By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
Editor’s Note: Joe Alleva sat down with Tiger Rag for an exclusive interview last week. The full story from that interview will be on the cover of the next Tiger Rag Extra, on newsstands mid-December. For more information on Tiger Rag Extra, visit tigerrag.com/extra.
Joe Alleva’s spent much of his time in recent days reading. Not, unfortunately for his literary sensibilities, the memoir nearly tucked away on the top left corner of his desk.
“Résumés,” Alleva cracks. “I’ve been reading lots of résumés.”
You might’ve heard: Alleva is about to make a hire. Sometime in the comings weeks — perhaps even days, according to The Advocate — Alleva will announce his selection as LSU’s next football coach. The success or failure of this coach will largely determine Alleva’s legacy as athletic director.
You know this. I know this. And, be assured, Alleva knows this. What he doesn’t know, however, is how that hire will turn out.
“A big part of my legacy here is going to be who I hire as football coach,” Alleva told Tiger Rag in an exclusive interview. “You know what? I don’t know how good that person is going to do. No matter how good they have been in the past, you don’t know how they are going to react to the pressure at LSU, because there is enormous pressure at LSU.”
Alleva would know. That pressure is, at the moment, solely focused on him, as he looks to hire the successor to the winningest coach, by percentage, in LSU history. Les Miles, for all his flaws, won at an unprecedented clip after moving to Baton Rouge from Stillwater with a modest 28-21 career head coaching record. In 12 seasons (generously rounding up from 11 ⅓), Miles won 77 percent of his games (114-34), two conference titles, and one national title.
[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”#461d7c” class=”” size=””]“A big part of my legacy here is going to be who I hire as football coach.” – Joe Alleva[/perfectpullquote]
All that, in the end, wasn’t enough to keep his job. Poor offensive performances, an inability to beat Alabama, and a string of mid-level bowl berths inspired Alleva to part ways with Miles following an 18-13 loss to Auburn in September and appoint Ed Orgeron as interim head coach.
That early firing has given Alleva plenty of time to vet potential candidates, among whom are, reportedly, Jimbo Fisher, Orgeron, Larry Fedora, Dana Holgorsen, and Brian Kelly.
Notice a theme there? Other than Orgeron, all are offensive-minded head coaches with a track record of recruiting and developing All-American caliber quarterbacks. That’s something that appeals to Alleva, himself a former college quarterback.
It’s a metaphor Alleva finds aptly applies to his current role.
“I think there’s a lot of similarities to be honest with you, because a quarterback is only as good as the rest of his team,” he says. “You can have the greatest arm in the world but if the receivers drop the ball and the line doesn’t block, you ain’t worth a crap.
“The same thing is true running a department. You’re only as good as the people around you.”
Alleva, then, will only be as good as the coach he hires, in the eyes of Tiger fans watching closely from across the country. His track record of coaching hires, both at LSU and before, is mixed.
The first two football coaches he hired at Duke, Carl Franks and Ted Roof, posted a combined record of 13-90, a cumulative .126 winning percentage. But he followed those two misfires up with the hiring of David Cutcliffe, who has ushered in an era of unprecedented success at Duke. Cutcliffe, a former SEC Coach of the Year, has won 40 games the past five seasons and led the Blue Devils to four straight bowl games for the first time in school history.
He and Alleva still speak nearly every weekend after Duke’s games.
“I interviewed him for 10 minutes,” Alleva says, “and I knew I was going to hire him.”
At LSU, Alleva’s hires have ranged from excellent (Beth Torina) to disappointing (Trent Johnson) to TBD (Johnny Jones, Nikki Fargas). While the good hires look better upon reflection, don’t think Alleva won’t consider the ones that didn’t pan out during the final days of this crucial hiring process.
Perhaps that’s why a folder marked “Trent Johnson” sits on his desk today.
“Every experience you have helps you,” he says. “Even the hires that you make that were bad, that end up bad – those are the ones you learn from the most.”
The Johnson hire, in particular, has some portion of the Tiger fanbase nervous about Alleva’s ability to bring in the right head coach to helm the football program. At the time, it seemed like a home run. Johnson had led both Stanford and Nevada to deep NCAA Tournament runs and held the respect of coaches and administrators nationwide.
Then, he went 40-56 in his last three seasons at LSU, and just 12-36 in SEC play. [perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”#461d7c” class=”” size=””]“Even the hires that you make that were bad, that end up bad – those are the ones you learn from the most.” [/perfectpullquote]
“You don’t know how they’re going to react,” Alleva says of coaching hires. “You don’t know how they are going to change. Sometimes people get a job, and it’s their dream job – I’ve had this happen before. I was with a guy. He worked his ass off to get the job. He worked and worked and worked. Then he got the job, and he totally changed. You never know how people are going to react to a situation you put them in.”
Johnson was Alleva’s first major hire at LSU, made just days after he took the job in 2008, while he was still in a temporary, windowless office. This one, made from an office on the sixth floor of the LSU Athletic Administration building with massive windows overlooking the campus, could be his last.
Alleva told reporters in 2008 he wanted to work for 10 more years. Asked about that target date last week, he quips: “I said that, huh?” Alleva, 63, later added he could see himself working until 70, so there could be more hires to come.
None, however, will carry the weight of this one.
“Ten years from now, what are they going to say?” Alleva offers. “They’re going to say, ‘Well Alleva hired this guy.’”
Whether they say it with commendation or contempt remains to be seen. Alleva, at the moment, says he is less concerned with what others are saying or will say, and more concerned about matters he can control.
“I hate to say this, but I really don’t worry about what people say on the outside,” he says. “If I did that, I’d be… I’d be a nervous wreck. I can’t worry about that stuff! All I can worry about is when I look in the mirror, what I see.”
That’s one reason why Alleva stays away from newspapers. He’s not a fan of the modern media landscape in which reports, no matter their veracity, can be justified with two magic words.
“The only thing I don’t like about the media in general now is there’s really no accountability for what people say,” he says. “People can say anything – ‘sources say’ – but there’s no source. They just make something up. There was a story that came out in New Orleans the other day about who we were talking to about a football coach. That guy who wrote that has no clue. He has no clue. He just wrote that. He has absolutely no clue. That’s just the world we live in, and that’s fine. That’s why I try not to read a whole lot.”
Except, of course, for résumés. We’ll kindly leave his office, now, and let him get back to that. After all, one of them could very well spell the success or failure of his entire tenure.