August in south Louisiana is supposed to be thick with football practices and humidity and anticipation for the game’s return. That hasn’t changed, but around the LSU campus there’s something buzzing other than the insects and the frogs.
New LSU coach Will Wade has been a summer sensation, first with his recruiting and then this week with news of his six-year contract that pays him $2.5 million per season.
The broad expectation coming in was that Wade would elevate LSU’s fundamentals and effort as a team, especially on defense. Evidence of that will come in November when the Tigers take the court. The Tigers who will be taking the court are for now the story, eclipsing the drive of LSU’s new no-nonsense, high-energy coach.
Wade has executed an extreme makeover on this roster. The Tigers will have at least 14 players this fall, half of them newcomers.
The new ball coach held on to two of former coach Johnny Jones’ recruits — 6-foot-6 forward Galen Alexander of Breaux Bridge and 6-5 guard Brandon Rachal of Natchitoches. Then he added a raft of signees of his own: 6-9 forward Mayan Kiir, 5-11 guard Tremont Waters and transfers Daryl Edwards (a 6-3 junior college guard) and Randy Onwuasor, a 6-3 graduate transfer from Southern Utah.
Looking ahead, LSU has a commitment for 2018 from Ja’Vonte Smart, a 6-4 five-star guard from Scotlandville Magnet. Another highly regarded local prospect, 6-7 forward Josh LeBlanc from Madison Prep, has listed LSU as one of his four finalists along with Texas A&M, Arkansas and Georgetown. And according to 24/7 Sports, the Tigers are leading for 2018 five-star Nazreon Reid, a 6-9 power forward out of New Jersey, over a host of big-time programs like Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Louisville.
Then there’s the curious case of 7-0 Chalmette center Mitchell Robinson. The five-star big man committed to Texas A&M when Rick Stansbury was an assistant there to New Orleans native and former SLU coach Billy Kennedy. Then he followed Stansbury to Western Kentucky when he became head coach there (with Robinson’s godfather Shammond Williams on the WKU staff). Now Williams is gone from WKU and so is Robinson, the No. 1-ranked center in this year’s recruiting class per 24/7 Sports.
Any program would covet Robinson, but the hurdles to landing him are significant. He enrolled at WKU, then left. Robinson’s playing for any other school would first require a waiver from the NCAA, a Pandora’s box the collegiate governing body is probably loathe to open for all the complications that could result. Then there’s the fact that Robinson isn’t a Louisiana native, but a transplant from Florida who wound up at Chalmette his junior year. It’s not as though he has strong ties to the state or LSU.
That said, the fact that LSU is in the mix for players like Robinson, Smart, LeBlanc and Waters — a four-star prospect from Connecticut who committed to Georgetown but never enrolled — speaks well of the recruiting acumen of Wade and his staff.
LSU athletic director Joe Alleva is making a big bet on Wade’s ability as a recruiter and tactician, as evidenced by the six-year, $15 million contract The Advocate reported on earlier this week.
Through some quick research, it appears Wade’s contract puts him in the top six among Southeastern Conference coaches in terms of salary, the same as Tennessee’s Rick Barnes. It’s about a million more than LSU paid Jones and VCU paid Wade last season.
If LSU wants to be a top five or six program at least in the SEC, one has to pay accordingly. That’s what Alleva did, luring one of the hottest young coaches in the country away from VCU. It’s a move worth making to move the program forward.
The jump-off-the-page part of Wade’s contract isn’t the money as much as the buyout clause. Or lack of one. If LSU has to fire Wade without cause (some sort of scandal, a la Hugh Freeze), the school owes him the entire remainder of the contract. If Wade leaves LSU for another job, he owes the school the same thing.
It’s an unusual arrangement in this age of buyouts and clauses and contractual stipulations. It demonstrates the faith Alleva has in Wade and Wade’s commitment to LSU, which would also owe the coach a $1 million retention bonus if he’s still on the job June 30, 2022 (after five seasons).
In a speech to a group of incoming LSU freshman in Tiger Stadium last week, Wade asked the students to help him grow the program, vowing to take LSU to the Final Four by the time they’re seniors.
If Wade makes good on his vow and proves to be as good a hire as he’s looked so far, a $1 million bonus may seem like a quaint gratuity five years from now.