LSU Fires Coach Will Wade Amid ‘Serious NCAA Allegations’

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LSU men’s basketball coach Will Wade has been fired because of allegations of major NCAA violations, LSU president William Tate and athletic director Scott Woodward confirmed Saturday.

After firing Wade, Tate and Woodward released a joint statement following their review of the Notice of Allegations the NCAA sent to LSU last week.

“The Notice contains serious allegations, including multiple charges alleging Coach Wade’s personal involvement – or awareness of – Level I misconduct,” Tate’s and Woodward’s statement says.

Level I violations are the most serious of major violations. Wade’s contract that was amended in 2019 says that LSU can fire Wade with cause if he is just investigated for a Level I or Level II major violation – regardless of the outcome of that investigation. That amendment was added before Wade could be reinstated in April of 2019 after he was suspended in March of 2019 for not cooperating with LSU or the with the NCAA as it investigated alleged recruiting violations involving Wade.

By firing Wade with cause, LSU does not owe Wade the remainder of his contract, which pays him $2.5 million a year. His contract expires on June 30, 2023.

“Today, we informed Will Wade that he has been terminated with cause, pursuant to the provisions of his amended employment agreement as the men’s basketball head coach at LSU,” the joint statement said.

CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein reported Wade’s dismissal first on Saturday.

Wade, 39, has been the subject of an NCAA investigation concerning his recruiting since March of 2019. That’s when a Yahoo.com story detailed his comments to a college basketball talent broker caught on FBI wiretap in 2017 in which he said he made prospect Javonte Smart “a strong-ass offer.”

Smart, one of the top high school guards in the country out of Scotlandville High in Baton Rouge, committed to LSU in 2017 and played with the Tigers from 2018-21. The NCAA has also been investigating several other prospects recruited by Wade, who came to LSU after the 2016-17 season at Virginia Commonwealth. He was also investigated by the NCAA briefly while at VCU.

Tate and Woodward also announced the firing of LSU assistant coach Bill Armstrong, who has been recruiting under Wade at LSU since Wade’s arrival before the 2017-18 season.

“Armstrong is heavily involved in LSU’s recruiting efforts and helped LSU come up with a No. 4 ranked national recruiting class for the 2018-19 season that included Javonte Smart, Marlon Taylor, Emmitt Williams and Darius Days,” LSU’s website still says of Armstrong.

Only Days remains on LSU’s team.

The NCAA’s next step will be a response to LSU’s initial response to the Notice of Allegations. A hearing will be scheduled that will be completed with a ruling that does not offer any appeal process. LSU’s firing of Wade now could lessen its ultimate penalty decided upon by the NCAA.

The NCAA moved the investigation of Wade and the LSU basketball program in 2020 to the Independent Accountability Review Process, which is a special unit for serious and complicated NCAA cases that often include major violations. The IARP’s final rulings cannot be appealed.

“I certainly look forward to commenting when it’s all over,” Wade said in reference to the Notice of Allegations on Thursday after his Tigers defeated Missouri in the SEC Tournament in Tampa, Florida. “But until then, they won’t allow us to comment. We hadn’t been able to comment on it since everything started.”

LSU assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Kevin Nickelberry will replace Wade on an interim basis for the NCAA Tournament, LSU said. The NCAA Tournament starts next week.

The Tigers (22-11) were eliminated from the SEC Tournament on Friday with a loss to Arkansas, but are expected to receive a No. 7 or No. 6 seed for the NCAA Tournament on Sunday when the field is announced.

This is the second NCAA Tournament in three years that Wade will not get to coach in after leading LSU to it. Shortly after the Yahoo.com story came out in 2019, LSU suspended Wade for not cooperating with LSU or the NCAA in investigations of Smart’s recruitment. Then-assistant coach Tony Benford took over the team in the SEC Tournament and coached the Tigers through the NCAA Tournament in which LSU won two games.

Wade is the third SEC basketball coach to be fired in three days, but first for alleged NCAA violations. Georgia’s Tom Crean was fired on Thursday, and Missouri’s Cuonzo Martin was fired on Friday.

“We will immediately initiate a national search for a new head coach,” Tate’s and Woodward’s statement read. “We know that the LSU community will rally around our program and our student-athletes, none of whom are alleged to have been involved in any misconduct.”

Tate and Woodward also said that their decision to fire Wade “is not an acknowledgement of agreement with any of the allegations,” rather it is an effort to combat the length of time that the NCAA has used up in investigating LSU’s basketball program.

“We can no longer subject our University, Department of Athletics, and – most importantly – our student-athletes, to this taxing and already lengthy process without taking action,” Tate and Woodward said. “Our responsibility to protect and promote the integrity and well-being of our entire institution and our student-athletes will always be paramount.”

Again, “taking action” now could also soften LSU’s penalties.

Tate and Woodward said they were still in the process of studying the allegations.

“The University will determine its positions on the allegations after an exhaustive and objective examination of the relevant facts and applicable NCAA regulations,” they said.

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Written by Glenn Guilbeau

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