When first you meet Will Wade, he doesn’t strike you as fiery sort of basketball coach.
A hot-blooded actuary, perhaps. Or maybe a young professor still years away from making tenure at LSU, given to passionate monologues about the binomial theorem or Pickett’s charge or whatever it is he might be teaching.
But beneath that cherubic exterior is a volcano, a volcano that erupted all over the LSU sideline Saturday against Alabama.
Wade asked LSU fans to come out in droves and hang from the Pete Maravich Assembly Center catwalk for the game against the Crimson Tide. More than 13,000 of them packed the PMAC — and they weren’t even giving away a car like in the old days at women’s basketball games.
The fans didn’t get a win. LSU lost 74-66. But they did get a show.
Wade figuratively launched himself over the catwalk when Tremont Waters was called for a kicked ball, grabbing the ball and pounding the padded rim of the scorer’s table. Seconds later, Wade earned a technical for bumping referee Gerald Williams during a time out.
Monday, Wade opened his news conference to preview Tuesday night’s Georgia game by apologizing for his outburst.
“I let my emotion get the best of me,” he said. “You can’t react like that. It’s not the way I want to represent our program, our school, our state.”
Wade was right to apologize. And he did let his emotions basically extinguish LSU’s last slim chances at victory, as Alabama’s Colin Sexton hit two technical free throws for a 68-61 lead with 1:10 left.
And he needs to keep fighting and showing his emotions, albeit with a smidge more control.
LSU basketball needs emotion. It needs fight. It needs a coach, and players, willing to make a spectacle of themselves if they believe they’ve been wronged. It needs a Bo Schembechler-type ripping up a down marker. It needs a Bobby Knight slamming the scorer’s table making the telephone jump off its base, like he did for Indiana against LSU in the 1987 regional final in Cincinnati.
It needs a Dale Brown, ready to take on the world and turn an “us against them” mindset to his program’s advantage.
LSU’s last two coaches, Trent Johnson and Johnny Jones, had passion. But often the complaint was you didn’t see enough of it to impact the course of a game. Perhaps it just wasn’t their style. Wade on Saturday was wrapping his arms around his head, ripping off his tie, might have even had little flecks of foam appearing at the corners of his mouth.
This is a program that needs major injections of talent, strategic coaching, energy and marketability. The talent is not something anyone can do about this season, although Waters is a rising star. More is on the way next season, for sure.
But the coaching, energy and marketability, that’s on Wade. And he has delivered.
It may be tough for some in the "What have you done for me lately?" camp to see that right now after LSU's painful 61-60 loss to Georgia. The Tigers looked crisp and efficient in taking a 34-24 halftime lead but followed a familiar script in the second half in their previous home SEC losses to Kentucky and Alabama. LSU got pounded inside in the final 20 minutes, outrebounded 23-13 and powerless to stop Yante Maten's power move to the basket for the game winner with 5.7 seconds left.
"It's just a tale of two halves," Wade said. "They just physically beat us up in the paint. That's pretty much all there is to it."
Wade was subdued after the game, as he was during much of it. He got animated over a few calls, but clearly was on a mission to keep his emotions in a locked box behind the LSU bench.
“I was still into it now,” Wade said. “But I have to control myself. I have to make sure my team plays with composure. I think the team lost composure (Saturday) when I lost my composure.”
It might be easy for LSU fans to become disillusioned, but they forget what a short hand Wade was dealt when he took the LSU job. The guy can coach. He’s the energy source for a team short on vocal leaders (senior center Duop Reath isn’t that guy, Waters is a freshman). And whether it’s been Wade’s personal initiative or something he’s been asked to do by LSU’s administration, he’s been out there greeting football tailgaters, inviting fans to watch practice before the Arkansas football game, meeting with fans and boosters across the state. He even poked his head out of one of the ground-level portals at the PMAC during introductions for LSU’s Gymnastics 101 exhibition meet in December, perhaps to pick up something about that program’s glittering showtime he might want to incorporate into his team’s choreography.
As the old saying goes, everything in moderation, and that certainly appeared to be a phrase Wade took to heart Tuesday night. I believe him when he says he didn’t mean to bump into Williams, although such an action must be penalized because no one can be allowed to get physical with game officials. While I’ll take the over on Wade getting another technical this season (he’s had three already), I doubt he lets himself get in a situation like the one with Williams again. That’s important, because SEC referees will be looking for it.
But that doesn’t mean Wade should become a passive spectator on the sideline. He needs to find a workable medium between Alabama and Georgia and be himself, for his sake, but more importantly, for his program.
I'll take a bet on that happening, too.