Some interesting news over the weekend has beloved former LSU basketball coach Will Wade, who was unceremoniously fired before getting an opportunity to coach his team in the NCAA Tournament last year, returning to the ranks of college coaches with a new job at McNeese State.
Will Wade has been hired as the new basketball coach at McNeese State.
The former LSU coach has signed a five-year deal with the Cowboys a year to the day after he was fired in Baton Rouge.
Wade and McNeese Athletic Director Heath Schroyer finished the contract at the airport in Chattanooga, Tenn., Sunday morning before boarding a private plane to Lake Charles.
The school will introduce Wade officially Monday at a pep rally/press conference inside the Legacy Center at noon. The public is invited.
The move comes five days after McNeese fired John Aiken following two years at the helm of the Cowboys. McNeese was a disappointing 22-45 under Aiken, the most losses in any two-year period in program history.
Aiken had one year remaining on his contract which McNeese bought out at close to $170,000 according to sources. That is the most in school history given to a fired coach.
Wade, who was at LSU from 2017-2022, comes to McNeese with plenty of success and baggage. His time with the Tigers was mired in controversy that included a long NCAA investigation.
LSU fired Wade before the 2022 tournament after the NCAA formally served the university with a Notice of Allegations. That came after an investigation into potential violations committed by Wade and the program.
The notice charged Wade with five Level 1 and two Level 2 violations. The NCAA heard Wade’s case in early February and is expected to rule on it and hand out any punishments if they are to come, sometime in the summer.
At the time it seemed as though LSU athletic director Scott Woodward did the only thing he could do in firing Wade. If he hadn’t, after all, the NCAA would surely have burned down the Tiger basketball program with sanctions.
And there was exposure surrounding the LSU football program as well. So without making Will Wade a scapegoat for the out-of-control nature of the athletic program as a whole – and Wade was certainly guilty of giving inducements to basketball recruits outside of the NCAA’s rules, though he’s hardly alone or even special as a malefactor in that regard – the whole program could have been at risk.
Bill Self, who was just as guilty as Wade of documentable inducements given to recruits, is still coaching at Kansas. That shakes the narrative about the necessity of unloading Wade.
And when Wade wasn’t allowed to coach his team in the tournament, it left such a bad taste around the LSU program that the entire roster and recruiting class – a collection of players which by most estimations would have been his best team – all departed.
Woodward hired Murray State head coach Matt McMahon, who was coming off a terrific 31-3 season and an Ohio Valley Conference championship, to replace Wade. McMahon had never coached at the high-major level in college basketball, save for a stint as a graduate assistant at Tennessee under Buzz Peterson before the latter was fired.
And what looked like a promising new start for the program after McMahon cobbled together a replacement roster which, on paper, looked like it could be quite competitive has collapsed. McMahon had LSU sitting at 12-1 after an upset victory over Arkansas in December; the Tigers finished 14-19 – winning only two of their final 20 games and finishing dead last in the SEC.
Our concern when McMahon was hired was that he wasn’t a big enough name to bring the kind of re-brand LSU’s program needed after the scandal and bad blood of Wade’s firing. A mid-major coach, even if he was a great up-and-coming talent, wouldn’t be a draw for the program. That wouldn’t have mattered if LSU had been able to hold on to most of the talent Wade had piled up; at that point recruiting wouldn’t have been the most important aspect of the program. The new coach would have been able to put a viable product on the floor simply by coaching up the players he had, and then based on that success he could go out and replenish his program with the next batch of kids.
But when the program cleared all of its players out, and only three of Wade’s people made their way back to the roster – and all three of them had atrocious, horrible seasons – the only way things were going to work out for McMahon was if the three players he brought with him from Murray State had been difference-makers.
And while K.J. Williams had a terrific season and Trae Hannibal had his moments, the Murray State kids were nowhere near enough to save LSU.
This was probably the worst LSU team in 50 years. With Williams now gone, and the only reasonably decent SEC-level player on the team thus moving on, and with only two mid-grade high school recruits signed for next year, it’s entirely possible LSU might even be worse next season.
McMahon said after his team lost to Vanderbilt in the second round of the SEC Tournament that he had hoped to install a winning culture in his program this year but that didn’t happen. Clearly he’s right about that; it’s quite obvious LSU’s team culture and locker room chemistry was greatly lacking. You could see that was true based on the product on the floor. LSU didn’t out-hustle anyone all season long.
McMahon is going to have to unload most of his roster, because it’s filled with bad players who don’t rebound, defend, handle the ball or shoot at a winning SEC level. His guard play is the worst we’ve ever seen and none of them, including Adam Miller, who was supposed to be the star of the team but is instead a terrible liability, are starting-quality players on a credible college program; all of them will have to be changed out.
And here’s the problem: who’s going to want to come and replace them?
LSU is the worst program in the SEC after spending the previous four years as one of the better programs in the conference. LSU has a coaching staff which so far hasn’t proved it can evaluate or recruit talent. And worse, the book on McMahon now is that he doesn’t develop players or build chemistry in a program, so as a player you won’t get better and you won’t even enjoy yourself playing ball at LSU.
All of those things are a lot more poisonous to recruiting than whatever looming NCAA sanctions Will Wade might have put Tiger athletics in for.
It might well be that Will Wade had to go. But the way he was fired, and the way the athletic department and university brass hung not just Wade but the players out to dry just before they were to play in last year’s NCAA Tournament, ultimately blew up the program worse than the NCAA could have done. It’s like a self-imposed death penalty, while a ghost of a program haunts its way to losing 90 percent of its games against credible competition.
Meanwhile, Wade is apparently not as toxic as it might seem since McNeese State is able to hire him.
LSU basketball fans are incandescently furious, and they should be.
Woodward has generally done quite a good job as LSU’s athletic director. His hires of Jay Johnson, Brian Kelly and Kim Mulkey have put LSU’s baseball, football and women’s basketball programs in position for national championships in the short to intermediate future – in baseball, a College World Series title looks like a real possibility this year.
But where basketball is concerned, Wade’s firing last year and its aftermath with the current coach have been a major black mark on Woodward’s tenure. There is nothing redeeming about where the program is, and short of some miracle transformation over the next 12 months Woodward is going to have to spend a pile of buyout money to find yet another basketball coach this time next year.