Why Will Wade may have made the wrong decision going to LSU

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It was announced on Monday night that VCU head coach Will Wade would be heading to LSU after supposedly agreeing to a 6 year deal with the Tigers. Wade’s head coaching career began at Chattanooga where he led the Mocs to a 20+ win season and was named Southern Conference Coach of the Year in 2014. Wade became the head coach of VCU after Shaka Smart left for Texas and the position became vacant. Wade went 51-20 in his 2 seasons at VCU and led the Rams to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances. Wade’s last game as VCU’s head coach came last Thursday in Salt Lake City where the Rams fell 85-77 to St. Mary’s.

Obviously, Will Wade’s motives lie in more money and an opportunity to coach in a Power 5 conference: the SEC. Wade was expected to make $1.5 million next year for the Rams, and it took the Tigers a $1 million buyout of his contract. Head coach Johnny Jones of LSU was making the same amount for the Tigers as Wade was for the Rams before being fired at the end of this season. Jones’ contract extended through 2019, but a 10-21 season in Baton Rouge sent him packing. I can’t imagine Wade’s deal with the Tigers has to be worth that much more than his job at VCU, but I’d also have to imagine it’s a decent enough raise to convince him to move.

Upon first look, it seems like Will Wade made a reasonable decision. He saw an opportunity to coach at a Power 5 school and took it. He’s essentially been climbing the ranks in coaching status and trying to chase bigger positions and bigger paychecks. I’m sorry VCU fans, but that’s life. In a perfect world, Will Wade would have stayed behind and coached a mid-major team that’s been on the rise. We now know that’s not the case.

But LSU may not be the literal and metaphorical sea of gold that Will Wade had at his disposal when he was the coach of the Rams. Making a step up to a Power 5 conference from the Atlantic 10 is a major jump, and inheriting a team that’s been a bottom-feeder in the SEC may yield trouble in Wade’s first few seasons. The Tigers went 2-16 last season, and even though they’ll return basically all of their scoring from last season, this is a team that needs fixing. LSU was a terrible defensive team this past season, ranking 327th in effective field goal defense. In addition, the Tigers were the worst in the SEC in defensive efficiency, three point, and two point field goal defense. This Tigers team also ranked 275th nationally in forced turnovers. No havoc in Baton Rouge.

The difference between Will Wade coming to VCU and Will Wade coming to LSU is in what he inherited and what he now has to inherit. When Will Wade came to VCU in 2015, he inherited a team that ranked top 10 nationally in steal percentage and defensive turnover percentage the previous season. He also got a defense that was top 25 nationally in overall efficiency. Not to mention, Will Wade got a group of established players who were already on the rise under Shaka Smart’s system. Will Wade did not have to struggle in a rebuilding year (that would have been next year with the graduations of JeQuan Lewis, Doug Brooks, and Mo Alie-Cox). Though he was successful in continuing this tradition, Will Wade inherited a job in which the team had been to the NCAA Tournament 5 straight years. Needless to say, this program was in decent shape before he arrived.

LSU is a completely different story. Not only did the Tigers have an awful year in the SEC, but it’s only been getting worse since their NCAA Tournament bid in 2015. 22 wins that year became 19 in 2016 and 2017 featured just 10. Johnny Jones couldn’t even get this team to the Big Dance with star stud Ben Simmons on the roster. This program is blatantly headed in the wrong direction, and it’s up to Will Wade to save it from crashing and burning in the SEC. That might be easier said than done. While Wade was able to make that turnaround at Chattanooga, how can anyone be sure he’ll do it at LSU? While the SEC has generally been considered one of the weaker Power 5 conferences, it still packs some punch with frontrunners in Kentucky, Florida, and Arkansas, and the middle-of-the-pack is nothing to mess with either. Top to bottom, this is a good league.

Will Wade had a great thing going at VCU, and he’s laying that all on the line for a chance with the Tigers. I bid him good luck. This program may not be easy to fix. Will Wade is really going to have to transform this team defensively if it wants to be competitive in the SEC. The Tigers can’t rank in the 300s when it comes to defensive field goal percentage. How much of VCU’s stellar defense the last two seasons was from Wade’s coaching, or was most of it because of Shaka Smart’s coaching and recruiting of talented defensive players? This is an interesting question, and if the latter becomes true, LSU is going to be a tough team to turn around.

I’m also not sure how Will Wade is going to fair against dominant SEC teams like Kentucky and Florida. In his last two seasons at VCU, Wade’s only Kenpom Top 50 wins were against Saint Joseph’s (2015-16), Middle Tennessee (2016-17), and Dayton (2016-17). How is Will Wade’s team going to perform in Rupp Arena?

It’s all about making progress in order to keep your job and strive as a college basketball coach, but that’s easier said than done. It may not be hard to get the Tigers out of 14th place in the SEC, but does Will Wade have the experience necessary to lead this team into the top half of the conference? It’s a gamble for sure. Wade may not have had the biggest contract at VCU, but he had a system that was working and a school that backed him gratefully. Wade’s making a big move, and if he falls, don’t expect the Rams to have much mercy in the end.

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About Author

Grant Labedz is a college basketball superfan who loves the entire sport but definitely has favorites in the A-10 and the Big Ten. He has written for SB Nation's BT Powerhouse (Big Ten Basketball) and The Champaign Room (Illinois Basketball). He also co-founded his own Illinois Basketball blog called The Groce Report. Grant is a member of the Davidson Class of 2020. Shoot him an email at [email protected] Follow @GrantLabedz

3 Comments

  1. This season made me wonder a bit about Wade’s coaching chops. All he has proved in his two seasons is that he could win mostly with Shaka’s players. As they slowly stopped playing Shaka’s system the defense remained tough but they struggled at times on the offensive end. If they weren’t getting transition points the offense all but dried up at times. It makes me wonder if with most of Shaka’s guys graduating this year if he didn’t just go for the cash grab. This could be a really harsh assessment because I know he had a top recruiting class signed. But there is a difference from getting good guys signed and having success on the floor. Look at UMASS.

      • His first year VCU LOST ITS ENTIRE RECRUITING CLASS. Wade managed to put together a very good team that year. The incoming class wais stellar, but he has vowed to tAke at least two with him, if not more. Will Wade can recruit. Coaching? He’s still learning in some phases. He has referred to this year’s team as the least talented since 2012, but they worked and fought hard. I don’t think his players appreciated the comment on national media, not once, but twice. As Alie-cox said last year, “don’t let that baby face fool you. “

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