Eleven years is a long time for an athletic director at LSU. And after that long of a tenure, it seems it was time for Joe Alleva to step away.
Athletic Director is a decidedly political position anywhere, but there’s a different level of it at LSU. The AD is appointed by the university president/chancellor, and confirmed by the Board of Supervisors, who are, themselves, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state legislature. That adds a number of levels of politics to the position, and a lot of masters to serve. Especially in an election year.
And that’s before we get to boosters and LSU’s three separate fundraising arms.
It’s not a position that lends itself to independence. Bob Brodhead tried to go off the reservation in the 80s and run things his way, and he only lasted about five years. And the exit was not pretty.
Alleva served those masters well for a while, even as he was roundly unpopular with LSU fans. He took the heat for the Les Miles fiasco of November 2015, even as others leaked information to try and force their own wishes, and later others made decisions in Alleva’s stead on Les Miles’ status. Later, he suspended Will Wade on the order of his university president – who was acting on the order of the board of supervisors – and again, took the heat.
In the end, it was a lawsuit that the board met to discuss in an executive session on Tuesday evening. The details are unclear, but I’m told it involves recently fired associate athletic director Ronnie Haliburton and manager of facilities Terrance Bold. The board decided enough was enough, and made the decision to move Alleva out about a year and change before his contract ended.
In the end, I think Poseur said it well on Twitter:
A huge part of the AD's job is PR and fundraising. Alleva was terrible at PR and LSU moved on him before it impacted fundraising, his real true skill.— Poseur (@ATVSPoseur) April 17, 2019
Alleva did not inherit the biggest plum of a job. LSU was some eight figures into debt from previous construction projects, most notably the Tiger Stadium expansions from the late 90s through the early 2000s. He managed to keep the department running squarely in the black, which it had not been previously, and even get a number of new facilities built and paid for without adding much to that debt service (Tiger Park, the Gymnastics Practice Facility, the Basketball Practice Facility, the LSU Soccer Stadium and Tennis Complex). Plus a ton of aesthetic upgrades to Tiger Stadium, including an improved facade, gates and exterior thoroughfares.
LSU has highly ranked programs in football, baseball, softball, men’s basketball, women’s gymnastics and both men’s and womens’ track. A big part of what will make LSU’s AD job pretty attractive is the new administrator won’t inherit a ton of work. Nikki Caldwell seems to be on her last legs as the women’s hoops coach, but unless DD Breaux or Paul Maineri retire, or the NCAA comes calling for Will Wade, there are no major coaches to hire at the moment.
(remember, Alleva’s first week on the job was spent replacing John Brady with Trent Johnson, a big name at the time that failed)
Ultimately, it was the inability to connect with the fans – fair or unfair – that undid Alleva. It’s just really hard to be THAT unpopular. Chances are, his replacement will be in better shape there just by comparison.
Early reports on Wednesday indicated that associate AD Verge Ausberry might serve in an interim role. That remains unclear, but Ausberry is very close to LSU Board of Supervisors Chair James Williams. Ausberry interviewed for the job in 2009, and I would expect him to apply for the job if it does open up. Former LSU associate AD and current SEC vice commish Herb Vincent’s name would certainly come up as well.
I’ve seen nothing to make me think the reports of Scott Woodward are not legit, but these deals are never done until ink is on paper.
Truthfully, my initial reaction to the Woodward reports were that he was interested in the job was that this was a leverage play for a contract extension. Woodward has a job at one of the richest schools in the SEC, one that just gave him blank checks to hire football and basketball coaches. But he is a Baton Rouge native; he graduated from Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, attended LSU and still has family here. I am told that Woodward received some very high-profile support, including former Louisiana Board of Regents chair Richard Lipsey and Governor John Bell Edwards. Woodward likely feels he can comfortably navigate the politics of the position, and perhaps the call of mama was enough.
I don’t expect there to be any sweeping changes. As I’ve said, the athletic department is in a relatively stable position at the moment, and again, this isn’t the kind of job that breeds strongmen ADs like Jeremy Foley at Florida, Joe Castiglione at Oklahoma or Tom Jurich at Louisville. Woodward, or any other AD, will work within the same system and serve the same masters. From a fan perspective, I don’t expect much to change.
Still, this marks LSU making a fast, efficient hire of a very big name for a very high-profile position. That in and of itself something the university hasn’t done in a very long time.