Wade arrives: Mutually beneficial deal for McNeese, former LSU coach

Published 11:39 am Tuesday, March 14, 2023

A program looking to build a reputation is calling for help from a coach trying to remake his.

McNeese State introduced former LSU top cat Will Wade as the 12th men’s basketball coach in school history on Monday.

The 40-year-old Wade replaces John Aiken, who was fired on Wednesday with one year remaining on his contract after two seasons. Aiken’s Cowboys struggled to a 22-45 record, including 11-23 this season. The 23 losses were a single-season school record.

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“I am excited to be back in Louisiana,” Wade said. “Happy to be back coaching. “This program needs a rebirth; my career needs a rebirth. This is perfect for us to come together.”

Wade, who was at LSU from 2017-2022, comes to McNeese with plenty of success and baggage. His time with the Tigers was mired in controversy that included a long NCAA investigation.

In an FBI transcript of a 2017 wiretap of then-Adidas consultant Christian Dawkins, Wade was recorded saying he made a “strong” offer to a prospect he was recruiting.

Dawkins, an aspiring sports agent, was convicted twice — October 2018 and April 2019 — of bribing players, their families and college coaches.

The national investigation resulted in the convictions of Dawkins, Merl Code, four college assistant coaches and James Gatto, an Adidas executive.

LSU suspended Wade on March 8, 2019 before the regular-season finale against Vanderbilt. He missed the Southeastern Conference Tournament and three NCAA Tournament games before being reinstated on April 19, 2019. But on Aug. 25, 2020, more allegations against Wade and the LSU program were reported.

LSU fired Wade on March 12 before the 2022 NCAA Tournament after the NCAA formally served the university with a notice of allegations.

The NOA charged LSU basketball with six Level 1 violations, seven overall.

The NCAA heard Wade’s case in early February. A ruling is pending. Any punishment will likely come sometime in the summer.

“I can’t really touch on the process because it is still ongoing,” Wade said. “The university did its due diligence, and you never know what is going to happen, but we feel good moving forward.”

McNeese Athletic Director Heath Schroyer said he did his homework on what some of the punishments might be and said the school is prepared for what might come.

“I’m confident where we are and I believe in the process,” Schroyer said. “I believe in coach and I’m excited he his here.”

On the court, Wade posted a 55-33 record over most of five seasons while in Baton Rouge, his third head coaching job. His Tigers won the SEC regular-season title in 2019 in his second season on campus.

Wade said the year away from college basketball, when he worked in the NBA, taught him a lot.

“I miss having a team, I miss being in the battles,” Wade said. “Sometimes you have to have something taking away from you before you appreciate it. I have a much greater appreciation for the opportunity and ability to coach basketball.”

With a greater-than-ever investment in the basketball program, is turning to a well-known name in hopes of not only winning games but filling seats.

“I believe the time for us to become regionally and nationally relevant is now,” Schroyer said. “Getting coach Wade to choose us at this time solidifies that belief. Today is a defining moment for McNeese basketball.”

Before LSU Wade served two seasons at both Tennessee-Chattanooga and Virginia Commonwealth, posting a 91-45 record over those four years.

His career record is 196-96 over nine seasons.

Wade said he has met with the McNeese team and told them the standards were not good enough.

He knows rebuilding a program that hasn’t won a league title since 2002 or a winning season since 2011-12 won’t be easy.

“This isn’t just rotate the tires, we have to build a new car,” Wade said. “There is a lot of work that has to be done.”

Wade said he is confident he can be the coach to turn McNeese around.

“I would not have come here if I didn’t think I would win for sure,” Wade said.

That would go a long way in remaking the not only his reputation but that of the McNeese basketball program as well.