UCLA has fired coach Steve Alford, the school announced Monday.
Alford was in charge of the Bruins for 5½ seasons, leading them to four NCAA tournaments and three Sweet 16 appearances. This season, however, UCLA struggled mightily in nonconference play; the Bruins are 7-6 after losing their past four games. Things hit rock bottom on Saturday, when UCLA lost at home by 15 points to Liberty.
"I'm extremely appreciative to everybody at UCLA for what has been a tremendous run and the chance to work with such special student-athletes and coaches," said Alford via statement. "While I wish we could have had more success, my family and I are so grateful for our time in Westwood. We wish this program nothing but the best. I sincerely hope that the UCLA community will rally around this team, its players and the coaching staff as Pac-12 play begins."
Assistant coach Murry Bartow will be the interim coach for the rest of the season. Bartow's father, Gene, succeeded Hall of Fame coach John Wooden at UCLA in 1975.
"Throughout my career as an athletic director, I have maintained a belief that making a head coaching change during a season is rarely in the best interests of our student-athletes or program," athletic director Dan Guerrero said in a statement. "In this case, however, it is now clear to me that what is best for our current students and for the overall good of the program, is to make this change now."
After an 80-66 loss to Ohio State earlier this month, Alford said he had "no issue" with the constant discussions about his job and that "I'm a man of God, so I've got an audience of one."
"You know, obviously with its fans, whether it be at UCLA or anywhere else, you always have those opinions," he told reporters.
Alford has often been at odds with the UCLA fan base, despite his team's Sweet 16 appearances. Twice in the past three years, a banner was flown over campus calling for Alford's firing. In 2016, it read "UCLA deserves better, fire Alford!" while last spring it read, "Final Fours not First Fours #FireAlford." After a 15-17 season in 2015-16, Alford returned a one-year contract extension and wrote a letter acknowledging his poor performance.
He signed another one-year contract extension after the 2016-17 season, an agreement that raised his buyout to $3.6 million. UCLA said in its release that it planned to honor the terms of Alford's contract.
Alford, 54, was hired in 2013 after UCLA fired Ben Howland. He had spent the previous six seasons at New Mexico, leading the Lobos to three NCAA tournament appearances. Prior to his time in Albuquerque, Alford was the coach at Iowa for eight seasons and Southwest Missouri State for four seasons.
A former Indiana high school legend, Alford was a two-time college All-American at Indiana before spending four seasons in the NBA.
UCLA could go a number of ways in its search for Alford's replacement, with former Chicago Bulls and Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, TCU coach Jamie Dixon and former Phoenix Suns coach and UCLA alum Earl Watson among the likely candidates, sources told ESPN.