WASHINGTON — A memorable scene unfolds at the end of the 1972 political dramedy “The Candidate,” in which Robert Redford’s character, Bill McKay, has just won a surprising election to the U.S. Senate.
Before a crowd of reporters come barging into the hotel room where McKay is holed up, Redford’s character asks Marvin Lucas, the political consultant played by Peter Boyle who pushed him into the race, a simple yet telling question:
“What do we do now?”
WASHINGTON — So, what’s next for the LSU basketball program?
Here, in this place where so much of the nation’s news happens, there is no significant news on the LSU/Will Wade front in the wake of the Tigers’ season-ending 80-63 loss to Michigan State in Friday’s NCAA East regional semifinals.
Instead, there is only the question drifting through the early spring air, rustling the cherry blossoms near the Potomac River.
What does LSU do now?
Oh, yes, there was the latest Yahoo! Sports report Thursday asserting that Shannon Forman was the go-between for Wade and Javonte Smart. It it had to be someone, didn’t it? It is a bit of information, the introduction of a new character in this ongoing Netflix-like miniseries that has become the Wade saga.
LSU has its own “House of Cards” to deal with, one that has yet to reach a dramatic conclusion or seen its own Francis Underwood — in this case, Wade — dismissed from the show.
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It is clear what LSU’s intent is as far as Wade is concerned. There are certain things that just can not be tolerated, like his refusal to come in and talk to the school’s brass about the FBI wiretaps he is reportedly on talking to would-be sports agent Christian Dawkins (Update: even though I’m close by their headquarters, the FBI folks still don’t seem very keen on letting me in to hear said wiretaps).
His refusal to talk led to Wade's ongoing suspension. It has naturally morphed into speculation that LSU will simply cut ties with Wade.
It seems the program does not want to do that.
Athletic director Joe Alleva said as much during a meeting and teleconference with The Advocate’s editorial board March 13. There has been no indication since then that LSU is ready to make a move to oust Wade and start looking for a replacement.
Do the odds still appear against Wade being LSU’s coach next season? Sure do. But it would be wrong to assume that there is no chance of his return. The due process of the Dawkins trial, for which Wade has been subpoenaed next month, and whatever NCAA wrath may or may not come LSU’s way, still has to play out.
The downside of the waiting game for LSU is the inexorable tick, tick, tick of the coaching search season. While LSU feels compelled to let the Wade situation play out, other schools are filling vacant slots.
Alabama has already hired Buffalo’s Nate Oats to replace Avery Johnson. Texas A&M is expected to make a lucrative offer (does A&M make any other kind?) for Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams after his Hokies lost to Duke in Friday’s second semifinal here. Arkansas and Vanderbilt are also looking to fill their top jobs.
If LSU can somehow find a way to keep Wade, the Tigers will remain on a competitive footing with its Southeastern Conference rivals no matter who else other schools are hiring. But if LSU has to cut him loose, well, there's no telling whom the Tigers may have to settle for. Especially if there is the specter of looming NCAA probation.
One question about LSU basketball has a logical answer, though: If Wade can remain as coach, the Tigers' chances of returning to the Sweet 16 again probably go up.
Meanwhile, LSU’s other basketball coaching watch is now apparently reduced to a lowest possible DefCon level. Alleva said before Friday’s game that he wants women’s coach Nikki Fargas back for the 2019-20 season.
Fargas’ job has also been a subject of much speculation. LSU went 16-13 this season and failed to reach the NCAA tournament for the second time in the past four years (Fargas made the NCAAs her other six seasons). LSU, for the record, also declined consideration for a WNIT bid, which was fine because it would not have moved the needle one inch.
Fargas’ tenure has been mostly turmoil-free. Her players typically graduate and stay out of trouble, and Fargas is active in the community. But LSU has not won an NCAA tournament game since 2014. Other coaches, such as Tennessee’s Holly Warlick, have been fired despite accomplishing much more.
WASHINGTON — A lone Michigan State fan, overpriced and oversized light beer in hand, burped out some ragging remark as the LSU Tigers headed b…
Warlick’s dismissal in Knoxville raises the question whether Tennessee would come calling for Fargas, a former Tennessee player and assistant coach. However, Alleva also said Friday he has not heard from Tennessee athletic director Philip Fulmer.
He probably won’t. Fargas’ 148-106 record at LSU is not going to put her at the top of Fulmer’s list. She and LSU need to work together to restore the Lady Tigers to respectability. This, after all, was a program that from 1997-2008 went to the Sweet 16 or further nine times and reached the Final Four five straight years.
Fargas’ problem has not been her coaching acumen but recruiting. She has either not gotten enough top-flight players or not kept the ones she did land, like five-star forward Raven Farley, who left the team midseason.
Doubtless there are many LSU fans who are ready for a fresh start for women’s basketball. But there are reasons for sticking with Fargas, too. The Lady Tigers had only one senior on this year’s team, guard Shanice Norton. The rest of the roster should return, led by All-SEC forward Ayana Mitchell. And Fargas kept two top-notch guards in state: five-star Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year Tiara Young of Walker and four-star Domonique Davis from DeRidder.
It is worth noting that Fargas just got a three-year contract extension, though not a raise, in October. In that regard, LSU has apparently answered the question of what it does now about women’s basketball.
As for Wade and the men’s program, however, the question remains open-ended.