BATON ROUGE – LSU athletic director Joe Alleva has stepped up to the plate to hire LSU’s next football coach.
Largely a basketball guy who was athletic director at Duke from 1998 until coming to LSU in 2008, his batting average in major sport coaching searches is:
.166. He is 1-for-6.
At Duke, he was 1-for-3 in hiring football coaches as Carl Franks went 7-45 overall and 3-29 in the Atlantic Coast Conference from 1999 through 2003. Then Ted Roof went 6-45 and 3-33 from 2003 through 2007, including 0-for-24 in the ACC from 2005-07. But give Alleva the benefit of the doubt there as many a good football coach would not succeed at Duke. But 0-for-24?
Finally, Alleva hit gold after the 2007 season with David Cutcliffe, who understandably struggled early but has taken Duke to three straight winning seasons and four consecutive bowls. Funny, though, Cutcliffe never liked Alleva and still doesn't.
At LSU, Alleva is 0-for-3 in basketball hires with Trent Johnson, Nikki Fargas and Johnny Jones. Caldwell and Jones are still coaching women’s and men’s basketball, respectively, and got off to good starts, but have recently taken dives. Jones has recruited well and put together an impressive NCAA Tournament team in 2014-15, though it went 0-1. But last season, he had the best NBA prospect in the world and other very good players, but could not get to the NCAA Tournament.
Can’t blame Alleva too much for Johnson and Caldwell. Both seemed like good hires at the time and probably would have been hired for similar posts by many athletic directors. Jones, on the other hand, would probably still be at North Texas had Alleva not yielded to local pressure to hire the former LSU player and longtime LSU assistant from back in the 1980s and ‘90s when LSU had a relevant program for more than a year or two here and there.
But that’s just it, an athletic director should not yield to local pressures who can sometimes be too close to a non-qualified candidate when making an important hire.
There are a few key qualified, objective sources among the current and former LSU Board of Supervisors members Alleva can tap for help in hiring a new football coach to replace Les Miles, whom Alleva fired last Sunday. There are also a couple of choice booster types who are knowledgeable as well. He should also talk to former LSU chancellor Mark Emmert, who is the current NCAA president, and was scheduled to be in town Thursday night to speak at LSU’s Business School Education Complex Auditorium.
The title of his lecture? “Leadership in Challenging Times.”
Gosh, I hope Alleva went to that. Because it is critical that LSU has Emmert-like leadership during these times of the next few months.
Regardless of what you think of anything Emmert did or didn’t do pre-LSU or post-LSU, when he was LSU’s chancellor from 1999 through 2004, LSU enjoyed some of its best times as an up and coming university and as a football program.
Emmert listened to those who knew, then expertly waved everyone off, including the late Joe Dean, who was athletic director at the time, and correctly fired Coach Gerry DiNardo late in the 1999 season as Dean was growing sympathetic and considering keeping him. That would’ve been cheaper, which is how he often thought.
Then Emmert took over the coaching search. Dean would not have hired Nick Saban from Michigan State because the $1.2 million price tag was other worldly in Dean’s world. He would have paid “what the market demanded,” as he used to say, and probably hired an inexpensive assistant like Kansas State defensive coordinator Phil Bennett or another average mid-major head coach like a Curley Hallman or DiNardo.
Emmert didn’t adhere to the market. He set it. As LSU officials began to quibble with Saban’s agent Jimmy Sexton about that salary, Emmert waved them off and made the hire. And LSU has been in the midst of its best period of football ever since 2000.
Can Alleva be Emmert? He only needs to make one great hire to erase all the bad ones.
Is he getting help? Hopefully.
“I’m the search,” he said on ESPN Radio 104.5 FM in Baton Rouge on Thursday morning during the Culotta & The Fan show.
I love the take charge, Emmert-like spirit, but still, I’m worried. Alleva is 1-for-6, and he's not a people person as Emmert is.
And the bases are loaded with two outs.
A bad hire here, and LSU Football could be set back for five or more years. Yes, it’s a great job. But so is Alabama, and if you worry too much about hiring some nice guy, or someone you know or feel comfortable with, or the dreaded “good fit,” you’re asking for trouble.
Never have understood the “good fit” terminology, which Alleva has already used.
“I’m looking for someone that’s a good fit for LSU,” he said in the above interview. “And I’m looking forward to a change in the whole culture of the program.”
Those are contradictory sentences. If you just fired a coach because of a consistent slide over the last several years, why do you want someone who is a “good fit.” What you want is someone who is precisely not a “good fit.”
That’s what Saban was. He didn’t fit. He was from West Virginia and the Big Ten. He wasn’t friendly. He didn’t even want to be here at first. He knew little of Tiger Stadium’s mystique, which only happens every now and then – let’s be honest. He just recruited, had things built, coached and won. And it was because he didn’t fit that he changed the culture. And they won and kept winning under Miles for a long time. And Miles, who was at Oklahoma State and from roughly the same part of the country as Saban and also grew up in the Big Ten, wasn’t necessarily a fit either at first.
Alleva’s right about changing the culture, but he may have to find someone who doesn’t fit the culture completely in order to change that culture. Then let the culture change the coach over time – not the other way around.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher would fit as he coached here under Saban and when Miles was very good, but, more importantly, he’s a great coach. And he’s a great offensive coach, which would not fit because LSU has never hired a true offensive coach. The key with this hire is to not fit the culture of awful offense.
Houston coach Tom Herman would fit. He’s in East Texas, which is similar to Louisiana. He’s an offensive coach, too, which wouldn’t fit, which would be great. But he grew up in California, which wouldn’t fit, but that could be great. Herman is also buddies from his Cal Lutheran days with LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who seems like a fish out of water down here. But his defense fits. Paul Dietzel was from Ohio and never seemed very Cajun. But he won at LSU. Stanford coach David Shaw wouldn’t fit geographically, either, but he could be great here.
Louisville’s Bobby Petrino wouldn’t fit. He's not a nice guy and he has baggage to check. But he is probably the best offensive mind in college coaching. I think LSU could make that fit. And so what if he’s kind of a jerk. Apparently, he recruits well, and how many fans actually really get to know a coach anyway?
Ed Orgeron would be a great fit, but he would be a great hire if he does very well over the next eight games with six or seven wins because he's a great coach, not because he speaks French or is from the bayou.
After that, it’s dangerous. LSU is very vulnerable. Even dynasty programs are vulnerable at times like this. Look what happened when Alabama hired the wrong guy in 1997 with Mike DuBose. He fit. He played for the Bear. But he was awful. Then it was Dennis Franchione, who didn’t really fit, which is part of the reason he left. But he won. Then it was Mike Price, who looked a little like the Bear so he fit, but he just wanted to party. Mike Shula was next. He fit because he was a former player, but he was also awful. That’s 10 years between DuBose and Shula in which Alabama was not relative, rarely good and usually average with two losses to Lousiana Tech because of three bad hires.
The pressure is on Alleva. At least he knows that. He sounds ready.
“Oh, it gets me excited because you know it’s the biggest part of my job,” he said. “Whoever we pick to lead this program going into the future is huge, not only to the athletic department but to the whole university and to the whole state, for that matter.”
Don’t go at it alone. Not even Emmert did that. And don’t cop an arrogant attitude, which might be a lot to ask, considering what your coaches say about you. Arrogance can hurt a search and an interview. Be careful. And be prepared when interviewing a coach as he may have spoken to Cutcliffe or Miles, or both. And he may have spoken to former LSU defensive coordinators John Chavis and Kevin Steele, who each left partly because of Alleva’s cutthroat management style.
“I think it’s hysterical how everybody is predicting who the next coach is going to be,” Alleva said on the radio show as if he just arrived on Earth. That’s kind of how it always is.
“I find that comical,” he said.
Funny thing, most of the time, the coaches on these early lists end up getting the target job or another big one.
The only thing “hysterical” and “comical” may well be Alleva if he doesn’t get one, or at least go after, those prominent names ... whether they fit or not.
Coverage of LSU and commentary by Glenn Guilbeau supported by Hebert’s Town & Country Auto Dealer in Shreveport located at 1155 East Bert Kouns Loop. Research your next Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep or Ram at http://hebertstandc.com/.)