Will Wade is officially out as LSU head coach, almost three years to the day after it emerged that he had been caught on an FBI wiretap discussing illegal payments to a recruit.
LSU announced in a statement Saturday that Wade had been terminated for cause, the cause being the NCAA's recent notice of allegations regarding an infractions case dating back to 2017, the year Wade was hired as LSU head coach.
LSU associate head coach Bill Armstrong has also been fired. Assistant coach Kevin Nickelberry will take over as the team's interim head coach.
The phone call that got Will Wade in hot water
Wade's troubles date back to March 2019, when Yahoo Sports reported that a 2017 phone conversation between him and recruit middleman Christian Dawkins, who has since been convicted on fraud and bribery charges, was intercepted by the FBI.
On the call, Wade was heard discussing a "[expletive] strong-ass offer" made to a third party in the recruitment of four-star prospect Javonte Smart, who would later commit to LSU and play three years in Baton Rouge. Wade expressed frustration the party had not accepted Wade's "offer."
“Dude,” Wade continued to Dawkins, referring to the third party involved in the recruitment, “I went to him with a [expletive] strong-ass offer about a month ago. [Expletive] strong.
“The problem was, I know why he didn’t take it now, it was [expletive] tilted toward the family a little bit,” Wade continued. “It was tilted toward taking care of the mom, taking care of the kid. Like it was tilted towards that. Now I know for a fact he didn’t explain everything to the mom. I know now, he didn’t get enough of the piece of the pie in the deal.”
It was hard to see any way that conversation could not be interpreted as an NCAA rule violation in progress, but Wade somehow managed to continue coaching at LSU for three more seasons.
LSU waited years to fire Will Wade
Wade was initially suspended for the rest of the 2019 season, including the SEC and NCAA tournaments, after the report, but was reinstated after answering questions and denying wrongdoing in a meeting with school and NCAA officials.
LSU president William Tate and athletic director Scott Woodward addressed in their statement the length of time it took for Wade to see firm consequences, saying the school was sitting back to let the NCAA investigate the case:
For more than four years, the University has patiently allowed the NCAA investigative process to unfold, jointly working with the NCAA Enforcement Staff and, subsequently, with the Complex Case Unit (CCU), to ensure the evidence collected was as thorough and fair as possible. Throughout that time, the University and its men’s basketball program have operated under an exhausting shroud of negativity.
That state of limbo ended this week, when the NCAA delivered a notice of allegations that included multiple charges of Wade's personal involvement in Level I misconduct. After reviewing the allegations for "several days," the LSU brass said it decided to fire Wade.
Tate and Woodward maintained the firing of Wade is "not an acknowledgement of agreement with any of the allegations," but will determine its positions after further examination.
In five seasons at LSU, Wade accrued a 105-51 record with two NCAA tournament appearances, though he was allowed to coach in only one of them. The 22-12 Tigers are widely expected to qualify for March Madness this year after falling to Arkansas in the SEC tournament on Friday.