LSU fired Wade with the NCAA men’s tourney beginning on Thursday
It took way too long to oust Will Wade from his place atop LSU men’s basketball, but the deserved guillotine finally made its swift chop on Saturday afternoon, a major moment in the 4-year-plus NCAA investigation into wrongdoing surrounding his time in Baton Rouge. Wade was fired with cause, meaning he’s not owed any of the money remaining on his contract with the university.
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After taking the Tigers’ helm in March 2017, all but six months of Wade’s tenure has been overshadowed by the federal investigation into college basketball, which became public that September with Wade’s name heavily connected to the inquiry. Wade’s immediate future at LSU came into focus again this week as the NCAA sent the school notice of allegations surrounding the program.
Wade’s firing means that for the second time he won’t coach in the NCAA Tournament a team he led to March Madness. In 2019, he was suspended for LSU’s final five games of the season after it was revealed that a federal wiretap caught him making a “strong-ass offer” for a recruit, more than two years before benefitting from name, image and likeness became legal across college sports.
The NCAA notice of allegations, per multiple reports, show there are eight Level I violations, the most severe penalty, against LSU, and seven directly tied to the men’s basketball program. Wade is directly accused of six violations, five Level I and a Level II. The allegations state Wade “arranged for, offered, and/or provided impermissible payments, including cash payments, to at least 11 men’s basketball prospective student-athletes, their family members, individuals associated with the prospects and/or nonscholastic coaches in exchange for the prospects’ enrollment at LSU.”
Woof. That’s some level of impermeability. Essentially, everything you promise not to do as a coach and following NCAA rules Wade did wrong. There was no way he could be allowed to coach at the school any further. Once someone inside the NCAA circles knew the extent of this damage, easy choice. The harm is far from over too. These allegations will take months to sort, likely implicating more people. Already as part of the federal investigation into the sport, three individuals were sentenced to prison time. Wade is unlikely to be prosecuted, but how can he have a future in college basketball? His mistakes may have cost him $50 million in contract money for the rest of his career.
LSU athletic director Scott Woodward has built his reputation breaking the bank with his coaching hires to bring in a proven winner, no matter the financial cost. He poached Brian Kelly from Notre Dame and Kim Mulkey, trading in Baylor for the Bayou Bengals. The allegations that’ll likely bring severe punishments for the program puts a damper on that strategy. What big name college-basketball coach with any ties to Louisiana or Woodward would leave for a school that can’t play in the NCAA Tournament?
Wishful thinking would point to Scott Drew as a national-championship-winning coach, especially with the Big 12’s uncertain future. Maybe Woodward would hire the last guy he filled for a men’s basketball vacancy, Texas A&M head coach Buzz Williams, who led the Aggies from the bubble to the NCAA Tournament during this week’s Southeastern Conference Tournament. For the attractive mid-major coaches, money could bring them to LSU, as most will see a significant pay raise. That’s why Porter Moser left a great situation at Loyola Chicago for Oklahoma, and Wade himself left an ideal situation at VCU for LSU.
Woodward’s search is also complicated by the growing number of high-level conference jobs opening in college basketball. Louisville and Maryland are no doubt better jobs than LSU aside from the NCAA allegations. There are two other openings in the SEC, with Georgia likely hiring an assistant coach or a mid-major coach. Missouri being the other conference opening is a stark contrast to LSU. While the former home of Pete Maravich has a richer basketball history, having lower expectations and being the savior from the 21st century doldrums for a once-storied program could be a great gig for Murray State’s Matt McMahon or Drake’s Darian DeVries. Missouri has never been to a Final Four and hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game in over a decade. LSU won plenty with a cheater in charge, with Wade going 108-51 in his time in Baton Rouge.
Regardless of timing, after all, LSU could still make a run in the NCAA Tournament with assistant Kevin Nickelberry serving as interim coach. It’s better for the sport that the scumbags like Wade and Sean Miller are out of it. This is a huge stand for college basketball that cheating isn’t tolerated and should’ve been deleted years ago. Sad part is, Wade will probably find another college job somewhere soon. Art Briles did on the gridiron for much worse. When, unfortunately not if that happens, let’s hope Wade’s strong-ass offer is to not be too big of a distraction.