For better or worse? Alleva will stay

COLUMN: Joe Alleva is staying at LSU after a flirtation with Tennessee. His legacy is tightly connected to basketball coach Trent Johnson, but now just how effective can the LSU Athletic Director expect to be?

There's a part of me that would love to sit here and compose a column about how it's a major coup for LSU to keep Joe Alleva as its Athletic Director – a major sign of progress for a department that has had some rough sledding the last few years.

Or, I'd love to pick the other argument and say keeping Alleva is damaging for the long-term future of LSU athletics.

Pick a side and make a point – just like they teach you in high school debate class or Journalism 101 when you get to college.

Problem is, I can't for the life of me wrap my mind around whether Alleva has been around long enough or truly accomplished enough yet to really have enough of a sampling to form an ironclad opinion either way.

First things, first, I like Alleva a lot.

One gauge I always use to determine my likability index is if I think I'd feel comfortable sitting down with a person and just talking – sports, family, life, whatever. I'd have no problem propping my feet up on a table somewhere warm and shooting the breeze with Alleva.

That said, there is one thing stuck in my mind right now: By the flirtation with Tennessee playing out the way it did, I'm not sure how Alleva's effectiveness as an AD won't erode a little bit – both with the coaches he deals with and the powerbrokers (I never know if this is one or two words) he has to ask for money or the ones who come to him for money generated by athletics.

Alleva's ledger has some nice mileposts on it, but for the most part his legacy is very much non-descript and incomplete.

His three major hires are Trent Johnson as the men's basketball coach, Nikki Caldwell to take over the women's program and most recently Beth Torina to guide the softball program after the debacle with Patrick Murphy – which I don't blame Alleva for a bit.

I also won't heap praise on him for keeping Les Miles in Baton Rouge because I think Miles was going to stick around whether Alleva said a word or not.

There have certainly been some missteps along the way.

Extending Van Chancellor's contract after the 2009-10 season only to fire him a year later is one. Telling a reporter he didn't care if the men's basketball team lost 20 games in a row was another.

There have also been under-the-radar victories with improvement in APR and – as odd as this might sound – the way NCAA compliance issues have been handled. No AD ever wants to deal with NCAA trouble, but it's inevitable, kind of like disciplining a teenager when they start to test their limits.

The spate of problems with the football program are regrettable, but again, not problems that can be pegged to Alleva. And the way LSU has met NCAA inquiries head-on, been proactive and insisted on programs and coaches may wind up being the prototype schools around the country follow.

So there's been good and bad under Alleva, just very little that qualifies as dramatic or exceptionally memorable.

Most of the time Alleva has remained in the background and let his coaches coach. He inherited a robust athletic program from Skip Bertman that was in very good health and there has been some slippage, but again, not something I think Alleva gets the blame for.

To his credit, Alleva has been patient with coaches in programs that have gone through a tough transition and that's led to some stability.

Unless there is a major overhaul in the next few years – and it sounds like Alleva is here for the long haul now – what will eventually be the hallmark of his tenure is heavily tied into whether Johnson can reverse the fortunes of the basketball program after two dismal seasons.

Alleva arrived at LSU as an AD with a strong basketball background after nearly three decades at hoops powerhouse Duke, he worked hard behind the scenes to lure Johnson away from Stanford and it all looked great in 2008-09 when the Tigers blazed to an SEC regular-season championship and an NCAA Tournament berth.

Since then, Johnson's last two teams have been mired at the bottom of the SEC and have won five league games.

Bertman hired Miles and baseball coach Paul Mainieri and both have won national championships, so it will be hard for Alleva to ever get much credit for their subsequent success.

Caldwell and Torina could be nice underlying subplots to Alleva's legacy if they can both revive interest from smaller niche fan bases and produce some postseason glory.

But men's basketball, as much as an afterthought as it might be for a lot of LSU fans, is what Alleva will be attached to when the dust settles on his time in Baton Rouge.

Now, as far as Alleva can be effective from here on out, I think it's going to take a lot of rebuilding work.

The first wave of damage is with the passionate fan base that has to be wondering why Alleva would leave LSU for another SEC program that – at least NCAA sanctions-wise – is in much worse shape than the one he is in charge of. It seems like a lateral step at best.

Alleva said in a university-issued statement that the UT job was not one he pursued and that his heart he "bleeds purple-and-gold." If so, why even talk to Tennessee officials or the search firm representing them.

Go back 24 hours and put yourself in any LSU coach's shoes. You think you're doing a pretty good job and have your program headed in a good direction. Maybe you think you deserve a little pay bump, but you also know this state and the university are in a tough spot financially right now.

Do you hesitate to go to your boss and ask for a raise because of those circumstances? Or another option is to attract the interest of another program that might be offering a raise.

What choice do you think most coaches would make now that their boss has picked option B? Alleva has basically just gone through a process I'm sure he wishes none of his coaches would.

Likewise, how will Alleva's relationship with the money people who help support the program be affected? Can he keep going back to them and asking for money when they might be wondering when he'll come back seeking another raise for himself?

Then there are the folks whose job it is to hit up LSU's self-sustaining athletic department for money in these difficult times. Does Alleva have as strong a leg to stand on any more, a stable foundation to say with a straight face ‘We don't have money to spare' when he's about to get a nice salary boost himself?

Applying a lame-duck label doesn't work with Alleva because he could still leave when he wants, and the school can still fire him if it wants. But this latest turn of events sure seems, at first blush, to potentially usurp Alleva of a lot of power and effectiveness.

Time will tell just how differently Alleva's tenure will be from this career crossroads. As for me, there's just no way to concoct a complete judgment about Alleva's tenure right now.

Tiger Blitz Top Stories