LSU should have fired Will Wade 18 months ago. There's no other choice now
Will Wade is in deep trouble.
Or at least he should be.
But you never know with Wade, whose tenure as LSU’s head basketball coach should have ended a year and a half ago but didn’t.
That’s when the FBI caught him on tape discussing what can only be reasonably interpreted as an offer to a recruit that violated NCAA rules.
But Wade survived.
And now the NCAA reportedly has concluded that the original transgression was just the tip of Wade’s iceberg of law-breaking in recruiting.
ESPN is reporting on documents that show the NCAA has concluded that Wade either arranged for or offered “impermissible payments” to at least 11 potential recruits or others around them.
Perhaps Wade’s tenure will end this time. Finally.
Wade’s initial run-in with the NCAA came on the watch of former LSU athletic director Joe Alleva, who hired him and watched him turn around the struggling program. On the court, it’s hard to argue with the results. Wade inherited a team that went 10-21 and promptly produced an 18-15 mark. In Year 2, the Tigers went 28-7 and won the SEC regular-season title. Not only did they make the NCAA Tournament for the second time in 10 seasons, they advanced to the Sweet 16 (though Wade missed the postseason run). Last season, they went 21-10 without the benefit of a postseason. Those 49 victories in 2 seasons are the most in a 2-year stretch since 1986-87, when Dale Brown’s Tigers won 50 games and reached the Final Four and Elite Eight.
But Alleva is no longer the AD and his replacement, Scott Woodward, has said he would let the NCAA stuff play out before taking action.
Woodward wasn’t around when this mess began. He wasn’t around when it wasn’t cleaned up. But he’s in charge now – and things are getting a lot messier.
Wade’s new attorney sent a letter to the NCAA on Aug. 18, a copy of which was obtained by Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger. The excerpt from the letter that is online is full of bluster but explains away neither Wade’s self-implicating words that the FBI has on tape nor the latest NCAA allegations.
Let’s go back to the end of the 2018-19 SEC season when all this first came to a head. Wade was caught on tape talking to recruiting “broker” Christian Dawkins as part of the FBI’s investigation of Dawkins.
The money quote (pun intended) was one in which Wade referred to a “strong-ass offer” to a highly-rated recruit Wade was pursuing – and ultimately landed.
In an HBO documentary that aired this spring, Dawkins talked about the conversation with Wade, saying that when a head coach uses the verbiage that Wade used he “ain’t talking about a scholarship offer, bro.”
“One hundred percent talking about money,” Dawkins added.
It was obvious at the time. It’s obvious now.
When the recording became public, Alleva and other LSU officials asked Wade to sit down with them and explain himself while the NCAA investigated.
Wade refused even though his contract required him to cooperate “fully in any investigation of possible NCAA or SEC violations conducted or authorized by LSU, the SEC, or the NCAA at any time.”
The university did what it had to do and suspended Wade as the Tigers were on the verge of clinching the SEC regular-season championship.
Wade never publicly denied the accusation and was arrogant enough to publicly demand that the university reinstate him for the postseason. Dawkins appropriately described Wade taking that action as “gangster.”
LSU refused his demand and the Tigers reached the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament under interim coach Tony Benford before losing.
After the season the university would have been well-advised to fire Wade, who looked guilty, didn’t proclaim innocence and eschewed contriteness in favor of arrogance.
Instead, LSU and Wade cut a deal for the coach’s reinstatement. Wade agreed to forfeit a $250,000 bonus he had earned during the season and signed an amended contract that allows the university to fire him with cause if he is found guilty of Level I or Level II NCAA violations. Wade also agreed to not sue LSU if fired with cause.
In other words, all the concessions came from Wade’s end, which is not the way innocent people respond to false allegations against them.
And now there are not only more allegations but numerous conclusions of wrongdoing.
Presumably, the university legal team is giving the amended contract a close look these days.
The NCAA noted in the documents obtained by ESPN that LSU “has been unable to secure (Wade’s) full cooperation” as the university has tried do its due diligence.
We’re well past the point of entertaining the possibility of an innocent explanation. If there were one, it would have been in Wade’s interest to have supplied it at some point in the past year and a half.
But for all of Wade’s apparent generosity in offering inducements to teenagers and those around them to help him win basketball games, the one thing he isn’t good at offering is explanations.
Now the accusations have metastasized. And neither Wade nor his attorney have denied them.
LSU should have fired Wade a year and a half ago.
But it didn’t.
Enabling Wade to continue coaching – and more to the point, recruit – leaves the university open to substantive charges of lacking institutional control over its men’s basketball program.
If LSU doesn’t fire Wade now, it would be fair to consider the university an accessory to his reported NCAA crimes.