Sidelines with John Clay

LSU’s hire of young Will Wade gives SEC basketball another boost

Virginia Commonwealth coach Will Wade reacts during the first half of his team’s loss to Saint Mary’s in a first-round game of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on Thursday, March 16, 2017, in Salt Lake City.
Virginia Commonwealth coach Will Wade reacts during the first half of his team’s loss to Saint Mary’s in a first-round game of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on Thursday, March 16, 2017, in Salt Lake City. Associated Press

SEC basketball was already in the midst of a dynamite week, placing three teams in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament. On Monday night, the week got better. LSU hired Will Wade as its new coach.

Wade, 34, reportedly agreed to a six-year, $12 million contract. He is considered a rising star in the ranks after two years as head coach at Chattanooga and two as the head coach at Virginia Commonwealth. He went 40-25 in his two seasons in Chattanooga. He was 51-20 in his two years at VCU, leading the Rams to the NCAA Tournament both years, extending the school’s streak to seven consecutive bids.

As a No. 10 seed in the West Region last season, VCU beat Oregon State 75-67 before losing to Oklahoma 85-81. Oklahoma went on to the Final Four. As a No. 10 seed in the West again this season, the Rams lost 85-77 in the first round to No. 7 seed Saint Mary’s.

Wade joins a league that now boasts three of the better young coaches around. Mike White, who has led Florida to the Sweet 16 in just his second season, is 40. Bryce Drew, who went 124-49 at Valparaiso and led Vanderbilt to the NCAA Tournament this season, is just 42.

Scott Rabalais of The Advocate in Baton Rouge compares the Wade hire to that of LSU legend Dale Brown.

“It’s not unlike the bet LSU made when it hired Nick Saban away from Michigan State in 1999,” Rabalais writes. “And it bears similarities to the hire LSU made way back in 1972, when it selected then-unknown Washington State assistant named Dale Brown and asked him to make the Tigers a winner.”

In fact, Wade has a stronger record than Brown did when he was hired. For one thing, Wade has a head coaching record. He never played basketball in high school in Tennessee or in college at Clemson, but he was a graduate assistant and director of basketball operations under Oliver Purnell at his alma mater. He was then an assistant at Harvard (2007-09) for Tommy Amaker and then at VCU under Shaka Smart. After two years as the head coach at Chattanooga, Wade returned to VCU as head coach when Smart left to become the head coach at Texas.

Ron Higgins of the Times-Picayune of New Orleans writes, “Wade should hold that $2 million per year value if you judge him on winning 70 percent of his games as a head coach, on 51 wins and two NCAA tournament berths in his two years as head coach at VCU, on VCU athletic director Ed McLaughlin’s description of him as an 'old soul who looks 17, but thinks and acts 47,' on his aggressive offense and pressure defense and on his passion and preparation so thorough he keeps index cards in a back pocket that detail plays for half- and game-ending situations.”

There was talk that if Clemson let Brad Brownell go as coach, the school would pursue Wade. Dan Radakovich, the school’s AD, announced Monday that Brownell would be retained but that the coach had agreed to make changes for next season.

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “Wade has a $1 million buyout in his contract at VCU. He also has a clause that says any Division I school for which he leaves has to play a home-and-home series with VCU, starting at VCU, within three years of his resignation. That school can buy out the series for $250,000.”

Where will VCU turn for a new head coach? Don’t be surprised if the school shows interest in Northern Kentucky coach John Brannen, who just led the Norse to an NCAA bid -- NKU lost to UK 79-70 last Friday -- and is a former VCU assistant under Anthony Grant.

As for LSU, my contention has long been that it has the potential to be a very good basketball job. There are plenty of athletes in Louisiana. The school has shown it can reach the Final Four. It did so twice under Brown and once under John Brady. You have to win there to draw fan support, but if you do win, the fans will show up.

One thing is for certain concerning Wade: He is full of energy. The coach has a demonstrative and emotional sideline style. The guess here is that LSU fans, who have grown apathetic about hoops, will fall for their new young coach.

Will Wade as head coach

Season

School

Record

Conf

Post

2013-14

Chattanooga

18-15

12-4

CIT first round

2014-15

Chattanooga

22-10

15-3

2015-16

VCU

25-11

14-4

NCAA second round

2016-17

VCU

26-9

14-4

NCAA first round

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