If you’re like most LSU fans and if you haven’t read Scott Rabalais’ Advocate column today, chances are you might not want to. Rabalais picked today, of all days, just four days from Monday’s national championship tilt between LSU and Clemson for the keys to the college football kingdom, to interview former athletic director Joe Alleva.
And Alleva used the opportunity Rabalais gave him to “set the record straight” about some key occurrences during his time as LSU’s AD. We found ourselves entertained, as the account Rabalais quotes Alleva as giving combines a good dose of self-serving with some rather fictional storytelling to spin an interesting tale.
Why it’s a good idea to regale LSU fans with Alleva’s take on the history one could argue has produced a potential national championship now, when the fans have all but forgotten Alleva, is worth questioning. The guess is not all that many of the faithful will be happy with Rabalais for having done it.
Be that as it may, Alleva is entitled to gloat a little, because his central point is true – Joe Alleva hired Ed Orgeron as LSU’s football coach, and nobody thought it was a good hire at the time but Joe Alleva, and Alleva turned out to be right when everybody else was wrong.
Alleva’s story is he saw that Orgeron had made the changes to his coaching style necessary to transform himself from the bad 10-25 coach he was at Ole Miss to, ultimately, the 14-0 coach he’s been at LSU this year. Alleva cited the change in attitude in LSU’s program which happened almost immediately after Orgeron took over as interim coach in 2016 following the firing of Les Miles, who Alleva said was “like talking to a wall,” was what clued him into the value of what he had.
Look, Alleva was right about Orgeron. The rest of Alleva’s tenure as AD at LSU makes it appear as though his being right about Orgeron was more of a shot in the dark than some genius insight that he had. Joe Alleva is, after all, the same guy who hired Trent Johnson and Johnny Jones to coach basketball at LSU before he hired Will Wade, whom he now says he regrets hiring (perhaps because after he sabotaged Wade at the end of a brilliant season last year and paid for it with his job, seeing as though Wade had a lot more friends at LSU than Alleva did).
He’s right about Orgeron, and assuming that he’d like to get another lucrative job as an athletic director at a major university it’s understandable he’d be looking for media outlets with which to trumpet how right he was. But that doesn’t mean anyone wants to listen.
Alleva also said he could have hired Tom Herman instead of Orgeron, but that he didn’t want to pay what Herman wanted. We believe that’s true, as Herman’s agent Trace Armstrong wanted Alleva to pay $6 million per year for Herman’s services, while Alleva only would pay $5 million. Herman ended up as the coach at Texas, and in something which has surprised virtually everyone in college football Herman is nowhere near as successful as Orgeron so far in both their tenures. And Alleva can say this now, because he was right about Orgeron. Of course, nobody at the time would have looked at Alleva’s conduct of that search process and concluded it was wisely or professionally done. That the final result was positive argues that Alleva managed a good search after all, but that takes you back to the key question – was Alleva good, or just lucky?
He’s also saying something else, which is that he never wanted to hire Jimbo Fisher back in 2015 when he had initially wanted to get rid of Miles.
This is new, to put it mildly.
Alleva says the reason Miles didn’t get fired in 2015 is that the boosters would have forced him to hire Fisher then, and he didn’t want to. He thought it was better to keep Miles around than make that change.
To say that this contention will be disputed is to understate the matter.
We’re not going to weigh in on whether Alleva is lying. Others will do that. What we’ll say is a few things – first, it’s an obvious attack on Alleva’s replacement Scott Woodward, who paid Fisher $75 million in a 10-year contract at Texas A&M in 2017, a hire which so far looks too expensive and not overly inspired. Second, it’s a shot at the boosters who ultimately turned on Alleva and got him fired. And third, it’s the kind of thing Alleva will say now that Orgeron has his team playing for the national championship and probably wouldn’t have said at any other time.
But one more thing is worth noting about this, and it’s something which pervaded Alleva’s time as LSU’s athletic director. Namely, that Joe Alleva was the athletic director at LSU. Not the boosters. He didn’t have to do anything he didn’t want to do. He would have needed to be willing to put his job on the line in order to make the decisions he thought necessary to make, but when you’re making $750,000 per year to do a job, that willingness is what makes you worth your salary.
So this “they were gonna make me hire Jimbo” is a load of crap. It’s unfortunate that Rabalais didn’t press Alleva for who his better options were at the time. Because surely the brilliant Joe Alleva whose insight was so much clearer than anyone else’s in hiring Orgeron the next year would have had another coach in mind.
That he didn’t indicates this Fisher story is a dubious one.
Rabalais also didn’t press Alleva on all the other things which contributed to his foul odor on that campus – the runaway compliance department driving all the coaches crazy, the inattention to basic relationships, including the one with baseball coach Paul Mainieri who had to threaten to take the job at Texas just to get the OK to hire a video coordinator, the multiple PR disasters under Alleva’s watch (the most obvious example being the Florida game cancellation in 2016), the degredation of the fan experience in Tiger Stadium and other LSU venues, and so on.
None of those things can be explained away by revisionist history. But the Orgeron-Fisher-Herman thing is now fresh and new, just in time for the national championship game.
Even this doesn’t put a damper on the glorious hype for Monday’s spectacle. But we could have done without it, for certain.