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The Golden Age Ends -- Blame Alleva?

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I have a pretty firm "Do not read Guilbeau" policy, on the grounds that he just gets me upset. That's his job, really, so it's hard to hold it against him. He's a professional agitator and he's good at his job. He's the classic fan who is never so happy as when he has something to complain about.

But, and this hurts to admit, he sort of has a point this week. I think he overstates his point, as is his MO, but that doesn't mean the point itself is invalid. Joe Alleva was hired in 2008 and has just been signed to a contract extension through the 2015-16 school year. This is the perfect time to look at Alleva's tenure and whether he deserved a contract extension.

And look, if The Reveille is going to question the wisdom of the decision, you have to expect Guilbeau to rise to the bait.

First, let's be fair. I've argued that the last decade is the Golden Age of LSU Athletics. Football won two titles, basketball made the Final Four, while the women went five times, and baseball won two titles. Those are just the "glamour" sports. Skip built a monster, and handed off the keys to Alleva.

Three years into his tenure, I hate to say he's driven us into a wall, but the championship well has dried up a tad. Now, sustaining that level of success is simply impossible, and I don't think you can say, "LSU hasn't won a national title in football so the program has gone to hell." Well, you can, but you'd be wrong. Also, this entire year has been pretty darn depressing for LSU fans, so that's coloring our view a bit. But looking at the direction of the major programs at LSU is instructive.

2008 was bad, 2009 was better, 2010 was very good. The team has recovered nicely from its national championship hangover and enter 2011 as one of the favorites to win the national title. Look, no team wins 10 games every year. Bad seasons happen, but the question is how the program responds to that season. LSU clearly rallied from 2008 and has been on an upward swing. The team has consistently improved, the facilities are top notch, and we keep bringing in top tier recruiting classes and going to January 1st bowls. The trophy room could probably use an addition, but the program's in good shape.
Guilbeau's grade: B-
My grade: B+

John Brady followed up his 2006 Final Four run with two losing seasons, speaking of reacting to a bad season. Alleva hired Trent Johnson out of Stanford in one of his first actions as Athletic Director. At the time, it seemed like an absolute coup. Johnson promptly won the 2009 SEC title, and Alleva looked like genius. Since then, things have been bad. I mean, spectacularly bad. This year's team was probably the worst basketball team I've ever seen at LSU, and I remember the probation era teams. Alleva's not looking so genius anymore. I can't fail a guy for hiring someone who won an SEC title, but the results have not been good.
Guilbeau's grade: F
My grade: D

The team was reeling from scandal when Alleva was hired, though he's not really responsible for her firing. He hired Van Chancellor, who has slowly guided the slow decay of the hoops program. The team has gone Final Four to tourney to out of the field. That's a bad trend, so Alleva fired Chancellor and lured Nikki Caldwell from UCLA. He won the press conference like he did with Johnson, but Tiger fans are a little more skeptical of his ability to find a winner.
Guilbeau's grade: C
My grade: C

Skip gets credit (or the blame) for the Maineiri hiring in 2007. Mainieri of course, guided LSU back to Omaha in 2008 and to a title in 2009. 2010 was a major letdown and 2011 is shaping up to be even worse, as it would take a minor miracle for this team to make the field. Another program, another precipitous decline. Then again, a national title is a national title.
Guilbeau's grade: C
My grade: B-

Track is consistently great and has won a national title. Gymnastics went to back-to-back super Sixes, and we won two individual titles. Golf is in the top 10. In 2009, every LSU program made the postseason, the first time LSU's ever done that. 13 of the 20 sports finished in the top 25. I mean, you can't have much more well-rounded success than that. Would we like softball to win a national title? Sure. But that seems like nitpicking.
Guilbeau's grade: C
My grade: A-

Aside from his insane rating of "other sports", I don't differ that greatly from Guilbeau. He's largely correct, every major program save football has declined under Alleva, and football just rebounded this past season. The Golden Era appears to have reached its inevitable conclusion.

Which leads us to the question: how much of this is Alleva's fault? It's hard to pin anything about baseball on him. LSU's opened a beautiful new facility and firing a coach after winning the national title is something only a Steinbrenner would do. I think he's largely blameless there. Basketball, on the other hand, has his fingerprints all over it. Those are his hires, and neither has set the world on fire. Alleva's already on his second women's basketball coach.

But let's be honest, we're not Duke. We don't fire our AD over basketball. We fire them over football. Football is winning and seems to be profitable. The other sports are doing well, even if we can't count on Pat Henry to deliver us track title after title anymore. And Henry's defection to A&M happened under Skip.

So, all in all, it's a mixed bag. I think a lot of it is simple regression to the mean. You can't win at everything. And the hard fall of baseball is largely out of his hands, and that's what I'm most concerned about. So long as he's keeping the donors happy, I'm fine with Alleva getting an extension.

But if football starts to lose, he better watch out. His fate is tied to Miles. I hate to say Guilbeau is right, but...