Arkansas Has Painted Itself Into A Corner with Prospect of Hiring “Biggest Fool on the Planet”

Will Wade, Arkansas basketball

The last time a major Arkansas sport had to go with its third choice or worst, the Razorbacks ended up with Chad Morris. The search that led to his hiring was long, arduous and filled with incompetence. This time, at least, Arkansas’ search was short and it appeared the Razorbacks were outright spurned by their top choices. Knowing what we know now about John Calipari’s pending hire, it was a masterful smokescreen job by Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek.

For a couple days, it appeared Arkansas was zeroing in on Will Wade to be the next Arkansas basketball coach. Reportedly, the first two choices for the Razorbacks’ brass were Ole Miss coach Chris Beard and Kansas State coach Jerome Tang. Beard tweeted less than 24 hours later that he was staying at Ole Miss and Kansas State offered Tang an extension shortly after he vaulted to No. 1.

Late Saturday night, it was reported that both Mississippi State’s Chris Jans and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock’s Darrell Walker will interview by Zoom for the Arkansas opening, but both seems like long-shots.

Will Wade, meanwhile, is someone Arkansas basketball fans prone to posting on message boards and in comment sections have been clamoring for since word Eric Musselman would likely take the job at Southern California came forth. Musselman, to the surprise of no one, did accept the gig back in his neck of the woods and Arkansas has been on the hunt since.

Had Yurachek not used the Wade chatter as a red herring, he would have been a fitting hire for an athletic department that has struggled mightily in football and basketball public relations for the last near-decade.

Since this is Arkansas, let’s revel in some dystopian what-if scenario for a while:

Will Wade’s History

Will Wade, who coached McNeese State to a 30-4 record and an NCAA Tournament appearance this season, spent a year away from coaching before taking that job in St. Charles, Louisiana. He was in his first season with the Cowboys after he was fired from LSU in March 2022. Wade wasn’t fired for his teams’ poor play. In fact, they made three NCAA Tournaments in his five seasons, one of which was the COVID season in which there was no Big Dance. A three-out-of-four run to the postseason is high-quality stuff. 

No, Wade was fired at LSU because he broke the NCAA’s rules.

Make no mistake, I am no fan of the NCAA’s arbitrary and outdated rules and ways of governing. But Wade was caught on a wiretap discussing an offer made to a recruit through a middleman. Wade was frustrated the recruit had not yet committed to the “strong-ass offer” because the middleman wanted a bigger piece of the pie, per reports.

For some reason, Will Wade thought it was a good idea to talk to the recruit directly on the phone. No alumnus, no middleman, no booster doing the dirty work instead. Just the head coach of a then 25-5 team putting LSU basketball’s future in jeopardy. 

“What the hell are you thinking? There are penalties that should be exacted for flagrant stupidity,” ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said on “First Take” at the time. “When it comes to Coach Will Wade, you’ve got to be the biggest fool on the planet right now.”

The FBI opened an investigation and Wade was suspended in 2019, though he returned six weeks later, after the season had ended, with significant modifications to his contract with the Tigers. The investigation continued over the course of the next couple years and LSU eventually cut bait.

The year of exile and penance was enough for McNeese State to hire him, though Wade was suspended for the first 10 games of his stint there, too. When the penalties were handed out, Wade was not allowed to have recruiting conversations between Sept. 1, 2023, and Oct. 15, 2023, and also from Sept. 1 through Oct. 15, 2024.

He also could not have official visits from prospective recruits during those time frames, either. It’s unclear if those conditions still apply.

Arkansas Basketball Candidacy

If they do, it would have put Arkansas in a bit of a tough spot given Trevon Brazile is the only returning player not yet in the transfer portal. Rising freshmen Isaiah Elohim is still committed to Arkansas for now, as well, but classmate Jalen Shelley asked to be released from his letter of intent Saturday.

John Calipari has a whale of a job to do on the recruiting trail.

In Wade’s case, even if the penalties don’t still apply, welcoming Wade into the fold suggests ethics wouldn’t have been a top priority for Arkansas athletics. Of course, most had already realized that, anyway, when the school hired Bobby Petrino as offensive coordinator in the fall. 

Maybe, what with the NCAA’s new rules regarding recruiting and NIL deals, Arkansas leaders are telling themselves the school doesn’t have to worry about getting into that sort of hot water again. Looking ahead, Wade wouldn’t have had to go through a middleman. Technically, the school’s NIL folks could negotiate on his behalf in order to land the player. 

Will Wade and the New Landscape

In this new landscape, it looks more and more like “Wade’s rap sheet is at worst irrelevant and might even be considered a plus,” as Jesse Washington put it in Andscape after McNeese State’s hiring of Wade. “Think about it: The No. 1 commodity that teams need is talent. Now that new name, image and likeness rules permit some payments to college athletes, why wouldn’t McNeese hire someone who knows his way around what was until recently the black market?”

Beggars can’t be choosers, as the phrase goes. For a while, it looked like Arkansas fit the axiom. With Oklahoma and Texas entering the SEC next year, it looked like the Razorbacks, already near the bottom of the league’s barrel in football and threatening the bottom again in basketball, wouldn’t have an easier time overcoming their inadequacies. Oklahoma under Porter Moser has proven to be a handful for the Hogs and even if the Rodney Terry Experiment ultimately fails at Texas, they will always have more than enough money to throw at a future coach in the caliber of a Rick Barnes or Chris Beard.

More than most, it just so happens, Beard shows winning cures lots of ills. As does Will Wade. We in this country are fond of overlooking flaws of our leaders if they provide us something we want. That abiding truth is what helped Sean Miller land at Xavier despite violations on his watch at Arizona, Rick Pitino go to both Iona and St. John’s despite his sex and money scandals at Louisville and, of course, was the reason Chris Beard so quickly took over Ole Miss despite the mess that got him fired at Texas.

Wade’s 30-win season is something Arkansas looked at with green eyes. For a few days, it seemed like he was the best the Hogs could hope for.

Then, of course, this happened:


YouTube video

Sign former Arkansas basketball standout Jimmy Whitt up for the Wade Brigade:

More of the estimable Stephen A. Smith on Will Wade:

YouTube video


More coverage of Arkansas basketball and the search for the next Arkansas basketball coach from BoAS…

Facebook Comments