Saturday night, the rapidly-declining LSU football team dropped a 24-21 game to Troy, in what is being considered that program’s greatest win in school history. While the Troy loss probably isn’t the most ignominious LSU has ever suffered – Curley Hallman losing to Southern Miss and Colorado State and Gerry DiNardo losing to Houston will give it a run for its money – it has to be up there. And with LSU sitting at 3-2, having had the worst loss to Mississippi State in the history of that series in Week 3, lots of Tiger fans are howling for the end of the newly-minted Ed Orgeron Era.
They’re not wrong, as Orgeron looks every bit the coach who was fired after three years and a 10-25 record at Ole Miss a decade ago. His team looks unfocused, uninterested, unorganized, poorly led and outcoached each week. It’s probably overdramatic to predict that LSU has won its last game in the 2017 season; though what’s left on the schedule is nothing but SEC competition many of those teams haven’t been a lot more impressive than LSU has. But finding three wins out of the seven, in order to keep LSU’s string of 17 straight bowl appearances from being broken in Orgeron’s first year, looks like a very daunting proposition.
But for the LSU fans clamoring for Orgeron’s head, here’s an item of caution – you’re putting the wagon before the mule. The last thing you’d want to do is to pay Orgeron a $12 million buyout – yes, a $12 million buyout – without doing something about the man who hired him.
That would be LSU’s athletic director Joe Alleva, who might well be the worst AD in the country and from whom all these problems have flowed. Alleva has to go, and immediately, so that LSU might have a decent chance of putting its house in order.
Here are five reasons the LSU community shouldn’t have to put up with Alleva for one minute longer, and we won’t even get into his role in the Duke lacrosse scandal which should have barred the door from his ever being considered for the job in the first place.
No Major College Athletic Department Worth Supporting Hires A Coach The Way Alleva Hired Ed Orgeron
We covered the shockingly incompetent process which led to Orgeron’s hiring at the time, and you can read it in detail here. But here are the highlights – after having it be a nearly month-long open secret that Les Miles would be fired in November of 2015, Alleva announced Miles would be sticking around another year. That wasn’t exactly Alleva’s call, as university president F. King Alexander shut down the effort to buy Miles out over political concerns and Alleva, whose job history going back to his time at Duke indicates he’s a careerist who refuses to put his job on the line for his convictions, didn’t object.
But when the idea of keeping Miles resulted in precisely what the coach’s growing army of detractors expected, Alleva did pull the trigger and fire him – four games into the 2016 season. It was thought at the time this would insure LSU was at the top of the list of programs seeking to hire coaches that year, but the coaching search was handled in a, shall we say, peculiar fashion. For weeks, LSU conducted a back-channel negotiation with Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher’s agent Jimmy Sexton, just as they’d done the previous year, only to come up empty. Alleva then began pursuit of Houston head coach Tom Herman, whose agent Trace Armstrong works for the same firm as Sexton and knew about everything Alleva was offering Fisher – including well more than $6 million per year in salary.
Alleva offered Herman $5 million per year. He lowballed his top choice. And when Armstrong told LSU’s AD that they wanted to wait to see what Texas was offering before accepting LSU’s offer, Alleva blew up. He rushed into an announcement of Orgeron, who had been the interim coach and had inexplicably lost a home game to Florida which cost LSU a shot at playing in the Sugar Bowl, the day after the latter beat Texas A&M in the regular season finale.
Alleva could have opened things up and mounted a national search. LSU’s head coaching job is generally considered one of the ten best in all of college football, and there were lots of coaches who by all rights could have been had by a competent AD making a hire. But Alleva was swayed by Orgeron presenting him with a binder full of plans on how the football program could be run – just as Orgeron did when he got the Ole Miss job, and promptly won three conference games in three years before being fired in Oxford – and a political campaign put on by Orgeron’s office assistant Derek Ponamsky, who he’d hired away from a job as a sports radio host.
No AD worth having at a major college program does business like this. Alleva should have hired a search firm since he had two months to make the hire, and he should have had serious conversations with a minimum of three marketable, successful major-college head coaches before settling on someone. Instead, he hired an interim coach no one was even talking to, and then spent the better part of $4 million per year on coordinators in an attempt to mask the deficiencies of the head coach. We’re finding out, to no one’s surprise, that plan doesn’t work.
Alleva’s Management Of Men’s Basketball Could Hardly Have Been Worse
The clownshow that was the search which produced Orgeron comes on the heels of nearly a decade of botched hires in men’s basketball, which miraculously appears to have come to an end with the signing of Will Wade earlier this year. More on that in a second, because even that isn’t all good.
When Alleva was hired, a head-slapper of a story in its own right, he was immediately presented with the job of hiring a men’s basketball head coach to replace the fired John Brady. His choice was Stanford head coach Trent Johnson, who had just come off a 27-win season and a trip to the NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen. On the surface, that would have seemed like a good hire.
Johnson, as it turned out, was not offered a contract extension at Stanford following that 27-win season. Why? Because his team was successful almost solely due to having the 7-foot Lopez twins, both of whom ended up playing several years in the NBA, occupying the post. The Lopezes were at Stanford largely because their mother worked in the school’s admissions office, and Johnson had recruited very little around them. With both of them heading to the pro ranks, Stanford’s athletic director saw his basketball program headed down the tubes and figured it was a lousy idea to pay Johnson more just to fire him in a couple of years. Alleva came along and bailed Stanford out by hiring Johnson at triple the salary he was making. LSU had a good team returning that Brady had left, and Johnson won 27 games with it in his first year. After that, the program cratered to a pair of last-place SEC finishes before crawling into the NIT in Johnson’s fourth year, only to get blown out by Oregon in the first round.
Then Alleva allowed a cabal of alumni and former head basketball coach Dale Brown to pressure him into hiring Brown’s former player Johnny Jones, who had spent 11 years at North Texas with only two NCAA appearances and a conference record just above .500 to show for it. Jones improved the program’s recruiting, at least a little, but hit the skids when he brought in international superstar Ben Simmons, rated the top recruit the 2014-15 season, for his third year. LSU went from being ranked in the preseason Top 25 to not even playing in postseason with Simmons, and finished in last place last year before Jones was fired in a fairly predictable pattern of results.
The hiring of Wade, who had been quite successful in previous stops at Chattanooga and Virginia Commonwealth, stands as Alleva’s proudest moment as LSU’s athletic director. But all isn’t rosy there. LSU made lots of promises about facilities and other things to Wade when he was hired, and in a press conference last week introducing his team the coach seemed to bristle when asked about the progress of LSU’s fulfillment. It’s clear he’s highly unsatisfied. And the LSU assistant athletic director who spearheaded the hire of Wade, Eddie Nunez, just took the AD job at New Mexico. So far Wade has done a magnificent job of recruiting and it looks a lot like he’s going to bring LSU’s basketball program back to life. But if LSU doesn’t hold up its end, Wade’s success will only serve to make him a hot name to be pursued by other programs more willing to commit to winning in basketball.
The Treatment Of LSU’s Coaches Has Been Nothing Short Of Scandalous
Failing to give coaches the resources they need is apparently not just an issue for Wade. We’ve heard through the grapevine that there’s a term bandied about in LSU coaching circles – Tiger Time. As in, if you ask for some needed resource, like a piece of equipment or an employee or some other tangible resource you need to compete with other SEC schools, you don’t get it in real time. You get it in Tiger Time, which means nearly never.
An example of this was a video coordinator for LSU baseball. The rage in the pro ranks is to record video of every at bat the hitters have and every pitch the pitchers throw, in order to check mechanics, diagnose weaknesses in swings and so forth. Head baseball coach Paul Mainieri had been asking for a video coordinator to handle that process for at least a year only for it to fall on deaf ears, and he didn’t get it until he agreed to listen to Texas about their open head coaching job last year. Faced with the process of losing the coach, finally Alleva relented.
Our readers probably know a bit about the John Chavis mess, which is another example of shoddy treatment given coaches. Alleva refused to give Chavis, the defensive coordinator under Les Miles, the contract he was seeking – and Miles was asking for on Chavis’ behalf – because he planned to get rid of Miles before the end of Chavis’ contract. The whole thing ended up in court, which is a major embarrassment to LSU. But the Chavis mess is a small part of a larger debacle with respect to how Miles was treated by Alleva, with the late-2015 antics being the most obvious example of that.
And there’s something else. The grapevine also has it that LSU’s NCAA compliance officer Bo Bahnsen has increasingly run roughshod over the athletic program – forcing assistant coaches in football to spend hours dealing with NCAA paperwork, self-reporting minor violations no other program even bothers with, vetoing signings especially of junior college transfers and even policing LSU’s “shadow coaching staff” in football for evidence they’re doing more than what’s allowed (watch any Alabama game, and when the cameras pan the press box you’ll see 20 coaches with headsets on – that’s what LSU is competing with).
We’ve been told on several occasions that coaches in many, if not a majority of, the sports at LSU feel like the athletic department is hostile to their efforts at success.
One more story to indicate what it’s like to work in LSU’s athletic department. This spring Clyde Verdin, who was an assistant sports information director working with the LSU softball team, informed Alleva at a department meeting that he was leaving for a job at Terrebonne General Medical Center back home in Houma as soon as the softball season ended. Verdin’s announced departure came immediately following the announcement by another staffer that she was leaving for a job at Alabama, and that set Alleva off. He fired Verdin on the spot, which meant there was no one from LSU’s sports information department to cover softball as it entered the postseason – so LSU sports information director Michael Bonnette had to drop everything and travel with the team to its regional in Tallahassee. Apparently Bonnette and Alleva have been at odds ever since and it’s a matter of time before Bonnette is out.
LSU’s Athletic Department Has Flat-Out Abused Its Fans, And The Results Are Obvious
We don’t need to go into too much detail on this one, do we? Everyone knows the constant attempts to siphon money out of the LSU fan base have been draining to morale, and for football this year the unkindest cut of all seems to have been the decision to turn several parking lots on LSU’s campus from free parking to paid parking. This has had a significant effect on attendance at games, and it’s led to loud grumbling among longtime and loyal fans.
Couple that with restrictions on tailgating and several inexplicable actions with respect to traffic management – which may or may not be under the influence or control of the athletic department – and people are giving up trying to go to LSU football games.
And the experience inside Tiger Stadium has taken a substantial turn for the worse. The stadium is so full of garish advertising messages that it looks like an overcommercialized Times Square, with high-tech digital message boards wrapped around three-quarters of Death Valley displaying so much advertising that nobody even looks at them. And the loudspeakers in the North End Zone blare obnoxious music so loud that fans sitting on that side of the stadium joke about bleeding ears from the noise. It’s so bad that the din from those loudspeakers is actually killing the crowd noise in the stadium.
Little wonder, then, that LSU fans have begun making a tradition of leaving games early. The experience in the stadium, which used to be The Cathedral Of College Football, stinks nowadays.
Oh – and Matt Shanklin, who’s in charge of LSU’s stadium experience, was actually given a promotion last week. Shanklin has a history of poisoning fan experiences at other schools, by the way.
Alleva Constantly Fails At Even The Most Basic Administrative Functions
We could go on and on about this, from the mind-bendingly stupid PR disaster of how last year’s Florida game was handled, in which somehow LSU went from warning Florida that playing a game in a hurricane zone was a bad idea and offering alternative venues beforehand to being the bad guy after Florida botched its game management, to Alleva’s gaffe that Trent Johnson could lose 20 games in a row without putting his job in jeopardy, to the botched hire of Alabama softball coach Patrick Murphy, and on and on.
But it’s the contractual foibles which really prove out this contention. The reason LSU was in a position to have to buy out Les Miles’ contract for some $15 million, which led Alexander to lose his nerve in the fall of 2015 and quash Miles’ firing, was that after the 2010 season Miles flirted with Michigan and leveraged himself into a new contract – and after a disappointing 2012 season Miles and his agent George Bass flirted with the open job at Arkansas and Alleva responded, AGAIN, with a monster contract for the coach which included a prohibitive buyout clause. It was just as unnecessary to do that – if Miles had left for Arkansas half of the LSU fanbase would have been overjoyed – as it was for Alleva to agree to a $12 million buyout in Orgeron’s contract.
LSU had all of the leverage in its negotiations with Orgeron. Orgeron would have taken the job with no buyout whatsoever. There is a theory that all Alleva did was to take the contract LSU was offering Herman, adjust the salary downward and present it to Orgeron.
Now, LSU can’t fire Orgeron no matter how poorly the team finishes this season, and it’s a daunting proposition to fire him after next season – though if LSU isn’t bowl-eligible in 2018 they’ll have no choice but to bite the bullet and make a change.
As such, LSU is stuck. Orgeron could finish this season on an eight-game losing streak and he isn’t going anywhere, because to fire him would mean $21 million would be tied up in buyout money for Orgeron and Miles.
Almost nobody in athletic administration would be this incompetent. LSU has the one AD who is.
Now, to those of our readers who say changing the athletic director is only worthwhile as part of a complete housecleaning desperately needed at LSU, we don’t disagree in the least. But getting free of school president F. King Alexander would involve the political process all the way up to the governor’s mansion, and Gov. John Bel Edwards values Alexander as a cudgel against the state legislature since Alexander is willing to show up at the state capitol to scream about budgets. Things get complicated when you try to unload Alexander, whereas with Alleva a lot can be done with a majority on the Board of Supervisors and with big-money people in the Tiger Athletic Foundation.
So if a movement of disgusted LSU fans makes enough noise, this goal is achievable.
Toward that end, we’ve created a Facebook group – Fire Joe Alleva. Immediately. If you agree with the above, feel free to join. The larger it is, the louder the signal becomes that this level of performance simply can’t be tolerated with respect to something which means so much to the culture of Louisiana.
UPDATE: We’re not the only ones who have noticed Alleva’s incompetence. There is an outstanding piece by Dan Wolken at USA Today which mostly echoes our account of the coaching search that produced Orgeron and shares our assessment of where LSU is at this point. A taste…
After the Herman humiliation, a competent athletics director would have slept it off, taken the emotion out of it, called a search firm the next morning and gotten back to work on a list of the best candidates. Orgeron was always going to be there for LSU, whether the search took another week or another month. Nobody else was going to hire him to be a head coach. He could have been the fallback option to the fallback option.
Furthermore, giving him an ironclad contract that the school couldn’t get out of quickly or inexpensively was just bad business by LSU. Contrast that with Missouri and Barry Odom, who accepted a deal that could allow the school to make a change for $1.8 million this year, and you see Alleva’s folly.
LSU had leverage over Orgeron but played the entire situation last November as if he was the only available date to the prom. And now we have a situation where the program looks worse than at any time since Gerry DiNardo went 3-8 in 1999 and got fired.
Indeed, mighty LSU lost Saturday to Troy. Not only lost, 24-21, but looked like it didn’t have better or more physical players, which we know is not true.
So what we have here is an LSU administration which was so embarrassed about the way its coaching search went last November that it made a hasty hire, picked the wrong guy and can’t correct the mistake without spending millions upon millions upon millions of dollars.
Don’t blame Orgeron. All he did was say yes to his dream job. The fault here goes to an absent and incompetent leadership that undervalued its own program to such a degree that it settled for the defensive line coach, who had already failed spectacularly at Ole Miss. The LSU administration didn’t know its own school or the coaching landscape well enough to make a hire that the program deserved, and now it looks like the price tag is going to be paid for years to come.