Today’s other post conveys a sincere sentiment on our part about Ed Orgeron’s ascension to the role of permanent LSU head coach. We see the potential for his success and we hope he seizes it. We don’t begrudge him his new job.
But there are two major college football teams who ended the 2016 regular season undefeated, and both coaches incessantly repeat the same message we think is important.
Nick Saban ushered in the current era of LSU football, the most successful in the history of the school, by constantly spouting the mantra “focus on the process.” He hasn’t ceased doing that in his current job at Alabama, and it’s served him pretty well.
Likewise, Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck, whose success in his current job has been nothing short of eye-popping (and could well be in the process of landing him a more lucrative job at Purdue), simply will not shut up to his players in his exhortation to “Row The Boat” – which is a jazzed-up way of saying the same thing. Fleck’s message is that the precision and vigor of the effort required in pulling on the oars, coupled with the trust that the boat is headed in the right direction, will lead to positive results even if the rower’s back is to the destination.
So to the winners it’s the process that matters. The result will usually take care of itself.
This isn’t always true. Dumb luck can certainly prevail, and there are times when doing all the right things just doesn’t work out like it should. Life does throw us curveballs.
On the whole, though, when your process is a good one and you faithfully follow it, you’re going to do quite well.
And Joe Alleva, LSU’s athletic director, just doesn’t seem to have the ability to do the right things with any skill or conviction.
The powers that be at LSU should have known this about Alleva before he was ever hired, because it was apparent to anyone who would see. Alleva was, after all, the athletic director at Duke when a manufactured scandal broke out over the lacrosse program there. A deranged stripper hired to perform at an off-campus party concocted an allegation of gang rape against several players on the lacrosse team, and since she was black the race industry and the Left blew those allegations up into a frenzy about “white privilege” and “rape culture” and lots of other cultural hysterics. The local district attorney, in an effort to secure the black vote in the next election, got indictments of three lacrosse players and attempted to try them in the media, and on campus there was a veritable “Bonfire Of The Vanities” absurdity magnified by atrocious leadership.
Amid this, Duke’s president called on Alleva to fire the lacrosse coach and disband the program, which would lead to the loss of athletic scholarships for a couple of dozen athletes not credibly accused of any wrongdoing. He did so, and then left for LSU a year later after the truth of the matter came out and the Duke lacrosse case became the most high-profile embarrassment in that school’s history – and the school’s athletic boosters mulled arming themselves with pitchforks and torches on a trip to see him.
The right thing to do, were the advice of Saban and Fleck to be taken and the “process” were to be followed with faith that results would take care of themselves, would have been for Alleva to tell that school president “No.” He should have told him those players deserve the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, that he wouldn’t give in to hysteria, and that the coach had done nothing to be fired, and that if the president wanted the coach fired and the program disbanded he’d have to do it himself while sacking Alleva as well – and if he was prepared to do that thinking it would make the problem go away he was dead wrong because things would only intensify.
That would have been the right thing to do. Alleva instead did the careerist thing. And unfortunately, he was rewarded for it by getting the LSU job in a hiring process that was rigged to produce him (See more on that here, and perhaps in a future Hayride post). But invariably character is destiny, and Alleva has been a very poor athletic director at LSU. The program he’s charged with running is one of the richest and most successful in the country due to the efforts of people who came before him, so the trappings of success will surround his position even without his actually producing any, but in Alleva’s job his primary role is the hiring and firing of coaches.
And in that role he has been an unqualified disaster – because his process is not a professional one.
Let’s recognize that Alleva has botched more or less every major hire he’s made. He’s had to make five hires of head coaches in “major” sports at LSU. The first, upon his taking the job here, was Trent Johnson as the men’s basketball coach to succeed John Brady – who had been fired by LSU’s previous AD Skip Bertman. Alleva hired Johnson coming off a 27-win season at Stanford, and on the surface it looked like a great hire. Under the surface, though, he was a terrible choice. Johnson’s big year at Stanford was due to the fact he had the seven-foot Lopez twins, both of whom are still in the NBA, leading his team, and they were at Stanford because their mother worked as a secretary in the university office. The athletic director there wasn’t going to give Johnson a contract extension even despite the big season because he knew his recruiting was horrendous and with or without Johnson that program was headed off a cliff.
Johnson took over at LSU, had a pair of star players in Marcus Thornton and Tasmin Mitchell to go with two other future pros in Garrett Temple and Chris Johnson, and posted a big first season. And sure enough, his terrible recruiting quickly drove the program down the tubes as soon as that foursome was gone.
Alleva was eventually forced to replace Johnson when the coach saw the writing on the wall and left for TCU. He then hired Johnny Jones, a former LSU player who had been the head coach at North Texas for 11 years with only two NCAA Tournament appearances and a .500 Sun Belt conference record to show for that time, to take over. Jones has made one NCAA appearance and one NIT appearance in four years at LSU, and last year went to no postseason tournament despite having Ben Simmons, the top pick in the NBA Draft, on his team. This year his team is picked 12th in the SEC and this week did little to dispel those low expectations by suffering an ugly 35-point beatdown at the hands of unranked Wichita State Wednesday at the Battle 4 Atlantic tournament in the Bahamas. Most people think Jones will be fired when the season is over in March; lots of people wonder why he wasn’t let go last year.
The third botched hire actually turned out well. Alleva tried to hire Alabama softball coach Pat Murphy, but he stunningly recanted after taking the job in 2011 and returned to Tuscaloosa. After suffering that embarrassment Alleva hired Florida International head coach Beth Torina, who has done a terrific job and has put her team in the Women’s College World Series three of the five years she’s been at LSU.
Another botched hire was women’s basketball coach Nikki Fargas, whose resume’ was a good one coming from UCLA but whose commitment to her job at LSU has been nothing short of nonexistent. Fargas got herself pregnant – out of wedlock, no less, though thankfully that’s something she eventually remedied by marrying Justin Fargas later – almost immediately after taking the job at LSU and subsequently had alternative demands on her time which affected recruiting. And recruiting has been mostly a disaster for LSU’s women’s basketball team the entire time Fargas has been the coach. She gets the most out of her roster, generally speaking, but that hardly means much when there is little talent on hand. And earlier this year after Connecticut rolled through Baton Rouge on the way to a 23-point snoozer over Fargas’ team, UConn coach Geno Auriemma offered a shockingly-honest assessment that LSU’s lack of players is a sea change from the way things were a decade ago when the program was a consistent winner. Fargas’ departure is imminent – it would be a surprise if she doesn’t find another job in advance of getting fired at the end of this season the way Johnson did.
And now, the big one – the botched hire of a football coach.
Once again, we don’t begrudge Ed Orgeron the job. But the process which produced him has been a laughable, ridiculous mess. Alleva is responsible, and so is his boss – LSU president F. King Alexander, who seemingly struggles to produce a single non-disastrous result from his time on campus.
Let’s understand that the genesis of this clownshow wasn’t Alleva’s doing so much as it was Alexander’s. Alleva, together with several top athletic boosters, determined last year that under Les Miles LSU’s program was in decline and needed a makeover if it was to return to a championship footing. Toward that end pledges worth some $15 million were collected to buy Miles out and preliminary negotiations were entered into with Jimmy Sexton, the agent for Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, over the idea of bringing in Fisher with a six-year contract worth some $6 million per year in salary. By all reports Fisher was interested and would have accepted the job.
But it was never formally offered to him, because Alexander stepped in and saved Miles’ job. Alexander thought public perception of a $15 million buyout of Miles paid for with private dollars by athletic boosters while he was preparing to lobby the state legislature for public dollars to stave off budget cuts would be negative and cause him political problems; this was a completely off-base judgement, and one which was compounded by Alexander’s mistaking a supportive fan reaction in Tiger Stadium when Miles was cheered on to an unimpressive victory over Texas A&M by thousands of ticketholders believing they were giving him a nice sendoff, as a public groundswell for keeping him. Callers to the LSU radio network’s post-game shows were flabbergasted; some even said if they’d known their appreciation for Miles would be taken as support for another year, they wouldn’t have shown it.
So Fisher was left at the altar, and didn’t forget the treatment. And when Miles was, in fact, fired after getting off to a terrible start to the 2016 season, Alleva went back to the well in an attempt to complete the hire. Only this time, Sexton was resolved to drive a harder bargain.
And LSU wasn’t very active in its pursuit of a new coach until mid-November, giving the impression that they’d hold the job for Orgeron if he could earn it. That wasn’t a terrible idea; after all, no current head coach is going to sign a contract until he at least completes his regular season, so this weekend would have been the earliest anybody could be hired anyway.
But negotiations were entered into with Sexton, and the numbers quickly became astronomical. LSU and Sexton were soon in the neighborhood of $6.75 million per year and perhaps as high as $7.5 million with bonuses. Word leaked of a demand for a 10-year contract worth $65 million, and perhaps even a seven-figure housing allowance on top of that. To land Fisher would clearly be to pay top-of-market for a coach, and at the end of the day Alleva and his search committee blanched at it. Alleva now denies there was any serious attempt to hire Fisher.
Which meant that Houston head coach Tom Herman was the next coach LSU negotiated with.
Understand that Herman’s agent, Trace Armstrong, works at the same firm that Sexton does. They’re both with CAA Sports, who also represents Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, among lots of others. So anything that went on with the Fisher negotiations was already going to be known once Alleva started with Herman.
And any attempt to leverage one coach against another was doomed to fail. The agents would be expected instead to leverage LSU for more money elsewhere – Fisher at Florida State, and Herman either at Houston or for the job at Texas he was going to be offered.
The only possible leverage you could have with either of them, once you had decided they represented the top tier of coaches you were looking to hire, would be to include another marketable coach in the mix.
This Alleva did not do, because just like when Johnny Jones was hired for men’s basketball he didn’t cast a wide net and spend his time evaluating possibilities.
We’re told that while LSU didn’t hire a search firm, which would have been a no-brainer of a decision given the two months between Miles’ firing and the hiring of a new coach; a search firm could have done an enormous amount of vetting and pre-qualifying of potential coaches with that amount of time available, what they did do was pay a football man to scout several coaches they were considering. That scout went to look at David Shaw at Stanford, Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia, Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State and Herman – and returned a strong recommendation that Herman be hired.
But LSU didn’t officially approach Herman until after he beat Louisville Nov. 17. At that point a handshake agreement was made, and Herman expressed that he was “elated” at the possibility of landing at LSU, and said he preferred LSU to Texas, the job many thought he would take and that he ultimately did take, because the politics in Austin were corrosive.
What it sounds like happened a few days later was that Alleva lost his cool.
First, there was the leak on Wednesday and the wholesale publication Thursday of reports that LSU had that deal with Herman. The story broke at HornsDigest, a Texas fan site, and was then picked up by ESPN. That led the sports network’s resident moron Mark May to a halftime in-studio televised tongue-lashing of Alleva over leaking word of Herman’s hiring while Orgeron was still coaching his team’s final game, and reports have it that Alleva was furious at Armstrong for putting the story out. The theory being that Armstrong was trawling for an offer from Texas, who had not yet fired their coach Charlie Strong.
But Strong lost to TCU Friday, and was fired. Armstrong asked for time to receive an offer from Texas and Alleva essentially hung up on him and hired Orgeron.
Armstrong said later that LSU could have had Herman for $6 million a year, which was less than LSU discussed paying Fisher. Herman signed with Texas for $5 million per year. Alleva said he wouldn’t engage in a “bidding war.” The scout he paid to recommend a coach said Herman was a must-get, and he wouldn’t even wait to make his case to Herman that the LSU job was a better one than Texas – after Herman had voiced those sentiments to him.
The question must be asked – is it difficult for Alleva to successfully conclude coaching searches because no one wants to work for him? Is this not suggested by the way he conducted this search? And is that not a problem LSU should fix by hiring a new athletic director before the men’s basketball coach needs to be changed out yet again?
He hired Orgeron, and that might work out fine. Orgeron also wasn’t going anywhere. He would certainly be continuing to ply his trade as the interim head coach for another week, and his staff wouldn’t be going anywhere either. After all, most of them had the prospect of holding their jobs at LSU were Orgeron to get the job permanently; the ones he wouldn’t retain probably wouldn’t last with a new coach either.
Alleva had to move on Orgeron because he had done no work to line up anyone else.
Mike MacIntyre’s name was thrown out after Orgeron was hired as having been considered during the search. MacIntyre is the coach at Colorado, and he’s going to the Pac-12 championship game after completing a 10-2 regular season in his fourth year. MacIntyre spent three years struggling to get his team to break out prior to this season, so his overall record at Colorado isn’t great, but the Buffaloes are one of the most fun-to-watch teams in all of college football without anything like the talent LSU has. MacIntyre is working on a solid recruiting class this year; he’s ranked No. 19 in the country by 247 Sports and third in the Pac-12, but he’s 10-2 with players from recruiting classes ranked 68th, 74th, 71st and 67th over the past four years. That tells you he’s a supreme talent evaluator and a developer of players, and such a coach could be formidable at a place like LSU where you’re 6th or 8th in recruiting every year, or better, rather than 68th. The fact that MacIntyre’s rebuild of Colorado football comes on the heels of turning San Jose State from a dumpster fire into a 10-3 team ranked in the Top 25 in 2012, and that he has a couple of stops at SEC schools (Georgia and Ole Miss) on his resume, should have made him a candidate for the LSU job. MacIntyre makes $2 million a year at Colorado. He could have been bought at a reasonable price.
There was never much talk about Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech, which is confusing. Fuente took a mediocre 7-6 team left over by previous coach Frank Beamer, who had retired in spirit long before doing so in body, and juiced them up to a 9-3 finish and a division title this year. He’ll face Clemson in the ACC championship game on Saturday, and afterward could have been hired at LSU. Fuente is only in his first year in Blacksburg – his salary is $3.2 million – and perhaps that might make it harder to hire him away, but when he was at Memphis (where he took a team with five wins in three years before he arrived to 19 wins in the two seasons before he left) before taking his current job he was open about the fact that if a better opportunity came along he’d take it, and Virginia Tech put a $7 million buyout in his contract for the first year as a protection against someone like LSU coming along. $7 million is not a figure which should scare LSU away as an acquisition cost of a coach who could win a national title in Baton Rouge. And yes, LSU is a better job than Virginia Tech is.
This entire coaching search came about as a result of Paul Chryst, the head coach at Wisconsin, who beat Miles with a far inferior collection of talent in the season opener in Green Bay. Chryst has gone on to win his division and post a 10-2 record, and if he beats Penn State on Saturday he’ll have his club in the playoffs – mostly with smoke and mirrors from the standpoint of talent.
Wisconsin is one of the slowest, least-explosive teams you’ll see play this year and yet they win almost every week, and when they haven’t won they’ve come amazingly close against much better teams. That’s what’s known as a sensational coaching job. And while you might dismiss him because his offense looks pedestrian, understand that he’s coached very high-octane offenses when he’s had weapons. Chryst made Joel Stave an NFL quarterback last year, after all, which was not easy to do, and he was the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin during their 2011 Rose Bowl run with Russell Wilson at quarterback. His background as an offensive guru goes back to his time at Oregon State when he was pioneering a version of the spread offense with Dennis Erickson.
That he’s been able to ratchet things down and win with defense and special teams amid a dearth of weapons this year is an indication he does what it takes to succeed. Chryst makes $2.3 million at Wisconsin, working for an AD in Barry Alvarez who drove away his previous two predecessors to lateral moves at Arkansas and Oregon State. Don’t tell us he wasn’t worth talking to.
We don’t even need to get to Fleck or Boise State’s Bryan Harsin, or a number of others with good resumes who could have been approached. There were coaches out there Alleva could have gone to this week to discuss LSU’s job with, if for no other reason than to gain leverage on Fisher or Herman and reel them in without a full-on bidding war.
It’s not that he hired Orgeron. It’s that his process in doing so and his approach with the bigger-name coaches with whom he discussed the job has been unprofessional and embarrassing.
Focus on the process. And then get somebody else in Alleva’s seat who’ll do a better job.