LAKE CHARLES — General Wade rides again.
Will Wade — the immensely successful and equally controversial former LSU men’s basketball coach — has returned to the coaching ranks. And lots of folks are none too happy about it.
Wade was formally introduced Monday as the men’s basketball coach of the McNeese State Cowboys.
It was exactly what you expect these types of things to be — lots of positive proclamations, shout outs to family members, the school president, and, of course, the band and cheerleaders.
But it also featured a very telling moment — courtesy of the man who is considered smarmy and cocky by some, while others deem him an arrogant cheater.
“I am excited to be back in Louisiana,” Wade said in front of roughly 300 supporters. “Happy to be back coaching. This program needs a rebirth. My career needs a rebirth. This is perfect for us to come together.”
He wasn’t lying.
The truth is that Wade needs McNeese and McNeese needs Wade.
Under John Aiken, McNeese went 11-23 this season to set a new single-season record for defeats. The program has not been good for a long time.
The sixth and last Southland Conference championship for McNeese was in 2011 and its last SLC Tournament title was in 2002. So not a lot of proud history.
Sorry, but the 1956 NAIA National Championship banner that hangs in the Legacy Center doesn’t really move the needle.
McNeese Athletic Director Heath Schroyer does not care if other fan bases, programs and journalists criticize the hiring of Wade.
You know why? He knows Wade can win at McNeese — especially with NIL and the NCAA Transfer Portal — and he knows he needs to have his basketball team not be the laughing stock of the Southland Conference.
With Wade at the helm and the highest paid staff in the SLC, McNeese could easily have the type of turnaround Texas A&M-Corpus Christi had two years ago. Under new coach Steve Lutz, the Islanders went from five wins in the season before his arrival to the NCAA Tournament in year one.
Schroyer also knows that Wade needs to resurrect his career, too.
In his five seasons at LSU, Wade’s Tigers won a Southeastern Conference regular season championship, played in four post-season tournaments, reached the Sweet 16, and advanced to an SEC Tournament title game for the first time since 1993.
But there was controversy.
There was the FBI transcript from a wiretap where Wade infamously discussed a “strong” offer to a recruit with Adidas consultant and aspiring agent Christian Dawkins. The latter was one of seven individuals convicted by the feds for bribing players and coaches, including Dawkins, who was twice convicted.
Apparently, he had a buy one get one free card for convictions.
The transcript — and the ensuing think pieces by national columnists about it — promptly set the college sports world on fire. Wade was suspended by LSU and had to watch someone else — assistant Tony Benford — coach his team to The Sweet 16.
Wade returned, but his contract was restructured that would essentially allow LSU to fire him easier if any transgression occurred.
That happened right before the NCAA Tournament a year ago, when the NCAA notified LSU was being charged with six Level I violations.
For the past year, Wade didn’t coach a team.
“I miss having a team, I miss being in the battles,” Wade said on Monday. “Sometimes you have to have something taken away from you before you appreciate it. I have a much greater appreciation for the opportunity and ability to coach basketball.”
This marriage of McNeese and Wade makes a ton of sense for both.
Not surprising to anyone, the nuptials have lit a fuse — as folks from either side of the Atchafalaya Basin are none too happy.
Louisiana Ragin’ Cajun fans are fired up because the program’s former Public Enemy No. 1 once again resides just a short drive down I-10.
Did you forget about the NIT brouhaha in which Wade talked trash to Bob Marlin during the game, and then mocked the Ragin’ Cajuns coach afterwards?
The fan base that wears vermilion and white sure hasn’t. Who knew a first-round NIT game would become so incendiary? Also, who knew calling the PMAC a “gym” would be such a touchy topic.
LSU Tiger fans are none too happy their former head coach — who quickly rebuilt their program into a SEC championship team and was loved by the fanbase — is now in Lake Charles.
Is McNeese a threat to LSU? Not really, but after seeing the program finish as the worst team in the league under first-year coach Matt McMahon, and then possibly being forced to watch Wade turn around another team while they continue to struggle is causing some serious nausea.
Also, Wade could very well convince in-state mid-level prospects away from LSU — which is nightmare fuel for the purple and gold fanatics.
Within 48 hours of becoming Cowboys coach, Wade picked up commitments from former UC Santa Barbara and Cincinnati guard Zach Harvey and Utah guard Mike Saunders Jr.
Then there are all the other fans and journalists who are up in arms about the “immoral hire” of Wade.
Yes, there is a stench to McNeese pushing aside Wade’s past, and possible NCAA sanctions, to finally have a consistent winning basketball program.
But this is college basketball, which has always been a stinky business.
Need proof? Take a moment to look at the NCAA Most’s Wanted Corrupt Coaches List: Sean Miller (Xavier), Rick Pitino (Iona), Bruce Pearl (Auburn) and John Calipari (Kentucky). Those are a just few that have been featured in that Top 5 list.
All four coaches have led programs to great success, all four had dozens of victories and tourney runs vacated for cheating, and all found new high-paying jobs. Oh by the way, all four are leading teams into this week’s NCAA Tournament.
This list doesn’t include Bill Self, who won his second national title at Kansas last season. Like LSU, Kansas is waiting to see how the NCAA might punish its program for being caught in the same FBI sting.
Also, Ole Miss has hired a coach (Chris Beard) who a few short months ago was arrested for alleged strangulation. Yes, the charges were dropped but the man was arrested for alleged strangulation and he got another job.
Yet, McNeese hiring Wade is some sort of deal with the devil? Not buying all the pearl clinching.
Schroyer knows exactly what he is doing — as evidenced by him proactively suspending Wade for the first five games of the 2023-24 season on Tuesday to help ease any punishment from the NCAA.
By the way, the incompetent leaders of college athletics heard Wade’s case in February and a ruling is expected in the next few months or next decade. Who knows when anything will happen?
Schroyer wanted to find a way to ignite his fan base about men’s college basketball, which already led the league in attendance despite the woeful product on the hardwood. He got it with Wade.
Those Cowboy fans — many of who saw the home of McNeese hoops and their own homes destroyed by hurricanes a few years ago — are all about General Wade riding into Lake Charles.
They don’t care about others’ judgement as season tickets sales are already soaring. They want McNeese to win and they believe Wade — even with his baggage — is the man to do just that.
“I don’t lack confidence. Not always right, but I’m always sure,” Wade said with a trademark smirk on his face. “So, I wouldn’t come here if I didn’t think we could win — and win immediately. That’s what we’re here to do.”
Folks may not approve of this marriage, but McNeese and the man in the saddle could care less. General Wade rides again.
Raymond Partsch III is the host of “RP3 & Company” which is broadcast weekday mornings (6-9) on THE GAME 103.7 Lafayette and 104.1 Lake Charles — Southwest Louisiana’s Sports Station.