On Wednesday, ESPN confirmed that Scott Woodward was leaving Texas A&M to become the new athletic director at LSU. Earlier Wednesday, LSU announced that Joe Alleva was stepping down as AD and transitioning into a new role at the university. Alleva had been the Tigers’ athletic director since July 2008.
For the first time in over a decade, there’s a new face in charge of LSU’s athletic department. So let’s address the key questions.
How did we get here?
Alleva’s stock had been declining among key LSU stakeholders for quite some time. He drew criticism for the drawn-out football coaching transition from Les Miles, nearly fired at the end of the 2015 season, to Ed Orgeron. The angst grew in March after the school suspended men’s basketball coach Will Wade, leading to chants for Alleva’s firing at the home finale against Vanderbilt.
The chance to move on from Alleva and appoint Woodward to lead the athletic department proved too appealing to pass up. Woodward gives LSU national credibility, a track record of big-time coaching hires and local/institutional knowledge as a Baton Rouge native and an LSU alum and ex-administrator.
Is Jimbo Fisher going to follow Woodward out the door to LSU?
Fisher arrived at Texas A&M with an unprecedented contract — 10 years, $75 million and, perhaps most shocking, zero buyout. But the man providing that sweetened deal also played a major role in getting Fisher there. Woodward and Fisher worked together at LSU in the early 2000s, and Fisher said Woodward’s presence at Texas A&M swayed him to accept the job.
“As he told me in his vision for the place and what he had and he told me the president’s vision and the chancellor’s and the board of regents’, it was a no-brainer,” Fisher said at his introduction at A&M.
It’s unlikely Fisher will have the same rapport with Texas A&M’s next athletic director. But he already has the resources and financial backing that he grumbled about at Florida State. Fisher knows he can win big in Aggieland. He also likely would be at the top of LSU’s — and now Woodward’s — wish list if there’s a football vacancy in Baton Rouge.
Will Buzz Williams have any buyer’s remorse about taking the Texas A&M job?
Doubtful. Williams left Virginia Tech earlier this month after five seasons with the Hokies to take over in College Station. It’s a job Williams had been eyeing for a long time, and one for which he had been considered the heavy favorite for more than a year. He’s a Texas native who spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Texas A&M from 2004-06. Williams would have more than likely taken the job regardless of the athletic director.
When a new athletic director takes over, there’s always the chance he and the coaches don’t get along or don’t click like the previous regime. But as long as Williams has the same success at A&M that he had at Virginia Tech and Marquette, that won’t be an issue.
Does Ed Orgeron have to start worrying about his job again?
Many at LSU had soured on Alleva, but Orgeron wasn’t among them. Alleva gave Orgeron his dream job at a time when many viewed him as an effective interim coach and a standout recruiter who had botched his only opportunity to lead a program (10-25 in three seasons at Ole Miss). Orgeron showed tangible progress on the field with LSU in 2018 and last month received a two-year contract extension through 2023. But one or two subpar years at LSU usually result in a coaching change, and Orgeron must impress his new boss this fall with a talent-stocked team.
Orgeron and Woodward can bond over their Louisiana roots and shared love for LSU, but they haven’t worked together before. Woodward’s track record of splashy football hires — Chris Petersen at Washington, Fisher at Texas A&M — will turn up the heat on Coach O to deliver. If SEC championships and College Football Playoff appearances don’t come soon, Woodward could make a move, most likely with an eye toward Fisher.
What are the implications for embattled LSU basketball coach Will Wade?
Wade was reinstated to his position on Sunday night, more than a month after he was suspended for not meeting with the school to answer questions about his relationship with Christian Dawkins, the runner-agent who was found guilty in October’s FBI trial and will stand trial again next week. In early March, Wade was reported to be caught on wiretaps talking to Dawkins about a “strong-ass offer” for a recruit. Wade was suspended the following day, and interim head coach Tony Benford took over for the SEC and NCAA tournaments. A month later, Wade is back — and Alleva is out.
For what it’s worth, sources have told ESPN in the past — before Wade’s reported wiretap issues — that Woodward had been impressed by Wade’s quick success at LSU.
How will Woodward handle the current FBI probe?
The March reports of conversations between Wade and Dawkins involved Javonte Smart, the LSU freshman from Baton Rouge who chose the Tigers in June 2017. Once the reports emerged, Wade and Smart were both suspended. Unlike Wade, though, Smart sat down with LSU and NCAA officials and was cleared after missing just one game. Wade was reinstated after a similar interview procedure.
So while the NCAA might be off LSU’s back for now, the FBI investigation into college basketball corruption is a different story. Wade, who has denied any wrongdoing, was subpoenaed for next week’s federal trial involving Dawkins and Merl Code, both of whom were found guilty in the fall. There is a hearing on Friday to determine whether Wade will have to testify. If he does have to testify — or there is evidence shown in court involving Wade — Wade could still have issues. Woodward will have to wait and see on that front.
What is Woodward’s legacy at Texas A&M?
Woodward was only in College Station for three-plus years, but he made two big-time hires, plucking established coaches away from ACC programs. He brought in Williams to lead the basketball program earlier this month after parting ways with Billy Kennedy in March. Kennedy had been in charge of A&M for eight seasons, but went to the NCAA tournament just twice and had been on the hot seat for two seasons. Once the Aggies finished 14-18 this season, Woodward had to make a move — and Williams was the next man up. Given his Texas ties and his three straight NCAA tournaments at Virginia Tech, Williams was a no-brainer hire.
The same holds for Fisher, who won a national championship and three ACC titles at Florida State. He brought instant credibility to a program that, given its financial clout and talent-rich location, had underachieved for many years. Fisher also is one of few former Nick Saban assistants who has won at the highest level, and eventually could challenge Saban’s stranglehold on the SEC West. Woodward gave Fisher every resource to compete for championships, and a strong finish to the 2018 season has Aggie fans excited for the future.
What — and whom — is next at Texas A&M?
Not surprisingly, Woodward’s departure isn’t sitting well with certain Aggie fans, who are turning their ire toward chancellor John Sharp. While Woodward lured big-time coaches to College Station, the school ultimately lost him to another SEC school. That stings. His successor’s priorities should be ensuring Fisher and Williams are happy, and keeping the money flowing into College Station.
Texas A&M could look to Texas Tech’s Kirby Hocutt, a respected and sensible option who has led two Power 5 departments. It will be interesting how Sharp’s presence impacts the Texas A&M search, as he has turned off some around the program and likely was a factor in Woodward’s departure from the school.