'I wish I could go back to that Friday and change things' - LSU's Will Wade on suspension

Glenn Guilbeau
The Daily Advertiser
FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2018, file photo, LSU coach Will Wade watches from the sideline during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. LSU officials say their first meeting with suspended coach Wade has taken place but that there is not yet a resolution regarding Wade’s long-term status. A written statement from the university says “it is unlikely LSU makes any decisions today regarding Coach Wade.” (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

DESTIN, Florida - LSU basketball coach Will Wade spoke publicly on Tuesday at a press conference for the first time since his suspension on March 8 in light of a March 7 story by Yahoo Sports that revealed Wade's potential illegal recruiting on FBI wiretap.

That story quoted Wade from FBI wiretap in the summer of 2017 discussing a "strong-ass offer" for then-Scotlandville High star guard Javonte Smart, who later signed with LSU and was a top freshman on the 2018-19 Tigers. LSU won the Southeastern Conference championship and reached the NCAA Sweet 16 this past season with Wade suspended for the postseason.

He was reinstated on April 14 after meeting with LSU and NCAA officials after first refusing that meeting on Friday, March 8.

The following is Wade's opening statement and the question-and-answer session from the press conference at the Southeastern Conference Spring Meetings on Tuesday.  

WILL WADE OPENING: “It’s great to see everyone, great to be here in Destin. Obviously, this has been a difficult couple of months for LSU and for our basketball program. As the leader of the basketball program, I’m here today to start the process of rebuilding trust and building a trust. I think certainly as I’ve had time to reflect since the … since I was out for 40 days or so, there were some mistakes that I made. But ever since that, when I was able to sit down and talk with LSU and meet with LSU and meet with the NCAA, I was fully cooperative. I disclosed everything and answered any and all questions completely and fully with LSU and with the NCAA. That ultimately led to my reinstatement as the head coach at LSU.”

“I can’t get into a lot of the details or any of the details in that meeting, but the meeting was very, very thorough, and covered any and all topics from various media reports to any and all aspects of our program. It was a wide ranging meeting that covered everything. There was no limit of scope on that meeting.

“Now after that meeting and after my reinstatement, obviously, my name came up again in the latest testimony at the latest trial (LSU freshman forward Naz Reid allegedly being offered $300,000 while in high school to go to LSU, according to testimony in a federal corruption trial about college basketball). And like I said I’m not going to get into addressing every media report, everything that’s come out. Because some of them are just so far out there that it doesn’t even warrant me even giving a credence to it by responding. But I will say this on the latest reports that was not covered with my meeting with LSU. It’s absolutely false. It did not happen. The latest report that came out from the latest trial.

“So, I’m very proud to be the basketball coach at LSU. I’m very confident with how we’ve run our basketball program. And I look forward to starting my third season at LSU and trying to lead LSU back to the NCAA Tournament and a back-to-back Southeastern Conference championship.”

RON HIGGINS OF TIGERDETAILS.COM: “What is your definition of mistakes made?”

WADE: I think as you look back, as a basketball coach, you’ve got to make a lot of decisions, and you have to make decisions quickly and process a lot of information quickly. And certainly as I look back, that Friday where we were going to meet with the administration, I think I made a poor decision in how I handled that. If I can go back and do it again, I would’ve taken the meeting and been a little bit more forceful in getting that meeting. Because what happened after that is … any time you get lawyers involved in things, things get drawn out. At that point, it was more face-to-face interaction on things. After that, the lawyers got involved. It just took it out almost 40 days out. I don’t know the exact time period. But it took it out a very, very long time. So, certainly, I wish, looking back on things, we could’ve gotten in a room together a lot quicker than we did. And I think that was my mistake, and certainly, I respect LSU’s decision based on that. But I think that was a mistake that I made. Something that I did in haste as I was trying to make a quick decision.”

DENNIS DODD OF CBS SPORTS: “Will, has there ever been an exchange of money between any member of the current staff and any member of a representative of the players or any members of the families or any of the current players?”

WADE: “I understand you have to ask that question. I can’t get into, um. You know, I’ve addressed the latest situation, all that other stuff, I can assure you, I can’t get into the meeting because of just the confidentiality of the meeting and everything that was in there in confidence. I can assure you that everything you can think of was addressed in that meeting with LSU and with the NCAA, and that ultimately led to my reinstatement.”

AMIE JUST OF THE NEW ORLEANS TIMES PICAYUNE: “What finally prompted you to have that meeting after 37 or 38 DAYS. You finally said, ‘I’m going to go in.’”

WADE: “Well, it was a complicated situation. Like I said, when it first occurred, I made a mistake. I wish it wouldn’t have taken 37, 38 days for that to happen. Once you get lawyers involved, once it kind of gets out of your hands, or me dealing directly with people, and it got lawyers involved, it makes things quite a bit more complicated. And I severely underestimated maybe how long it would take for the lawyers and those folks to work through some of those issues. So I think that’s what ultimately made things last quite a bit longer than any of us wanted to. That’s why I wish going back I could’ve found a way to handle it better on that Friday before the Vanderbilt game.”


WADE: “Well, I think, um, you know (pause), it’s a good question. Um, you know, I can’t get into the specifics of everything like I was saying earlier. But I can assure you, you know, in the, in my meetings with LSU and the NCAA, I’ve addressed all the media reports, everything that has been reported, and that ultimately led to my reinstatement. I can’t get into the specifics based on the confidentiality of that meeting.”

TONY BARNHART OF THE MEDIA GUIDES: “Will, were you quoted accurately in those stories? The term that Pat just used, ‘strong-ass offer,’ were you quoted accurately in those stories? And did you say it?”

WADE: “I’ve not heard the recordings, so I do not know. I don’t think any of us have heard the recordings.”

BARNHART: “What I’m saying is there was reporting. In the reporting, you were quoted as saying that. Were you quoted accurately? Did you say that? Did you say those words?”

WADE: “Look, I sat down with LSU, and I have answered any and all questions with regards to all of the media reporting and everything that has been out there. And that’s what ultimately got us to where we are today.”

FORDE: “Does the fan base, or the population, the public in general deserve an explanation?”

WADE: “I eventually, certainly, when, as we move forward from this, I certainly want to get to a point where I can have full disclosure just like I did in that meeting with everybody. We’re just not at that place right now.”

CECIL HURT OF THE TUSCALOOSA NEWS: “Has this changed in any way the way you recruit?”

WADE: “You know, I have a sign on our practice facility wall that says, ‘Chance favors the aggressor.’ So, we’ve obviously played very aggressively on the court. We’ve been very aggressive in recruiting. I think, you know, I’ve come off as a little bit brash to be honest, and I think that’s probably rubbed some folks the wrong way. That’s my fault. That’s my fault. So, will it change the way we recruit? We’re still going to recruit the best players we can to LSU. I’m confident about what we’re doing, and I’m confident about what we’re selling. But there’s a line that you can’t get up to, and I think maybe sometimes I’ve got to that point where it’s a little bit too brash. But we’re going to continue to be aggressive. We’re going to continue to recruit the best players that we can recruit. And we’re excited about where we’re going.”

ED DANIELS OF WGNO TV IN NEW ORLEANS: "What was it like watching your team in the NCAA Tournament? How difficult was that?”

WADE: “(Laughing). I’m not a very good fan. It was tough. It was very, very tough to watch our guys. I was very proud of our guys. They were resilient all year. We’d had quite a few things, if you followed us, happen all season that were very, very tough to deal with. And I was just very proud of our guys, very pleased with how they responded. I was proud of my coaching staff, how they held everything together, which was not an easy feat, and not easy to do. It was difficult, but like I said earlier with Ron’s question, I put myself in that situation. You’ve got to understand that. I put myself in that situation. And so, you’ve got to live with it. I was what you would think, I was yelling at the TV. I didn’t throw my remote, but I was certainly very, very into the games and into it to try to help our guys and see our guys advance. Disappointed too because of my situation. It took away from some of the great things our team did – some of the great things our players did. Some of the great players we had, but the story was more about me sometimes than it was about our players. And we have phenomenal players, phenomenal student-athletes. That was very difficult.”

SCOTT RABALAIS OF THE BATON ROUGE ADVOCATE: “You have a reworked contract and a new athletic director (Scott Woodward). Do you feel that you have a tighter rope around you as LSU’s coach? How do you feel as far as what kind of support you have from your athletic director?”

WADE: “I’m excited to be LSU’s coach. I love it at LSU. I love it in Louisiana. I haven’t hidden that. I’ve had good meetings with Scott, but it’s like I said earlier, you know I don’t know Scott. So, it’s a trust building process. I need to build trust with Scott, and that comes through action. Trust is following through on what you say you’re going to do, and so it’s really just going to take time with Scott to continue to build trust and to continue to build upon the foundation that we’ve started. I’m looking forward to that opportunity. I’m looking forward to continuing to coach at LSU and working with Scott to continue to deliver championships for LSU. I do think that the contract amendment was something that came out of the meeting with LSU and the NCAA. And so I think the contract amendment showed not only LSU’s commitment to me, I think that the contract showed my commitment to LSU. And how we’ve run the program and how we’re going to continue to move forward and continue to run the program.”

HIGGINS: “How have you been able to recruit with all these things over your head? You just got a great signee (top forward Trendon Watford of Birmingham, Alabama). I mean, how hard is it to go into living rooms, and they’re asking you questions about what’s going on with you and what do you do. And are the kids getting scared? Maybe, ‘If I talk to him, the NCAA is going to investigate me.’ How hard is that process?”

WADE: “Recruiting is always a difficult and challenging process. This situation has certainly added some layers onto that process. Like we’ve done with anything, we’ve been open and transparent and we answer any and all questions that a parent or a recruit may have. I think sometimes in recruiting, the relationships are undervalued. You’re building relationships with people. You’re building relationships with parents. You’re building relationships with potential players. And so when you build those relationships, those people get to know you. And you get to know them. You can have a lot more open dialogue. A lot of these people that we were recruiting were checking in on me during this time. People that you’ve had very, very strong relationships with throughout the process. And I think that helps as you’ve got to sit down and answer questions. You’re always answering questions in recruiting. Certainly, this has added a different layer of question and another layer of questions that we need to answer, and we’re going to continue to do that.”

JIMMY HYAMS OF WNML RADIO IN KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE: “Do you wish you had not gotten the attorneys involved in the first place?”

WADE: “It was my mistake, being a little bit naïve, thinking it would be quicker maybe to have the attorneys involved to get things done. And that just makes it longer, and so I wish that I could go back to that Friday and change things. But I can’t. I was pleased once the attorneys got together, they were able to figure things out and hammer things out and ultimately set up a meeting. It was 40 some odd days than we would’ve wanted it to be.”

GLENN GUILBEAU, USA TODAY NETWORK: “You lost a lot of money ($425,000) in that reinstatement and contract amendment – bonus money, salary. Was that fair? Could that have been done differently?”

WADE: “Look, I’m happy to be the coach at LSU. And so, when we came out of that meeting, I knew to be the coach at LSU, there were certain things that wer going to need to happen. I was fine with that. I’m excited about our future. I’m excited about what we’ve got going on. And I certainly understand the university’s position on that, and I was happy to give that up to be the head coach at LSU.”