Why Will Wade's tone-deaf statement makes him look even worse

LSU head coach Will Wade shouts instructions to his players in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. LSU won 66-55. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)
LSU head coach Will Wade shouts instructions to his players in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. LSU won 66-55. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

The eye-roll-inducing 321-word statement Will Wade released on Thursday morning was most noteworthy for what it didn’t include.

Nowhere does the suspended LSU coach bother to actually say he didn’t do it.

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He doesn’t deny that it’s him caught on a federal wiretap describing the “strong-ass offer” he made to try to land guard Javonte Smart. He doesn’t attempt to portray that conversation as being about anything other than paying a promising recruit under the table to come to LSU. He doesn’t claim innocence, nor does he insist he has not violated NCAA rules.

What Wade does instead is almost unfathomably brazen under the circumstances. Even though Wade was caught on tape cheating and has refused to answer questions from his employer, he has the gall to attempt to lay out a case for why LSU should reinstate him before the ninth-ranked Tigers (26-5) open play in the SEC tournament on Friday.

"I understand that in today's hyper-intense media environment it is extremely difficult for any organization, particularly a public university, to stand firm in the face of rumors, leaks and innuendo,” Wade said. “In this case, the simple truth is I have been placed on leave because I exercised my right not to submit to a joint LSU/NCAA interview on the exact same subject matter at issue in an impeding federal criminal trial in New York. My legal counsel advised the University that it would be wholly inappropriate for me, or anyone, to submit to an interview under these circumstances.

"Declining to be interviewed was a difficult decision for me, as I would like to cooperate fully with all parties, particularly LSU. To be clear, however, all I've done is follow the prudent advice of counsel to exercise my constitutional rights to due process. Given these facts, I don't believe it is appropriate for me to be relieved of my duties.”

Give Wade credit for his audacity perhaps, but he has about as much chance of coaching LSU in the SEC tournament as you or I do. The university could only reinstate Wade if it decides to go full outlaw, knowing that the LSU basketball program isn’t top-10 good very often and that the NCAA is likely going to vacate this season and hand down future sanctions, regardless.

Short of that, LSU has no choice but to sit Wade. His situation is different than all the other coaches ensnared by the FBI investigation into college basketball corruption yet still on the sideline this postseason. The evidence that he violated NCAA rules is actually on tape.

Yahoo Sports was first to report earlier this month that federal wiretaps intercepted Wade and basketball middleman Christian Dawkins discussing an “offer” for Smart. Frustrated that the offer had yet to be accepted by a third party affiliated with the recruitment, Wade lamented that the third party hadn’t been given a big “enough piece of the pie in the deal” and that it was “tilted” more toward the player and his mother.

“It was a [expletive] hell of a [expletive] offer,” Wade said to Dawkins. “Hell of an offer. Especially for a kid who is going to be a two- or three-year kid.”

Wade did not give any specifics on the offer for Smart, but ESPN reported that the LSU coach joked with Dawkins during a different call that the player would be compensated more than the “rookie minimum.”

Wade, of course, has good reason not to explain himself until he has no choice but to take the stand at a federal trial later this spring. By not talking, it buys him time to see what federal investigators actually have on him and allows him to keep cashing checks from LSU for a couple more months.

But LSU also has good reason to suspend an employee who has been caught on tape cheating, doesn’t deny the allegations and refuses to explain himself. Tom Skinner, the school’s general counsel, emphatically made that point in an interview with SI.com on Thursday.

“In everything that’s been said by Will and his folks in the past week, not once have they denied any wrongdoing,” Skinner said. “As a university and employer, we need to hear our employee say, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong,’ or explain the circumstances or admit he did do something wrong. We’ve been unable to get to that point.”

In the end, Wade did nothing to help himself from a public relations standpoint on Thursday with the tone-deaf statement he made.

When accusations surfaced against Sean Miller last year, the embattled Arizona coach defiantly refuted them, insisting he has “never knowingly violated NCAA rules,” nor has he ever “paid a recruit or prospect or their family or representative.”

So far Wade has said nothing like that. And that itself says a lot.

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