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Back home again: Coaching legend Alford returns to roots


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Sam and Sharan Alford at their Sweetwater Lake home Wednesday, April 10, 2013, in Nineveh, Indiana. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Sam and Sharan Alford at their Sweetwater Lake home Wednesday, April 10, 2013, in Nineveh, Indiana. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal

Sam Alford with his dog Chloe at his Sweetwater Lake home Wednesday, April 10, 2013, in Nineveh, Indiana. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Sam Alford with his dog Chloe at his Sweetwater Lake home Wednesday, April 10, 2013, in Nineveh, Indiana. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal


Randolph Scott took part in 105 movies during his legendary acting career, the majority black-and-white westerns still capable of holding one Sam Alford captive for two hours.

To Alford, who in 29 seasons as a boys high school basketball coach on Indiana soil produced 452 victories and positively influenced countless young men, Scott, who retired from acting in 1962 and has been deceased for 26 years, never made a bad movie.

Same goes for that Eastwood guy.

Alford himself has never been in a western, nor has his life to this point come close to resembling one.

THE ALFORD FILE

Name: Sam Alford

Age: 70

Born: Washington, Ind.

Resides: Franklin

Family: Wife, Sharan; sons, Steve, 48; and Sean, 46; seven grandchildren

High school: Washington (Ind.), 1960

College: Franklin College, 1964

Favorite TV show: “Gunsmoke”

Favorite food: Seafood

Favorite movie: “Hoosiers” or any western

Favorite team: UCLA men’s basketball

Favorite high school gym not named Chrysler Fieldhouse: “Probably Monroe City. It sounds silly, but the gym seated about 1,600 and was standing-room-only every game. For a head coach just starting out you couldn’t ask for anything better. And the old Hatchet House in Washington would have to be right up there, too. There was a lot of mystique to it. My dad (Sam) played there for (Franklin “Wonder Five” member) Burl Friddle, and my brother, Scott, played there his sophomore and junior seasons (1965-66 and 1966-67).”

Least-favorite high school gym: “The Anderson Wigwam. They just always had so much talent, it was ridiculous. And the Indian dancing ... it was just always a bad scene.”

Oh, the coach has witnessed examples of “True Grit,” been part of games that at different times were “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and even endured a few somewhat hostile road battles that, looking back, might have fallen beneath the heading of “Badman’s Territory.”

The similarities, however, end there.

The former Franklin College standout, now a youthful-looking 70 years of age, moved back to Johnson County full time in April 2012. Alford and his wife, Sharan, his sweetheart at Washington High School in southern Indiana where the two graduated in 1960, will celebrate their 51st wedding anniversary Aug. 26.

“We love it here. I went to school here, and Sharan and I were married at the end of my sophomore year,” said Alford, who fell just two letters short of the alphabet with 14 varsity letters at Washington and another 10 at Franklin College. “We just really enjoy this area, the town, our church.”

It should, too, be noted a certain Division I college basketball coach exhaled his first breaths inside Johnson Memorial Hospital. It was there on Nov. 23, 1964, the late Dr. Jack Walters helped Sam and Sharan welcome their first son, Steve, into the world.

Steve Alford, who played for his father at New Castle High School, was Indiana’s Mr. Basketball in 1983 and then led Indiana University to a national championship four years later. Steve played four seasons in the NBA before electing to follow Sam’s coaching footsteps.

Since 1991, Steve’s ascent has been impressive: four seasons at Manchester College followed by four more at Southwest Missouri State. From 1999-2007 Alford served as head coach at the University of Iowa, but for the past six seasons he was making the program at New Mexico relevant with an overall mark of 155-52.

On March 30, Steve Alford signed a

seven-year contract to become the new head coach at UCLA. Two of his players will be his sons: Kory, a 6-4 redshirt sophomore guard; and incoming freshman, Bryce, a sweet-shooting — sound familiar? — 6-3 guard who this past season averaged 37.7 points a game at La Cueva High School in Albuquerque.

Sons playing for fathers.

Sam Alford by no means invented the concept. Yet in the early-1980s, with sons Steve and Sean on his roster, New Castle’s Chrysler Fieldhouse was among the go-to gymnasiums in an era entirely unaffected by the prospect of a four-tiered postseason tournament such as today’s.

“I loved that era. That’s when basketball was good basketball,” said Sam, who retired as a high school coach following the 1994-95 season and later worked with Steve before retiring full-time in 2007. “Compared to a lot of states it’s still good, but not compared to that era.”

Alford coached a total of 17 sectional champions, the final 14 at New Castle. His final Trojans squad advanced all the way to the title game of the Hinkle Semistate, only to drop a 65-60 decision to eventual state champion Ben Davis.

Three years later the state would be introduced to class basketball. Some might say Sam Alford’s timing couldn’t have been better.

FOREVER A ‘BLUE JEAN’

Alford after high school continued his academic and athletic pursuits at Franklin College. While on campus he lettered four times in both basketball and baseball and once each in tennis and cross country.

As a senior in 1963-64, he made good on 124 of 136 free-throw attempts (.912) to lead the nation in that category. Alford was also named the Grizzlies’ Most Valuable Player and a Little All-American.

His first coaching gig came as Franklin Junior High School’s boys basketball coach during the 1964-65 season. The following year Alford was elevated to lead the Grizzly Cubs’ freshman program before taking over as head coach at tiny Monroe City High School just southeast of Vincennes in the fall of 1966.

Monroe City had one of the catchier team nicknames in Indiana not only then but of all-time: The Blue Jeans.

The following year the school fell victim to the powers of consolidation, feeding into what became South Knox High School, where Alford would coach four Spartans teams. Included was the school’s first sectional champion in 1970, hardly a small feat on Vincennes Lincoln’s home floor, historic Adams Coliseum.

“When I was at Monroe City it was a school of 100 (students) and we played at the Vincennes Sectional. I loved it,” Alford said.

Sam and Sharan and their two young sons moved to Martinsville in 1971 where Alford would coach the Artesians for four seasons, including 1975 Indiana All-Star and future Purdue University backcourt fixture Jerry Sichting. Then came two decades in New Castle, highlighted by his oldest son’s growing legend and a second All-Star in 1986 graduate Rodney Haynes.

Alford averaged 15 victories per season despite playing in the North Central Conference, which most years might have been the most-talented and best-balanced boys high school basketball conference in the United States.

In the early-1980s alone, Anderson had Shawn Teague, Henry Johnson, Andre Morgan and Troy Lewis; Marion suited up Jeff Todd, Joseph Price, James Blackmon, Lefon Bowens and Jay Teagle.

New Castle capped Steve Alford’s senior season by making it to the Hinkle Semistate finale after Steve rang up Broad Ripple for 57 points — the 3-point basket had yet to be included on the prep level, mind you — in an earlier semifinal.

The following season, with Steve a freshman phenom at IU, marked the lone state finals appearance by an Alford-coached team.

“That would have to be one of my most rewarding seasons. Todd Jarvis had a really big year for us, but we also had (Troy) Burgess, (Troy) Lundy, (Joe) Nadaline, and Rodney Haynes was a sophomore starter,” said Alford, whose Trojans lost 78-74 to eventual state champion Warsaw in the afternoon game at Market Square Arena.

“I would say we just always had some hard-working kids. We played Anderson, Marion, Richmond and Kokomo, and they might have had quicker players, but we had good shooters and good kids who were smart.”

Talent takes a program only so far. Ultimately there has to be a coach whose communication skills and high expectation level are good enough to pull it all together. Alford, according to former New Castle athletics director Vance Meier, had few peers in these areas.

“Sam has always had very organized programs all the way down into the lower grades. He got the most out of his players. The kids knew where they stood and that the coach had a plan,” said Meier, now retired. “And Sam was right on top of things. If something was happening in his program, he knew it.”

“I’ve known Sam since he did his student-teaching at Center Grove. I think I was in third-grade at the time,” former Ben Davis coach Steve Witty, who is actually only five years younger than Alford, said with a laugh. “He’s just another one from the Franklin College coaching cradle along with myself, (former Pike coach) Ed Siegel, (Munster’s) Mike Hackett, (Concord’s) Steve Austin and (former New Albany coach) Jim Miller. Sam had a great coaching career and won everywhere he’s been.”

WALKING THE WALK

Sam Alford will be the first to credit the sport of basketball for the good life he’s been able to lead. It’s enabled him to visit parts of the country he might not have been able to otherwise, all while doing something he truly loves.

Through it all, the man has remained consistently humble.

“It’s not hard at all to do that,” Alford said. “There were so many players better than I was and so many coaches that were better than me.”

Those who know Alford best insist it’s a quality rooted deeply in his faith.

During the time the Alfords made New Castle their home, Don Geozeff’s family lived but two houses over in the same five-home cul de sac.

The New Castle High School principal from 1995-2002 and its assistant principal the 15 years previous to that, Geozeff was in a position to watch Sam Alford the man more than Sam Alford the coach. He was and continues to be impressed by both.

“No. 1, Sam is a good Christian. He’s very good with people and must have friends across the country. His ability to make a good relationship is just an A-plus,” Geozeff said. “What’s amazing about him is he still has contact with the players who played for him even going back to Martinsville and South Knox. They know when you play for Sam Alford, you’re in it for life. They’re just really, really great people.”

The Alfords are somewhat scattered these days — Sam and Sharan in Johnson County, Steve’s family in the process of leaving Albuquerque for Los Angeles, and Sean and his wife and children residing in Carmel. Sean Alford, 46, works for Medtronics, a medical technology company.

“My greatest joy in life is I have two sons that have done pretty well and done things the right way. I’ve been very blessed. I married a very, very good woman who was a great coach’s wife,” Alford said. “Now I just enjoy life. When you live on the water in a house that was built in 1964, there are always things to do. I’m a big St. Louis Cardinals fan, and when you have a son that coaches, you’re always busy.”

The Alfords were able to be present for 15 of Steve and Kory’s games and 16 of Bryce’s during the 2012-13 basketball season. They plan to be at the Bruins’ longtime home facility, Pauley Pavilion, as often as possible over the next few winters.

Asked if he’s begun phasing out the Lobos red in his wardrobe in exchange for UCLA blue, Alford laughs.

“A lot of red has been moved out,” he said. “The blue hasn’t started coming in yet.”

IN HIS WORDS

Sam Alford talks about ...

On living in the area

“We love it here. I went to school here, and Sharan and I were married at the end of my sophomore year. We just really enjoy this area, the town, our church.”

On coaching

in the ’80s

“I loved that era. That’s when basketball was good basketball. Compared to a lot of states it’s still good, but not compared to that era.”

On coaching in the single-class era

“When I was at Monroe City it was a school of 100 (students) and we played at the Vincennes Sectional. I loved it.”

On leading New Castle to the

state finals in 1984

“I would say we just always had some hard-working kids. We played Anderson, Marion, Richmond and Kokomo, and they might have had quicker players, but we had good shooters and good kids who were smart.”

On being humble

“It’s not hard at all to do that. There were so many players better than I was and so many coaches that were better than me.”

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