LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Steve Alford was introduced today as UCLA’s head basketball coach, saying accepting the job was a “leap of faith” for him and his family, but the allure of the university’s storied basketball tradition was hard to pass up.

“When a place like UCLA calls — when you think of excellence and when you think of college basketball at its pinnacle, it’s UCLA basketball,” Alford told reporters in Westwood.

The one-time Indiana star player was hired Saturday as the Bruins’ coach, replacing Ben Howland, who was fired after 10 years. Alford was the head coach at the University of New Mexico, where he had a 29-6 record this year and won the Mountain West Conference regular season and tournament titles. He has
coached collegiate basketball for 22 years.

Alford took the Lobos to postseason appearances in all six of his years at New Mexico, including three trips to the NCAA tournament.

Before New Mexico, Alford was head coach at Iowa for eight seasons. He guided the Hawkeyes to three NCAA tournaments while there. Previous to that, he was at Southwest Missouri State, where he took the Bears to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen in 1999, the best tournament finish of his coaching

“It’s not easy when you’re 29-6 and you’ve won back-to-back conference and tournament championships and you return your entire starting five,” Alford said of New Mexico. “That’s a difficult thing to leave.”

Alford said he took that into consideration when considering whether to accept the UCLA job.

“It was a very difficult decision. It was a leap of faith. It was a family decision. But as I looked into it, I just saw a place that could really help better everything about our family because of the values, because of the family atmosphere and because of the word `excellence’ and all that it means to this university. So it is a great, humbling, honorable position that I’m in today and I very much look forward to the challenges ahead.

“I really like the excitement and enthusiasm that I think is going to happen here in the near future. I very much appreciate this opportunity.”