Joe Alleva’s sixth-floor office in LSU’s athletic administration building is wood-paneled and comfortable. But interestingly, considering the current state of flux within LSU’s centerpiece program, it doesn’t come with a view of Tiger Stadium.
Another athletic director named Joe — Joe Dean — built this place back in the early 1990s. Dean was a basketball guy, one of LSU’s all-time greats, known as Mr. String Music from his days as a college basketball TV announcer.
So it’s perhaps not surprising that this office, which has since been the domain of Skip Bertman (you can’t see new Alex Box Stadium from there, either) and Alleva has a north-facing view of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, Bernie Moore Track Stadium and the I-10 Mississippi River bridge beyond.
A lot of people think of Alleva as a basketball guy, too. After all, he was athletic director at basketball superpower Duke from 1998 until he came to LSU in 2008. As if to illustrate the connection, against the far wall across from Alleva’s desk is a set of five bench chairs from the past five Final Fours, a parting gift after he wrapped up his five-year stint on the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee earlier this year.
In April, Alleva was courtside in Houston, watching as Villanova’s Kris Jenkins buried that buzzer-beating 3-pointer to lift Villanova to a thrilling national championship victory over North Carolina.
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Now his job is to find a championship-caliber football coach to lead LSU into the future.
When he was A.D. at Duke, Alleva fulfilled a long-held desire and went skydiving with the U.S. Army Parachute Team. That may have seemed like an easier leap to make than the one he’s about to undertake.
“It’s a crapshoot,” Alleva admitted.
Alleva no doubt has a list of candidates that are foremost in his mind, though it’s not one he is willing to share for all the basketballs in North Carolina. He has publicly said he considers Ed Orgeron’s stint as LSU’s interim coach an “audition” for the permanent job, but that’s about it. Orgeron, whose audition so far has to grade as an A-plus, is 3-0 as the No. 19 Tigers head into their always huge showdown Saturday in Tiger Stadium with No. 1 Alabama (7 p.m., CBS).
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In addition to his list of candidates, Alleva has an eight-point list of characteristics he’s looking for in his next head coach, a list he is willing to divulge:
• He has to exhibit good leadership.
• He has to have integrity.
• He has to be able to motivate the team.
• He has to have discipline and be accountable.
• He has to have good organizational skills.
• He has to possess adaptability, during a game and over time.
• He has to be good at recruiting players and quality assistant coaches.
• He has to exhibit good communication skills with players, fans, donors and the media.
“It’s generally what I’ve always looked for in coaching searches,” Alleva said. “There are more, but those are probably the main things you look for in a coach.”
That “adaptability” part seems to be a quality that former coach Les Miles, whom Alleva fired in September after a 2-2 start, lacked when it came to football. Adapt to hurricanes jumbling the schedule, and Miles was your man. But Miles indicated there was change coming to his offense after Alleva nearly fired him in November, then showed little if any evidence of it in 2016 before his dismissal. In-game adjustments also weren’t considered a Miles strong suit.
For an LSU athletic director, hiring a football coach is a legacy-making decision. Bertman, when interviewing Miles 12 years ago, told Miles that he would be remembered at LSU for who he hired as its football coach. This from a man who won a mere five national championships in baseball, creating a national power from nothing.
Like Bertman, Alleva has a football background that few know about. Bertman was a high school football assistant in Miami Beach. Alleva, who grew up in Suffern, New York — a town hugging the New Jersey state line north of New York City — played football (and baseball) at Lehigh University, about two hours away in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
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He lettered at Lehigh from 1972-74 (freshmen weren’t eligible then), rising to become the Mountain Hawks’ starting quarterback. He was co-captain as a senior and still ranks third in the Lehigh record book for passing yards per attempt in a career (8.24). He became a graduate assistant there briefly but found that recruiting wasn’t for him. He earned an MBA, got a job in the business office on Duke’s academic side of campus and eventually worked his way up through the athletic department.
Alleva’s football-playing experience still shapes him.
“No sport emulates life like football,” he said. “It shows you the value of teamwork, of working together. In football, you get knocked down, and you’ve got to get back up again. You can’t feel sorry for yourself. The biggest thing it taught me was the importance of each position. It’s like my job now with all the people around me. You can’t minimize that.”
While this is his first football hiring and firing at LSU, Alleva had plenty of experience with that process as Duke’s A.D. He fired Fred Goldsmith in 1998, a coach he inherited. He hired and fired Carl Franks and Ted Roof, coaches who went a combined 13-90 but who Alleva said were hamstrung by Duke’s modest financial commitment to football and its stringent admissions standards.
In 2008, mere months before leaving for LSU, Alleva found a game-changer when he hired former Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe. It was a construction project at first, but since 2012 Cutcliffe has led the Blue Devils to four straight bowls for the first time in school history. His three straight winning seasons from 2013-15 is the longest streak in Durham since four straight winning campaigns from 1960-63.
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Alleva allows that he has been putting out and receiving feelers on the job from numerous candidates, and that he has people advising him on the search, though he stops short of saying he has engaged an outright search firm.
He said the timing of Miles’ dismissal has given him something rare in football coaching searches.
“It gives you a lot of time to do your due diligence, to check on candidates and do research on them,” Alleva said.
Maybe it’s good that Alleva’s window isn’t filled with an overwhelming view of Tiger Stadium.
His view has to be to the seasons beyond right now — perhaps even to a time when the athletic director’s office belongs to someone else.