UCLA Bruins head coach Steve Alford released a statement on Thursday apologizing for comments he made in 2002 in defense of former Iowa basketball player Pierre Pierce, who was charged with sexual assault that year.
Alford repeatedly proclaimed Pierce was innocent after the incident, something the coach says he now regrets:
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.
Pierce pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of assault causing injury in a sexual assault. He avoided jail time, but was forced to sit out the 2002-03 season. Less than three years later, Pierce was permanently dismissed from the team after being charged with sexual assualt yet again. Pierce spent 11 months in jail following the second incident.
UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero also addressed the situation after being scrutinized for the hiring of Alford, expressing confidence in his new head basketball coach:
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.
Alford was hired away from New Mexico as UCLA's head coach following the dismissal of Ben Howland after the Bruins' early exit from the NCAA Tournament.