LSU athletic director Scott Woodward has solidified his standing as the go-to-guy when a university is inclined to showcase a shiny new coach. Woodward is a relentless treasure seeker in his mission to find marquee coaches.
Woodward’s latest acquisition required a substantial salesman to lure the baseball baron at the University of Arizona to bolt successful surroundings and relocate to the unfamiliar realm of the bayou. This is a kingdom where an occasional national championship is insufficient to appease a restless throng unless the titles come in waves as they did in the 1990s under Stanley “Skip” Bertman.
Jay Bradley Johnson departs Tucson as a young man on the move. At 44, he is younger than Bertman was when he migrated from Miami to Baton Rouge in 1984 as a celebrated number two man. The late LSU athletic director Bob Brodhead was infatuated with Bertman as the Hurricanes reigned in the Reagan years as one of the premier programs in the land.
Bringing Bertman to Louisiana was a more prudent move for Brodhead than hiring an FBI informant to plant wiretapping devices at his East Stadium office. Skip’s vision immediately was focused on Omaha where he directed his team to the school’s initial College World Series appearance in 1986 and savored his first victory lap at Rosenblatt Stadium five years later.
Johnson hails from the small Northern California town of Oroville, known as the “City of Gold.” Tiger enthusiasts are counting on a goldmine with a coach who played collegiately at the obscure locations of Shasta College in Redding, California and at Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego.
In Johnson’s first year of life, LSU posted a 12-34 record on the diamond in the last season for Jim Smith as coach. By the time Johnson enrolled at Shasta in 1995, Bertman’s Bengals had captured their third of five CWS crowns with the residing maestro lording over Alex Box Stadium. More than 20 years after his retirement, Skip endures as a tough act to follow.
There is no exact science in hiring an established head coach but it requires money and lots of it. Woodward is dipping deep into the Tiger vault in dispensing huge sums of cash to new women’s head basketball coach Kim Mulkey and to Johnson in a year when LSU dropped more than $80 million in the COVID-19 fallout.
Investment in new coaches is compounded by buyouts to their predecessors and rewarding an array of football assistants millions not to coach at LSU. At the same time, head coach Ed Orgeron hired an offensive line coach for $830,000 per year, more than 100k more than new President and Chancellor William Tate will receive on an annual basis.
Another factor to be weighed is a ruling from the nation’s highest court to open the floodgates to compensation of athletes. If players start to earn their fair share of revenues, college sports factories will possess fewer coins to compensate coaches and administrators.
There is something askance when the LSU offensive line coach is earning more than six times more than is the Louisiana governor. The spending spree on college athletics will at some point produce enough red ink to become relevant. LSU has enjoyed the luxury of a football cash cow that subsidizes other sports.
Woodward has publicly stated that last year’s 5-5 football record is not satisfactory. It is apparent that Orgeron must improve or LSU will be shopping for a head coach. This move would require as much as $100 million to assemble a new staff coupled with walking away packages for the dearly departed.
The Orgeron saga became more treacherous last month when he was named in a lawsuit alleging that Coach O did not report a rape accusation against Derrius Guice to either the LSU Title IX office on campus or to law enforcement. The coach came under fire a few months ago for his handling of allegations of sexual harassment against Guice for crudely propositioning a septuagenarian Superdome security worker in front of several witnesses.
The university has cited pending litigation as the reason for Orgeron’s public silence on these matters. The rationale for other LSU officials declining to testify before a legislative panel investigating sexual misconduct on campus is that they are subjects in federal and state lawsuits brought by associate athletic director Sharon Lewis, who works closely with Orgeron on recruiting, the lifeblood of the football program.
Former LSU President King Alexander is singing like a canary even though he too is a defendant. Lawsuits have only emboldened him to shout his case while suspiciously squelching free speech from those who remain employed at LSU.
Orgeron has denied allegations that he covered up for Guice. He can prove it by consenting to a polygraph exam that will cover questions about his knowledge of Guice’s involvement in an alleged sexual assault and whether Coach O was really in the dark about Gloria Scott, the aggrieved and aforementioned security guard.
Orgeron is the highest paid public official in Louisiana and the leader of the signature program at the state’s flagship university. He cannot shield himself from full disclosure indefinitely or he will face a protracted demise until more information is unearthed or LSU loses an important game at the final gun.
Woodward is also waiting for an NCAA report on men’s head basketball coach Will Wade, who is accused of old-fashioned wrongdoing. Wade is on tape bloviating about a strong-ass offer to a player and has lasted more than two years under the NCAA microscope.
Wade has soldiered on and boasts a glittering 48-24 record in SEC play over four seasons, including 40-14 mark over the past three years in league play.
Under ordinary circumstances, Wade is a prized commodity who Woodward would covet if LSU were shopping for a young leader to guide the Tigers back to 1981 heights.
Instead, Wade, who may be the best coach on campus, is a pariah in limbo. Should the NCAA levy heavy sanctions, Woodward will be in the market for a Wade clone without the baggage of incriminating tapes.
The unveilings of Mulkey and Johnson may ultimately be dress rehearsals for the main events. The future of the LSU football and basketball coaches is far from secure.
If Woodward is called into action, he will be primed to make headlines with his choices as long as he retains an unlimited bank account.
Watching Woodward react to twists and turns in Tigertown usually means following the money to his next big hire.