BATON ROUGE, La. — A grand total of two SEC football and men’s basketball coaches have been fired during the 2016-17 school year. Both were at LSU.
That’s typically a sign that the athletic director’s seat is the next to move from warm to smoldering. And in the case of LSU athletic director Joe Alleva, it still might some day. But based on the early returns for hires Ed Orgeron and Will Wade, the popular narrative about Alleva may morph from one of buffoonery to one of brilliance.
In the case of Orgeron’s hire, it’s accidental brilliance, like when Charles Goodyear first vulcanized rubber when some of it landed on a potbellied stove. If it turns out Orgeron is the right man for the job, it will only be because he was able to prove himself as an interim head coach for seven games. And he only had that opportunity because Alleva’s attempt to fire Les Miles at the end of the 2015 blew up on the launching pad.
Granted, Orgeron was an in-house hire. Once he had proven himself, Alleva didn’t have to think very far outside of the box. Wade is a different story.
Back when it was clear LSU basketball was headed in a new direction this offseason, amateur sleuths in the media tried to figure out who would replace Johnny Jones. Admittedly, Wade was not among those on my own list.
That wasn’t a matter of thinking he wasn’t up to the task. The reality was that a 34-year-old coach at a consistent winner like Virginia Commonwealth had a solid five-year window in front of him to pursue any high-major job on the market. Eventually a program in the ACC or Big Ten with more appeal than LSU was going to open up.
But in Wade’s mind, LSU was a destination job. Meeting Alleva did not dissuade him from that theory. Instead, it convinced him he was right.
“When (Deputy AD) Eddie (Nunez) and Joe flew up to Richmond to see me, I left that meeting knowing that LSU basketball can be successful and will be successful,” Wade said. “I’m not going out on a limb by saying this: I don’t think at any time in LSU’s history has everything been in such alignment as it is now. From the athletic director, the athletic department to the commitment to the resources, to our President Dr. Alexander, everybody is in alignment to get this program turned around.
“I’m going to be the conduit to make that happen, and it’s going to be a total team effort from everybody — our fans, our students, the administration. Everybody is in line. Everybody is in line. We are going to make it happen.”
If it does happen — if Wade turns LSU basketball into a consistent winner and Orgeron takes the football program to the next level — the narrative around Alleva will change. It will between clenched teeth for some, if not most.
But begrudging admiration is still admiration. And if the only football and men’s basketball coaching hires in the SEC this year end up being back-to-back home runs, Alleva’s miscues and previous missed hires will be forgotten relics of the past.