7. JAKE LAWLOR
First season: 1942-43
Biggest win: The first one, 63-46 in the season opener on Dec. 4, 1942 over the Hawthorne Marines. It taught the Pack, which won one game of 12 the previous season, that this season would be different.
1942-43 season: It must be noted, though, that Lawlor’s first season had a distinct advantage over any other before it in Pack history. Due to World War II it was the first Pack season that featured military teams on the schedule. The Pack, for example, beat McClelland Field on back-to-back nights in early December 1942 by scores of 75-28 and 87-19. The Pack led 46-7 at halftime in the second game. Lawlor’s Pack, though, did go 6-4 against college teams (St. Mary’s, Chico State, San Jose State, San Francisco State UC Davis). Bob O’Shaugnessy led the Pack in 1942-43 helped by, among others, Orsie Graves, Alf Sorensen, Harry Paille, Jimmy Melarkey and Gene Mastroianni.
6. LEN STEVENS
First season: 1987-88
Biggest win: OK, yes, it wasn’t exactly a victory. But the Pack’s 98-96 loss to UNLV in two overtimes on Dec. 8, 1987, in Stevens’ third game at Nevada, was as big as any win in Stevens’ first season. A then-record crowd of 10,330 at Lawlor saw a benches-clearing brawl in the first overtime and an iron-man 50-minute effort by the Pack’s Bryon Strachan (21 points). The Pack almost beat the No. 17 team in the nation without one of its best players (Boris King) who was out with an injury. “If there was ever a game we didn’t deserve to win, it was this one,” UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian said after the game. “We got out played in every facet of the game.”
1987-88 season: Stevens’ Pack featured guard Darryl Owens, King, Strachan and others. And they were much better than the 15-13 record would suggest. The Pack started 8-4 (the four losses were to UNLV, Utah, North Carolina and Pepperdine) but ended the year with four straight losses, though two were in overtime.
5. JIM CAREY
First season: 1976-77
Biggest win: A couple stand out: 53-51 at Oregon State and 72-56 over Texas A&M in Houston. The most exciting, though, was 77-73 in four overtimes at Pepperdine on Dec. 27, 1976 as Edgar Jones played the entire 60 minutes and scored 32 points with 14 rebounds in one of the greatest performances in Pack history.
1976-77 season: Carey turned in the Pack’s first season over .500 in 11 years (21-6 in 1965-66). Jones was a beast all over the floor. The Pack won 10-of-13 games from Dec. 14 through Jan. 28. In addition to the wins over Oregon State and Texas A&M, Carey’s first Pack team narrowly lost at Stanford (88-83) in early December.
4. STEVE ALFORD
First season: 2019-20
Biggest win: Anytime you can beat UNLV (86-72 on Jan. 22) at home at Lawlor in front of 10,325 fans, well, it is going to be remembered and appreciated. The Pack got a vintage performance by Jalen Harris (28 points, six assists three steals) and drained 11 3-pointers.
2019-20 season: The year came to an abrupt close after a stunning loss in the first round of the Mountain West tournament to an eight-win Wyoming team. That, coupled with a national pandemic, ended the season a lot sooner than anyone expected. It was the first season that did not feature either 20 wins or a trip to the NCAA tournament (or both) since 2014-15. But it was a solid rookie year for Alford, who calmed the nerves of Wolf Pack Nation after Eric Musselman abandoned the program.
3. DAVID CARTER
First season: 2009-10
Biggest win: The Wolf Pack went to Wichita State and beat the Shockers 74-70 in front of a crowd of 9,112 and Shockers’ coach Gregg Marshall in the first round of the NIT behind 23 points from Luke Babbitt.
2009-10 season: The win over Wichita State was the Pack’s first postseason win since it beat Creighton in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament. The Pack started just 2-4 but three of the losses were to Virginia Commonwealth, No. 11 North Carolina and UNLV. Another one of the 13 losses that season was to Jimmer Fredette and BYU in Las Vegas. Babbitt averaged 22 points a game and Armon Johnson averaged 15.7 and then left the program after the year for the NBA.
2. ERIC MUSSELMAN
First season: 2015-16
Biggest win: Musselman became the first and only Pack coach to win a national title by beating Morehead State 85-82 in overtime at Lawlor in the College Basketball Invitational.
2015-16 season: The CBI, with its five victories all in the comfort of Lawlor Events Center against mediocre opposition, inflated Musselman’s first season. But this was still a team that won 19 games before the CBI, including the first in school history (after three losses) in the Mountain West tournament.
1. MARK FOX
First season: 2004-05
Biggest win: The Pack beat Texas 61-57 in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Indianapolis despite just 10 points on 3-of-10 shooting from sophomore Nick Fazekas. Fox is still the only first-year Pack coach to lead his team to the NCAA tournament let alone win a game.
2004-05 season: Yes, we understand that Pack mascots Wolfie and Alphie could have been successful with the team Fox was handed. Fox was given an NCAA tournament team from the year before along with NCAA-tested players like Kevinn Pinkney, Fazekas, Kyle Shiloh and Jermaine Washington. But Kirk Snyder, Gary Hill-Thomas and Todd Okeson were gone from the 2003-04 team and Marcelus Kemp missed Fox’s first season with a knee injury. Fox did a superb job, blending in newcomers Ramon Sessions and Mo Charlo and, at one point, winning 20-of-22 games. Fox’s 25 wins remain a record for a first-year Pack coach, as does his NCAA tournament win.