By CODY WORSHAM | Tiger Rag Editor
Will Wade can be forgiven for being on an emotional high and saying something regrettable.
No, the first-year head coach didn’t slip up and drop a fineable word on the LSU Sports Radio Network’s postgame show following a 75-54 Tiger win over Arkansas on the road. But he did, in the heat of the moment, while encouraging fans to show out in full force for LSU’s Saturday tilt against Alabama, suggest something surely in violation of local fire codes.
“I really, really hope for our players’ sake our fans come out,” Wade said. “We need people hanging from the catwalks.”
The next day, Wade walked back those words – after walking up to those catwalks. Still urging fans to turn out for Saturday’s 7:30 tipoff, Wade shot a promo video from atop the Pete Maravich Assembly Center rafters, a decision he later admitted he’d not repeat.
Coach @wwadelsu is going all the way ? for Saturday's game!
Purchase your tickets from https://t.co/ad6I1geNp8 for a chance to win a VIP Experience and sit court side! #BootUp #CatwalkSZN pic.twitter.com/ZvvbEkBcra
— LSU Basketball (@LSUBasketball) January 12, 2018
“I wouldn’t recommend going up on that catwalk to any of you guys,” he told the media Friday. “If you don’t have to. It’s an old building. I wouldn’t put that on your bucket list.”
It’s an odd position for the 35-year-old head coach to be in: the face of a program rebuilding from one of its worst season ever. The Tigers set a record by losing 15-straight games in a 10-21 2016-17 campaign that led to the firing of Johnny Jones and opened the door for Wade to enter from VCU. There, basketball didn’t need much selling: Ram hoops is the biggest show in town on a football-free campus, and Wade’s previous stop, Chattanooga, demanded far less PR-duty from the effervescent Wade.
If the 2017-18 season – in which LSU is off to an 11-4, having already surpassed last season’s total wins (10) and matching, in three league contests, its SEC wins (2) in 18 tries a year ago – has seen Wade as “the face of the program,” as one member of the media posed to Wade on Friday, the future will feature other faces.
“I don’t like doing all that stuff,” he said. “I think the players should be the face of the program. It’s a program about the players. It’s not about me. It’s not the Will Wade Tigers. It’s the LSU Tigers. Alright? However, our marketing people and people that are a little bit smarter than me think I need to do that stuff and help.
“Anything I can do to help our school, help our program, it helps our guys to have fans in the stands. If it takes 10 minutes of my time to climb up on that catwalk like I did yesterday, it’s better me than spending some of our players’ time doing that, where they can rest and lock in.”
Wade said he twice turned down the department’s idea to print “I Will Wade For You” t-shirts, until “the boss” – presumably, athletic director Joe Alleva, though Wade did not confirm that – urged him to agree.
“In a perfect world, it’s not about me moving forward here,” he said. “As our program goes, I’ll fade into the background. You won’t see me on any of the media guides or any of that sort of stuff. That’s not my style. It’s about our players. It’s about our program.
“It’s not my favorite thing in the world to do all that stuff, but I know it is necessary as we build the program. At the end of the day, our guys benefit from it, our school benefits from it, our program benefits from it, that’s what matters the most.”
If the marketing isn’t Wade’s forte, it’s not because he doesn’t enjoy hearing from the fans. He recalled a woman who, on a Tiger Tour stop in Lafayette, presented him with a button, and told him, “If you do this, you’ll be here for a long time.”
It read, in purple and gold, “Beat Bama Bad.” On Saturday, he’ll get that chance. Win or lose, though, Wade says he hopes fans connect with his program’s blue-collar mentality and see in them a “mirror image” of LSU, the state of Louisiana, and its people.
“Our fans have been great, since the day I got here and walked into that student union,” he said. “They’ve been wanting something good to happen.
“I’m glad we’re able to give them a little taste of it. It’s just a taste of it. We’re going to have this thing really going. I’m happy for our people, that they can have some pride about something, turn on the TV and watch us and not turn it off.”