ESPN's Dick Vitale found his way back to Baton Rouge radio on Monday, and it was with much softer tone -- and less yelling -- than his prior ideas for LSU's Will Wade.
Speaking on ESPN's Off The Bench with Jordy Culotta and T-Bob Hebert on ESPN's 104.5, Vitale addressed the LSU coach's standing hours after he was reinstated from a suspension lasting more than a month.
The longtime college basketball analyst, at 79, had been one of Wade's harshest critics over transcripts from FBI wiretaps of calls between the LSU coach and federally convicted middleman Christian Dawkins. In those calls Wade references a "strong-ass offer" and "the Smart thing." Wade was reinstated Sunday evening two days after meeting with LSU officials for the first time since the news broke.
ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale was heated when speaking with local radio hosts Jordy Culotta and T-Bob Hebert of 104.5 ESPN Radio…
“Obviously they met with him – he should have met with them initially. He’s very fortunate. Think about this: They could’ve fired him right then and there on insubordination," Vitale said. "Forget about the charges, the situation with the wiretap. But the fact that you refused to meet with the president, refused to meet with an AD. If they really wanted to play hardball they could’ve ended it right then and there."
The decision to reinstate Wade came amid a wave of LSU players announcing they'd test the NBA draft waters. The announcements came swiftly, kicked off by freshman center Naz Reid, then followed by sophomore Tremont Waters, junior Skylar Mays, freshman Javonte Smart -- believed to be the player referenced in the wiretaps, and freshman Emmitt Williams.
Williams has since clarified he is only looking for NBA feedback at this point. It's unknown whether other players might revisit their decision with newfound clarity on Wade's status.
LSU's season ended under the eye of interim coach Tony Benford with a loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16. Despite the reinstatement, Vitale said he thinks the school handled the situation appropriately.
"I think [LSU was] fair," Vitale said. "I don’t think there’s any doubt they had to suspend him … they had no choice whatsoever. They would’ve been crushed, crucified, the university about a lack of integrity and all that.”
After a suspension lasting more than a month, LSU basketball coach Will Wade has been reinstated.
Vitale continued: “I thought they were very fair. They sat back. They eventually gave him the opportunity to come before them. And obviously, I wasn’t there … we don’t know what transpired. But I guess there was total denial on his part. And unless you can prove there was cash laid out, I guess legally he has an argument. And obviously they felt that way and they reinstated him.”
The analyst's appearance came 21 days after he joined the show to discuss the topic the first time, a conversation that became much more heated. Vitale traded barbs and shouting match with Culotta and Hebert, taking great offense at the characterization of him being a hypocrite. Vitale drew social media backlash over his hard-line stance on Wade despite maintaining a close relationship with former Louisville coach Rick Pitino.
He took to Twitter frequently to call out the "dark cloud" over the team, that Wade should've been fired and that he was an "embarrassment" to the university. Several analysts also called for the school to skip postseason tournaments until the situation was resolved. A suggestion LSU quickly said they would not consider.
Despite that, Vitale said he has no regrets over his presence online and the pushback his comments can generate.
“Whenever you make an opinion and it doesn’t satisfy the people where you’re at, they’re not going to be happy in that moment," he said. "Then reality sets in and they understand: I’m not out to hurt anybody. I’m out to do a job and do it as honest as I can.
"Some people say ‘you’ve got to apologize,’ there’s nothing to apologize for," he continued. "What are we going to apologize for? I didn’t make those statements. The apology came from Wade. He’s the one that made the statements, and they were damaging statements. As damaging as can be."
After waiting more than a month to address reported FBI wiretaps with LSU and NCAA officials, Will Wade denied any wrongdoing and found himsel…
MORE FROM VITALE
ON NCAA ISSUES, A 'TOXIC PROBLEM'
“I’ve said It’s a cesspool. Not just Baton Rouge, it’s a cesspool throughout college basketball. I wouldn’t understand how you guys could think I was just talking about Baton Rouge, I’m talking about the whole nation. We’ve got a problem and the problem is going to be there because you know what’s difficult to do, Jordy? You can’t prove cash being laid out. I mean, how are you going to prove that? And I mean that’s the problem, that’s the dilemma.
“You don’t have to be a genius to figure this out. If it was proven [Brian Bowen] … that he supposedly got $100,000, now if he’s going to get $100,000, what about all these great, great one-and-done players over the years. What about their families getting money? If a shoe company is giving $100,000 to the kid, Bowen, are we that naïve to think other kids have not received it. It’s a mess.”
“If a kid is good enough, I don’t care who he is, Zion Williamson, Javonte Smart, whoever the player may be. And an agent wants to give them money, let them get the money up front. You eliminate all the sleaze, you eliminate all the guys wheeling and dealing in the background.
“Millions are being made. Forget about millions, billions are being made by the NCAA and people out there getting zillions of dollars. And what does the kid get after the game? A handshake, ‘great job. Great game.’ And I tell you reality has set in … people are making a lot of money, and the kids now deserve it.”
WHAT COMES NEXT?
"Just like in the case of Wade, my reaction is I’m not shocked on anything I read anymore to tell you the truth. It’s really unbelievable, but what I’m really surprised [by] is the fact that nothing can be really proved. I mean, it was some serious comments that Wade made … really, really morally not good for a university, certainly not good for him and not good for college basketball.
“We’ve got to sit back and see what happens with those trials that take place … we’ve got to be cautious.
For the full interview from ESPN 104.5, click here.