LSU has fired embattled men’s basketball coach Will Wade after receiving a notice of allegations that details significant misconduct, the school announced Saturday.
The firing means that Wade, who was in his fifth season at LSU, will not coach in the upcoming NCAA tournament. The Tigers are projected as a No. 6 seed in the tournament, and assistant Kevin Nickelberry will serve as the interim coach.
This will mark the second time that Wade has been unable to coach a Tigers team he led to the NCAA tournament. In 2019, LSU won the SEC regular-season championship, but Wade was suspended for the SEC and NCAA tournaments after reports revealed that a federal wiretap captured him discussing a “strong-ass offer” for a recruit.
Wade was 108-54 at LSU. He previously coached VCU to a pair of NCAA tournament appearances and had a strong two-year stint at Chattanooga before that.
Nearly the entirety of Wade’s tenure at LSU operated under the pall of the federal basketball investigation, which became public in September 2017.
According to an NCAA notice of allegations that was obtained by ESPN on Saturday through an open records request, there are eight Level I violation allegations in LSU’s notice. Seven of those are alleged to be tied to the men’s basketball program. One of those pertains specifically to football, and the two sports share an allegation that the “institution failed to exercise institutional control and monitor the conduct and administration of its football and men’s basketball programs.”
There are two Level II allegations — one football and one basketball — and one Level III for football.
Wade is accused of five Level I violations and one Level II violation. Associate men’s basketball head coach Bill Armstrong is also accused of one Level I violation and one Level II violation. In a statement, LSU said it also terminated Armstrong’s contract.
“We can no longer subject our University, Department of Athletics, and — most importantly — our student-athletes, to this taxing and already-lengthy process without taking action,” university president William F. Tate and athletic director Scott Woodward wrote in an open letter. “Our responsibility to protect and promote the integrity and well-being of our entire institution and our student-athletes will always be paramount.”
According to documents obtained by ESPN in August 2020, the NCAA’s enforcement staff received information that Wade “arranged for, offered and/or provided impermissible payments, including cash payments, to at least 11 men’s basketball prospective student-athletes, their family members, individuals associated with the prospects and/or nonscholastic coaches in exchange for the prospects’ enrollment at LSU.”
The allegations were included in the NCAA enforcement staff’s request that its infractions case involving the LSU men’s basketball program be adjudicated through the Independent Accountability Resolution Process, which was created to handle complex cases.
As part of Wade’s reinstatement in 2019, he agreed to an amended contract that included a stipulation allowing the university to fire him with cause if he was found to have committed Level I or Level II violations. Under the terms of the amended contract, Wade agreed to forfeit a $250,000 performance bonus for the 2018-19 season. He also agreed not to sue the university if he was fired with cause.
LSU is not expected to pay Wade any of the money remaining on his contract because of those amendments. The scope of what is alleged in the notice of allegations is expected to reach those thresholds.
Tate and Woodward noted that Wade’s dismissal was “not an acknowledgment of agreement with any of the allegations” and that the school will undergo “an exhaustive and objective examination of the relevant facts and applicable NCAA regulations.”
Among the five Level I allegations, the NCAA accused Wade of providing “impermissible cash payments to the former fiancée of a student-athlete in order to buy her silence regarding prior and current impermissible inducements to student-athletes or prospective student-athletes.” The allegation had not been previously reported.
NCAA investigators found text messages between Wade and the woman in July and August 2017, in which the woman told Wade that people had offered her money to talk about LSU’s payments to players.
“[Please] contact me by the end of the day or I will have to take them up on the offer,” the woman wrote.
“Call me,” Wade responded.
On July 27, 2017, the woman sent another text message to Wade, which said, “I need 5 more to put a down payment on a car. Put it in the same account.”
On Aug. 1, 2017, after the woman texted Wade and asked if he had received her message about the additional payment, he responded, “I’m sorry you are having money issues. You said we were done after the last transfer I sent, so in my mind we are done.”
The NCAA also accused Wade of making payments in April 2018 to an individual who had influence in a prospect’s decision on where he would play in college. In exchange for the individual’s influence, “Wade directed that payments be made to [the individual] from a bank account in the name of Wade’s spouse that Wade and his spouse treated as a joint account.”
Wade is also accused of violating the NCAA’s principles of ethical conduct and failing to cooperate in the investigation, “as well as a number of other allegations the [Complex Case Unit] was ultimately unable to substantiate fully, when he refused to produce all records the CCU requested from him.”
The NCAA alleviates that Armstrong, with Wade’s knowledge, provided impermissible recruiting inducements between February 2020 and June 2020 “in the form of cash payments, a job offer, lodging, impermissible academic assistance, a scholarship, and assistance securing visas” to a then- prospect and/or his family members to secure his commitment to LSU.
“Specifically, Armstrong offered to provide [the recruit] and/or his family members or associates with $300,000 cash (paid in installments of $50,000),” the notice of allegations says. “Armstrong also offered to do various favors for [the prospect’s] friends and relatives as a further induction to secure [the prospect’s] commitment to LSU, including: a job within the institution’s men’s basketball program, an apartment, and a car for [the prospect’s] cousin; a promise of a scholarship for a friend of the [prospect]; and assistance securing visas for other basketball players to the United States.”
Wade is accused of telling aspiring business manager Christian Dawkins in a 2017 wiretapped conversation that he was frustrated about future LSU player Javonte Smart’s recruitment because he “went to [Smart’s handler] with a f—ing strong-ass offer about a month ago. F—ing strong.” Smart eventually signed with LSU and played three seasons before turning pro in 2021.
Dawkins was the subject of an FBI investigation into scraps and other corruption in college basketball. He was convicted in two federal criminal cases and is currently serving time at a federal prison in Alabama.
LSU’s football program is also accused of three violations, including a Level I charge that involved a Tigers booster embezzling more than $500,000 from a hospital foundation and giving some of the stolen money to the parents of two former LSU football players.
The Tigers are charged with a Level II violation involving Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., a former LSU star, who gave $2,000 in cash to four Tigers football players on the field after the team’s 42-25 victory over Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship in January 2020.
There is also a Level III charge involving football; former Tigers coach Ed Orgeron is accused of having improper contact with a recruit in January 2019.
In October 2020, LSU self-imposed the loss of eight scholarships over two years, reduced recruiting visits, evaluations and communication, and banned Beckham from its football facilities for two years. LSU later self-imposed a bowl ban in December 2020 when the Tigers were 3-5 with two games remaining in the season.
Wade’s final game at LSU was a loss to Arkansas in the SEC tournament in which he received a technical crowd for arguing with officials in the first half.