- The coach who led the Tigers to the SEC title but was suspended for their tournament run was long on apologies but short on hard answers when he finally reemerged to make his first public appearance in over a month.
DESTIN, Fla. — I once threw a rock through my living room window, shattering the glass. I don’t remember why I did it—I was 5, full of energy and maniacal thoughts. I’m pretty certain I denied doing it, at least at first, but my parents knew better and so my football coach of a father, his arm muscles bulging through his shirt and his neck veins protruding, pulled me into my bedroom for a stern discussion that may or may not have involved the palm of his hand. I never threw a rock indoors again, a streak that is 30 years old this summer.
Will Wade threw his own rock, or several of them, at least temporarily shattering his and the LSU basketball program’s reputation. And if his appearance Tuesday at the annual SEC spring meetings is any indication, his bosses at LSU pulled him in for the old talking-to.
Wade made his first public comments since March 7, speaking from behind a podium to a conference room full of reporters on the ground floor of the Hilton Sandestin beach resort. He was apologetic, regretful, contrite, remorseful and of course, not completely forthright. Even he admitted that, saying he eventually wants to “have full disclosure” to the public about his situation. In case you’ve forgotten about that situation: As his LSU team won the regular season SEC title and advanced to the Sweet 16, the second-year head coach was suspended for refusing to meet with school and NCAA officials over a wiretapped phone conversation, recounted in a Yahoo! Sports story, in which Wade discusses a “strong-ass offer” in the recruitment of guard Javonte Smart, who eventually signed with the Tigers. Wade was reinstated 37 days later on April 14 only after he finally agreed to meet with school officials, including LSU athletic director Joe Alleva, who was pushed out a week later and replaced by former Texas A&M AD Scott Woodward.
Aside from a couple of statements—including one that condemned his employer’s decision to suspend him—Wade has been off the grid. He’s back. “As the leader of the basketball program here today, [I want to] start the process of rebuilding trust,” he said. “I think certainly as I’ve had time to reflect since I was out for 40 days or so, there’s some mistakes that I made.” His biggest regret is not immediately meeting with LSU and NCAA officials on the morning of March 8. “If I could go back,” he says, he’d take that meeting and avoid what was a month of lawyer squabbling. “The lawyers got involved and it took a very, very long time, so certainly I wish looking back on things, we could have gotten into a room together a lot quicker than we did,” he says. “That was my mistake.”
When not pointing the finger at attorneys, he blamed himself, talking like someone who had been scolded by superiors and humbled by this entire process. We may never know if the man Will Wade will truly change, but publicly at least, he plans to act more subdued in a setting such as this. His reputation around the college basketball industry is, as you’d expect, one of a reckless, cocky young guy with some of the dirtiest hands in a dirty sport. He seems to have learned this over the last few weeks. “I think I’ve come off as a little bit brash, to be honest,” he admitted Tuesday. “I think that’s rubbed some folks the wrong way and that’s my fault. So, will it change the way we recruit? We’re still going to recruit the best players we can to LSU, but I need to make sure that I’m confident about what we’re doing and I’m confident about what we’re selling, but there’s a line that you can’t get up to and I think maybe sometimes I’ve gotten to that point where it’s a little bit too brash.”
There is a brand of coach out there that lives for recruiting. Convincing a teenager to attend their school over their rivals’ is equivalent to an on-court victory for them. There are plenty of football coaches like this, too—one of them, Ed Orgeron, also works in Baton Rouge. The difference between Wade and his football counterpart at LSU is the careless, gloating nature with which Wade went about his most aggressive recruiting, as evidenced by that phone conversation with Christian Dawkins about making a “strong-ass offer” to Smart.
If they have it, Yahoo! Sports has not released audio of the recording, and it did not emerge during any of the two related trials. So, did he even say such a thing? “It’s a good question,” Wade answered. “I can’t get into the specifics of everything. Like I was saying earlier, I can assure you in my meetings with LSU and the NCAA, I addressed all the media reports, everything that’s been reported and that ultimately led to my reinstatement.” But was that an accurate quote or not? “I’ve not heard the recordings so I do not know,” he said. “I don't think any of us have heard the recordings.” Oh, come on—did you say it or not? “Look, I sat down with LSU and I have answered any and all questions with regards to all of the media reporting and everything that has been out there and that’s what ultimately got us to where we are today,” he said.
Wade handled that awkward exchange calmly, with LSU administrators looking on and reporters directly in front of him, but he never said one simple word: No. However, Wade very quickly debunked another allegation linking him to an NCAA violation during his opening statement, before 13 questions were hurled his way. “It is absolutely false,” he said of the claim from convicted Arizona assistant Emanuel “Book” Richardson, who in a secretly recorded conversation by the FBI said Wade told him about a deal in place to pay NBA-bound forward Naz Reid $300,000. That latest report emerged a month ago, after Wade’s meeting on April 12 with LSU and NCAA officials.
From that meeting, the coach made some concessions in order to be reinstated. Not only did he give up the $250,000 in performance bonuses he contractually earned in 2018–19, but he signed an agreement empowering the school to fire him if he is found to have committed Level I or Level II NCAA violations. He agreed to waive any claims against LSU if it does fire him under those circumstances. On Tuesday, Wade said the agreement “showed his commitment” to the program and its future. His own future seems precarious. His new boss, Woodward, has walked a tightrope in discussing anything related to his basketball coach. “Like I said in my press conference, Will Wade’s our coach, and we will let it be that way until it’s not. I hope he’s our coach for a long time,” Woodward recently said in a radio interview on ESPN 104.5 FM in Baton Rouge. Both Woodward and Wade have said they don’t know each other well, and Wade admitted Tuesday that they’re in the “trust-building process” of what he believes is a blossoming relationship. “I need to build trust with Scott,” he said, “and that comes through action.”
So, no more throwing rocks through the living room window.