LSU has fired basketball coach Will Wade for cause, the school announced Saturday. The development comes the same week that the Tigers received a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA stemming from alleged rules violations committed during Wade's five-year tenure. Associate head coach Bill Armstrong was also fired.
The school named assistant coach Kevin Nickelberry as the interim coach. Nickelberry is a former head coach at Hampton and Howard. The Tigers are a projected No. 6 seed for the NCAA Tournament, according to CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm.
"After receiving the Notice earlier this week, we took several days to fully evaluate it and engage in deliberate and thoughtful discussions about our next steps," LSU athletic director Scott Woodward and president William Tate IV said in a statement. "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. Our responsibility to protect and promote the integrity and well-being of our entire institution and our student-athletes will always be paramount."
The school's case is being handled by the IARP process, an independent body designed to handle complicated NCAA violations cases. Wade was suspended in March 2019 from his post as LSU's coach after reports from a wiretapped conversation revealed he discussed a "strong-ass" offer to a recruit, who was later identified as JaVonte Smart.
The notice of allegations alleges that "Wade's conduct was deliberate and committed after substantial planning" and details how he offered financial inducements to secure commitments from players. As it pertains to Armstrong, the NOA alleges that "Wade condoned, participated in or negligently disregarded the conduct of Armstrong in the recruitment of a potential student-athlete."
LSU went 105-51 (55-33 SEC) under Wade's direction in five seasons. The 39-year old former Chattanooga and VCU coach was suspended in 2019 when the Tigers reached the Sweet 16, which was their deepest postseason run during his tenure. However, he was reinstated shortly after the season after he "answered all questions and denied any wrongdoing in connection with recently reported allegations of irregularities in college basketball recruiting," according to an LSU statement at the time.
Wade's dismissal comes four-and-a-half years after an FBI crackdown on corruption in college basketball that ensnared programs across the country. Most of the head coaches involved have kept their jobs even through the turmoil, even as some of their assistants have been hit with show-cause penalties by the NCAA.
But Wade's voice on a 2017 FBI wiretap discussing the "strong-ass offer" -- a conversation that was later heard nationally on an HBO documentary called "The Scheme" -- made him a face of the federal government's sting. His subsequent continuation as LSU's coach produced angst within the sport over the slow wheels of justice within the NCAA and made him the source of mockery in road venues.
In a November 2019 game at VCU, for example, multiple fans sitting near the LSU bench wore faux FBI apparel.
In a scathing 2020 letter to the NCAA, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey blasted the NCAA for its enforcement process, reportedly writing that "the current timelines must be viewed as unacceptable, and rapid change is needed such that appropriate accountability is applied in a timely manner."