The past month was one of the best of athletic director Joe Alleva’s LSU tenure. By simply doing nothing while others in the SEC failed spectacularly, he saw his standing among the league’s ADs rise considerably.
Few things unite the LSU fan base like criticism of Alleva, but the aftermath of the 2017 football regular season has demonstrated that things can be much, much worse than they are perceived to be in Baton Rouge.
Two of Alleva’s counterparts are out of work after a chaotic November.
Arkansas’ Jeff Long was forced out of office, giving the Razorbacks the peculiar distinction of needing separate search firms to find a new AD as well as a new head football coach. Two weeks later, a populist revolution at Tennessee tumbled John Currie after multiple coaching candidates told the Volunteers “thanks, but no thanks.” Tennessee turned to its past in its desperation to stay relevant in the future, hiring former football coach Phil Fulmer for the role.
At the end of the school year, Auburn’s Jay Jacobs will join Long and Currie in the proverbial bread line. Jacobs has overseen arguably the greatest mess of them all on the Plains. The laundry list includes an FBI investigation into the basketball program and a Title IX investigation into the softball program.
Sure, the past month also served as a stark reminder that Alleva whiffed on hiring Jimbo Fisher the last two years. Conference rival Texas A&M was the school that was finally able to lure Fisher away from Florida State. But in 2015, when Alleva had his best shot at Fisher, the pressure from LSU president F. King Alexander and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on top of a near-protest by much of the fan base made firing Les Miles untenable at the time.
And let’s face it — A&M gave Fisher way too much. Not just money, but time. A guaranteed 10-year contract worth $75 million is an insane investment in the world of college coaching. There’s a chance it works out and pays off with multiple national championships, but it’s more possible the last several years off the contract will be eaten by the school. Charlie Weis at Notre Dame remains the model for a 10-year coaching contract. It’s up to Fisher to prove such a long deal won’t always flame out in such spectacular fashion.
After whiffing on his LSU men’s basketball hires of Trent Johnson and Johnny Jones, Alleva finally appears to have hit one out of the park with Will Wade. The jury is still out on whether his promotion of Ed Orgeron will pan out in the long run. But if it does, the meeting Alleva called with Orgeron and his coordinators following the Troy loss may well be one of the biggest reasons everything got back on track.
There’s also the matter of money.
Alleva’s ability to manage LSU’s purse strings has long explained his ability to dodge the fate of Currie, Long and Jacobs. More challenges may be on the horizon as new changes in tax law could eliminate the tax deduction for donating to LSU athletics. At such a time, it’s beneficial for the department to be led by someone familiar with the lay of the land.
Alleva may not be a popular figure among LSU fans. And this should not be misinterpreted as an argument that he ranks atop the SEC athletic director standings.
It just turns out that sometimes the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence — it’s on fire. And as it turns out, LSU’s athletic director is more an extinguisher than a gasoline can.
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