LSU’s search for a men’s basketball coach picked up steam Sunday.
A plane with LSU markings departed Baton Rouge early Sunday morning bound for Richmond, Virginia, and returned at mid-afternoon with athletic director Joe Alleva and deputy AD Eddie Nunez on board.
Alleva and Nunez declined to speak to The Advocate about the quick round trip, but ESPN reported later Sunday, citing unidentified sources, that VCU coach Will Wade “has emerged as one of the front-runners for the job.” VCU is located in Richmond.
A source confirmed ESPN's report to the Richmond Times-Dispatch late Sunday afternoon, The Advocate has learned.
Also, CBSSports.com reported Sunday evening that LSU, through a third party, has contacted former Indiana coach Tom Crean to gauge his interest in the opening.
LSU is seeking a replacement for fifth-year coach Johnny Jones, who was fired March 10 after a 10-21 season that included a school-record 15-game losing streak. Jones was 90-72 at his alma mater.
Wade, 34, is a Nashville, Tennessee, native who was on Vanderbilt’s radar a year ago before the Commodores hired Bryce Drew. Wade completed his fourth season as a head coach Thursday night with VCU’s 85-77 loss to Saint Mary’s in an NCAA tournament first-round game. It was his second NCAA tournament appearance in two seasons at the school.
Before his time at VCU, Wade was the head man at Chattanooga for two seasons. He has an overall record of 91-45 after going 40-25 at Chattanooga and 51-20 at VCU, where he previously served an assistant for four seasons under Shaka Smart.
Upon returning to VCU when Smart left in 2015 for Texas, Wade went 25-11 in his first season and earned a share of the Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season title. VCU defeated Oregon State in the first round of the NCAA tournament before falling in the second round to eventual Final Four participant Oklahoma 85-81.
This season, Wade led his team to a 26-9 mark and a second-place finish behind Dayton in the A-10 regular-season race. Among his victories was an 85-74 win over LSU in the Battle 4 Atlantis in The Bahamas on Nov. 25.
No. 2 seed VCU fell to fourth-seeded Rhode Island in the championship game of its conference tournament last Sunday but was rewarded with an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
Wade was named Southern Conference Coach of the Year at Chattanooga in 2014 after leading his team to a second-place regular-season finish as a 31-year-old rookie head coach. That season, Chattanooga earned a spot in the CollegeInsider.com tournament and lost in the first round.
Following a disappointing 2015-16 season in which they failed to make the NCAA tournament, the Tigers slumped badly this season and finished 2-14 in the Southeastern Conference — the program’s worst league mark in 50 seasons.
When Jones, a former LSU player and 13-year assistant to Dale Brown, was relieved of his duties, Alleva announced he and his staff would conduct a nationwide search for a “proven winner” to take the reins and get the program back on track.
The 50-year-old Crean, whose name has been on most lists of potential LSU coaching candidates, went on the market Thursday when he was fired after nine seasons at Indiana. His dismissal came less than 48 hours after the Hoosiers’ season ended with a loss to Georgia Tech in the first round of the NIT on Tuesday.
Under Crean, Indiana won Big Ten titles in 2013 and 2016. But the Hoosiers went 7-11 in conference play this season and failed to reach the NCAA tournament for the second time in four years.
Crean, who was hired by Indiana after leading Marquette to the NCAA tournament in five of nine seasons, with a visit to the Final Four in 2003, was only 166-135 at IU with a 71-91 record in the Big Ten. He had just three winning seasons in the conference but still earned four NCAA bids and got the Hoosiers to the Sweet 16 three times — including a year ago.
Despite the recent struggles, Crean was credited with bringing Indiana back to relevance after recruiting violations that rocked the program resulted in the resignation of coach Kelvin Sampson.