Jim Gazzolo column: Keeping Wade is a priority

Published 8:00 am Thursday, January 18, 2024

Already it has been a season to remember for the Cowboys and it is just getting started.

With 15 wins in 17 games, the bitter taste of past struggles has been replaced with the sweet flavor of success. And McNeese State fans, they are drinking it all up in record numbers.

Even on the coldest of days, when more than a few of the faithful were left frozen on the bridges headed toward town, the Legacy Center was rocking like seldom seen before.

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As money seems to flow into the athletic department with the newfound success, national recognition continues to soar, introducing the university to a whole new group of possible future students and fans.

Meanwhile, Cowboys followers are left to ponder if this is a one-year wonder or if they will get an encore next season.

In simpler terms, can McNeese keep Will Wade?

The answer may surprise a lot of folks.

This is not the same Will Wade who coached at LSU, where he was kicked to the curb after a national recruiting scandal that led to more than a few people floundering in hot water.

He has said he is not the same young coach looking to race back up the career ladder in search of the next challenge. He says he has changed and is in a much different place in his life.

A year off from coaching can do that.

Wade seems more relaxed, happy and grateful to McNeese for being given a shot at redemption. He appreciates the community that has welcomed him and his family with open arms and taken to his players.

Basketball is enjoyable again.

“This is the most fun coaching a team I have ever had,” Wade said earlier this season. “I’m a different person than I was a few years ago.”

He has also told all that he is forever thankful to McNeese, especially Athletic Director Heath Schroyer, who went out on a limb to bring him here.

With a 10-game NCAA suspension looming over his head at the time of his hiring in March 2023, Wade’s coaching anywhere in the country last spring was in question. He served his 10 games like a good, if not pleased, soldier and has moved forward.

Wade went from that rebel young coach to a rebel young coach to McNeese fans in the time it took him to sign his name to the Cowboys contract.

But again, will we get a sequel to this story?

“I will do everything I can within my power to make it as hard as it can be for him to leave,” Schroyer said. “I want him to stay.”

That likely won’t be easy. With each victory, Wade’s profile will continue to rise. He is no doubt already on a lot of AD’s minds throughout the nation. A run in the NCAA Tournament would only add to the interest.

So the pressure is on Schroyer and McNeese to find a way to keep Wade.

That will take money. Wade won’t hold a gun to their heads, but others will come armed for a financial battle.

Granted, McNeese can’t win a bidding war with big programs, so there will be a number out there that the Cowboys can’t match. They also can’t look weak if larger mid-major programs come calling.

So Schroyer will have to dig deep into the school’s pockets, check under his couch cushions for any spare change he can find, and try to scrounge up enough money to stay in the game as long as he can.

That isn’t anything more than good business.

As for Wade’s part, he talks like a coach who plans on sticking around. He sounds nothing like a guy ready to jump at the first job that comes along.

Some internet chatter has the sharks already circling.

Maybe we can start a crowdfunding page. You can put me down for five bucks if it will help.

All kidding aside, going into this college basketball season we knew Wade’s time at McNeese would not last forever. He was the perfect rental, a fixer-upper who could hopefully flip the program around for good.

The excitement he has brought and the energy created by this team have been worth every penny spent.

To keep it going McNeese must do everything it can and hope it’s enough.

And if he stays a second year, McNeese should try to enjoy it just as much as this one.

Jim Gazzolo is a freelance writer who covers McNeese State athletics for the American Press. Email him at