Q&A: Joe Alleva on Football, Facilities, and the Future
Digital Media Reporter
Last week, I sat down with LSU vice chancellor and director of athletics Joe Alleva for an interview to discuss the state of Tiger athletics. We chatted for nearly a half-hour on the direction of the football program, the growth of men's basketball, facilities projects across campus, and much more.
Here is that conversation.
Joe Alleva: I was very impressed with the game plan we had for Miami. They’re a very talented team. But I think overall, the thing I was most impressed with was how fast Joe Burrow picked up the offense. He’s only been here for two months. I was an old quarterback, and I just know how hard it is to pick up a whole new system that fast. I was really impressed with his poise and the way he handled the whole team.
I knew our kicking game would be better, but I was really impressed with our kicking game. All aspects of it were really solid. And we have so many young kids playing. I had to keep looking at the program to see who they were. I usually know them all, pretty much. We only have three seniors that really play a significant amount of time.
CW: The first home game of the season is Saturday, and it comes at a time when attendance has been dropping across college football for the last few years. What is LSU doing to both improve game day experiences for fans attending games in Tiger Stadium this season and into future seasons?
JA: Fan experience is a top priority for us right now. We’ve upgraded all the restrooms, which I think is really important. We’ve replaced all the TV sets all around the stadium, and we’ve added more TV sets, flat screens, all around the stadium so when people are not in the stadium, they can still watch the game as they’re moving around. We’ve added more points of sale for concessions.
Of course, we’ve added The Chute, a place where people can go and get an adult beverage. I think that should help attract fans. We’re trying to do more creative things with the video boards to keep fans engaged during timeouts. Timeouts are so long that you need to do something to keep the fans engaged. The sound system in the stadium, we’ve tried to improve that. We’re constantly trying to look at things to keep fans engaged.
CW: One thing that will keep fans engaged is the quality of the opponent. You’ve recently added a home-and-home with Clemson to the schedule for 2025-26. Looking at future schedules, there seems to be a trend away from neutral site contests and toward home-and-homes, starting next year with Texas, as well as future matchups with UCLA, Oklahoma, and Arizona State. What’s the reasoning behind getting back to the more traditional home-and-home approach, because I don’t think there’s a neutral site game on the schedule in the near future?
JA: Not for a while. We've got a couple we’re talking about down the road, but you hit the nail on the head. It’s the fact we had an outcry from our fans to bring in other quality opponents other than conference games into Tiger Stadium.
There’s pluses and minuses to that. The plus, when we went to Dallas this weekend, we pretty much could get as many tickets as we wanted. When we go to Austin next year, we only get 5,000 tickets, and half of those tickets go to the band and the players and the coaches. So there’s only going to be around 2,500 tickets available for our fans to go to that game. That’ll be a negative. And, there’s no money involved. When we go there, we basically get no money. We have to balance that with wanting our fans to see great games at home.
But the next year, when Texas comes here, obviously that will be a great event in Tiger Stadium. It’ll be a good payday, too. Those are the pluses and minuses, but I felt we had to do games like Texas and Clemson and games like that in Tiger Stadium to keep the fans coming. At the end of the day, that’s what we have to do: make sure our fans fill up Tiger Stadium and support the team.
CW: So much of your job is transient by nature – you have athletes for four, five years, and then they’re gone. How much thought do you put into not just the time they’re here, but also their lives and careers once they’re gone?
JA: There’s two components to that in my mind. One, we want to make sure they graduate. We encourage them all, some who leave early to play professionally or even some who just haven't achieved their degree yet, we encourage them to come back. We pay for them to come back. That’s one component.
The other is the L Club. When I got here, the L Club did not have a lot of members. Now it’s roughly 1,000 strong. I’ve really tried to put a focus on that, to attract them to come back, to come to games, to be active in the L Club. It’s a network. It helps them in all sorts of different ways. That’s two areas we try to reach out to ex-athletes and keep them engaged in what’s going on.
CW: Another thing I see a lot here is former Tigers who are now professional athletes back on campus working out. What brings them back? Is that something you’ve emphasized during your tenure?
JA: It really has been. It’s really important. In basketball, baseball, football, those sports in particular, athletes come back and train in the offseason. We have a couple of things that makes that attractive. Number one, we have a terrific medical staff. When an athlete gets hurt, they like to come back and work with Jack Marucci and his staff because they help bring them back faster.
Number two, Tommy Moffitt and his strength staff are terrific and open to having those guys back. No matter what the sport, they welcome them back. Usually, the pro athletes bring back with them a great culture that we want around our younger athletes. In baseball right now, we’re building an addition out in left field that’s going to have a weight room, but it’s also going to have a small locker room where Alex Bregman, Aaron Nola, all the other guys playing pro ball can have a locker in there when they come back in the offseason.
CW: Those two guys you mentioned, they’re doing okay in the Big Leagues right now.
JA: They’re just killing it. I am very proud of them.
CW: A big part of your job is evaluation: Are the facilities sufficient? Are the coaches performing up to standards? Are we doing the best job we can branding ourselves? How do you self-evaluate the job you’re doing as athletic director? What is your self-evaluation process?
JA: My job is to try to help our coaches win. That’s really what I try to do. So I have to look at what the resources that we’re providing to teams, compare those resources to what other schools are providing teams, and try to compete at the highest level.
That’s one. The other thing is, I want to provide a quality experience for our student-athletes. It’s more than just winning or losing. It’s providing a quality experience. So, we spend a lot of money on academic support, psychological support, health care, all those things that provide a quality experience for our student athletes. Because, at the end of the day, I look at it as, our goal is to prepare these young people for the rest of their lives.
Winning is very important in that, but I look at winning as in competition, in the classroom, and in the community.
CW: Speaking of winning, everybody wants to win, and win now. Instant gratification. It’s an on-demand culture. But at the same time, building a program in any sport can take time, whether it’s football or track or any other sport. Acting on short-term thinking can lead to long-term problems, but the collective attention span of our culture in the digital media, instant access, on-demand age is only growing shorter. How do you balance patience and expectations for your coaches? Do you have a general philosophy you apply to coaches regarding how quickly you want certain results, or is it a case-by-case evaluation?
JA: You have to evaluate the whole program. You have to evaluate where it’s going. It’s hard for a freshman to come in, let’s just take football, for example. There are a lot of freshmen that play, but they’re still freshmen. So you have to look, evaluate recruiting classes, where the program is going more than just at that particular moment.
Fans kind of go on a roller coaster – they get really high, they get really low. I try not to get really high when we win or really low when we lose. I try to stay on an even plane. I think that’s the way I have to be. I was very happy we won the (Miami) game Sunday, but my emotions wouldn’t have been much different, frankly, if we had lost the game. I try to stay very much the same.
I try to look at things in the long run, not just at that moment. For example, talking about the football program, I don’t know where it’s going to end up the rest of the year. I don’t know how many more games we’re going to win or how many we’re going to lose. I’m just telling you, from my standpoint, that program is going in the right direction. Recruiting is going well. Coach O is filling gaps that were not that great at the time he took over. He’s recruiting kids with good character, which, to me, is very important. I’m really pleased with the way that program is going.
CW: Speaking of football, how is the expansion of football ops coming? What improvements can be expected, and when can they be expected to be finished?
JA: A couple years ago, we totally renovated and added on to the weight room. That was phase one of that project. Coupled with that, we replaced the turf and all the lights in the indoor facility. That was stage 1B.
Now we’re on stage two, where we’re renovating all the offices, the locker rooms, the players’ lounge. And we’re adding a nutrition center. The nutrition center will be a tremendous advantage for all of our athletes. They can go in there and eat the right way, whether they want to gain weight or lose weight. Their diets will be tailored for what they need.
Our facility was good, but other facilities in our league had passed us by. It’s keeping up with the Joneses. We needed to do this to keep up and to keep recruiting the way we need to recruit here.
CW: What else is on the docket for facilities improvements and construction? I know you mentioned baseball is getting a new hitting facility and weight room. Any others in the works?
JA: We’re doing baseball, and we’re doing softball, too. We’re doing a tremendous addition to softball, where they’re also going to have a weight room and an indoor area where they can take infield. That’ll be really nice.
The next big project we have, and probably the only facility we haven’t done a lot to fix up, is the PMAC. That’s something we really need to fix up.
Another project we need to renovate is the Lawton Room. The Lawton Room hasn’t been updated in years. That’s a very important room for recruiting.
CW: Do you have any specifics you’re looking at with the PMAC, or is it still exploratory?
JA: I think the number one thing we need to do, phase one, is to build a weight room for the basketball programs. They work out currently across the street. It’s mainly more for recruiting than anything else. Every significant basketball program has a weight room right there attached to their facility. A weight room’s important.
I’d love to create a club seating area in the PMAC. If we did it right, we could use it for basketball games, volleyball games, gymnastics meets, but on football game days, we could use it facing Tiger Stadium when the band comes down the hill, when the team comes down the hill. I think it could have a dual purpose that would really be good and generate some revenue for us.
CW: Speaking of basketball, Will Wade is entering his second year atop the LSU Basketball program, and expectations are very high for the 2018-19 team. What do you make of how quickly that program has turned around?
JA: In basketball, it’s one of those sports you can turn it around really quick. If you get a couple of stud players, you obviously can turn it around real quick. It looks like he’s done that. I think the biggest recruit he got was getting Tremont Waters to come back for another year. That kid is special. He really is going to have a great year for us.
Will’s a tireless worker. He never stops working. He has tremendous connections for being so young. I think he’s the best young coach in the country.
CW: The old joke at LSU was that there are three seasons: football season, baseball season, and spring football season. Basketball, going back decades, has been a roller coaster has had highs and lows. What will it take to build at stable program?
JA: It’s about good leadership, having a coach who’s a good leader and a constant recruiter. In the old days, great players stayed in school three or four years. They don’t do that anymore. So you have to reload constantly.
There’s two ways programs work these days. Either you constantly reload with really great players, or you have to get the three-star player and develop them, so that when they get to be juniors and seniors, they’re significant contributors. Different programs do it different ways.
If you look at Gonzaga, who is consistently good, they’re doing it the latter way. They’re taking older kids and having a lot of success. Then you look at other schools, like Kentucky and Duke here lately, they’re playing a lot of young, one-and-done kids and reloading every year.
I would hope here we can have a combination of both: juniors and seniors who have developed and contribute, and still get that star, five-star kid every once in a while who is here only for one year. Hopefully, we can do both.
CW: To pivot to a more serious topic, nationally, we’ve seen several high-profile athletic departments and universities run into major legal and moral crises involving allegations of abuse. What steps is LSU Athletics taking to make sure its student-athletes, coaches, and staff are working in safe, secure environments?
JA: The first thing we’ve done – we started this three years ago – we have mandatory education for all of our athletes, all of our coaches, all of our student workers, everyone involved with athletics has mandatory training on how to handle any kind of abuse they see. Each year you attend, you actually receive more advanced training, so it’s a progressive process. Our student-athletes are the most educated students on this subject by far.
We’ve created a committee, too. Sometimes athletes don’t want to go their coach and say there’s a problem. So we’ve created a committee of people, neutral sort of people, that our athletes know they can go to and confide in, no matter what the situation is. They can go to any one of a very diverse group of people who they feel comfortable talking too.
It all comes down to education and kids not being afraid to report things. We try to create an environment where they can tell us what they need to tell us, and we can handle it the right way. Most schools get in trouble when they don’t handle something the right way. Problems are going to happen. Things are going to happen at schools, everywhere. The problem is when it’s not handled the right way. We take great pride in making sure we do handle it the right way. If there is a problem, the most important thing is that problem is reported to the proper authorities, not athletics. That’s where a lot of programs go wrong too – they try to handle it in house. We don’t do that.
CW: This is the first season where it will be legal in multiple states – including some on our border – to gamble on college athletics. What benefits or concerns does the legalization of sports gambling present?
JA: I don’t think there’s any benefit at all, right now, but I also don’t think it’s as bad as a lot of people think. Gambling’s been around forever. Maybe now that it’s legal, it’ll be scrutinized more. Any criminal activity or anything unscrupulous might be detected more easily than in the past. It’s been going on forever. It’s not anything new. Actually, the legalization of it might make it more transparent.
CW: Everyone knows the major storylines as it pertains to specific sports, coaches, and athletes. What’s the biggest challenge facing the athletic department that most people don’t know about or fully understand? For example, I remember in the past you speaking about the need to build up cash reserves, and of course, the annual budget battle at the state legislature always affects athletics and the university as a whole.
JA: You touched on it. Our biggest challenge, and the biggest challenge for most of college athletics, right now is financial. We have experienced years of growth in revenue, because of television contracts and the SEC Network. Well, that growth has hit a ceiling and revenue is flat. We’re one of the only schools in the country that is entirely self-sufficient. We can’t rely on public funds, or student fees or the university to supplement us financially. On top of that, we’ve contributed roughly $100 million to the university over the last ten years. And every year, our expenses are going up three or four percent which amounts to millions, whether we like it or not. That’s the biggest challenge right now, it’s no question. It’s financial. That’s true for us and it’s true for college athletic programs across the country. So that means we have to be really good stewards of our funds, making sure we’re investing in what we really need. We can’t just throw money around, because it’s not there in the first place.
CW: You’ve done some interesting things with coaching structures in Olympic sports recently. Both tennis programs have co-head coaches in the same family. In golf this year, you’re moving Chuck Winstead into a director of golf role and Garrett Runion is taking over the women’s team. How have those non-traditional approaches worked out so far? What advantages do they offer?
JA: In the tennises, the coaches get along (laughs). There’s no problem with that. The coaches all get along very well. And they all complement each other very well.
The same thing’s true in golf. Chuck’s a proven leader. He’s proven he makes golfers better. That’s, in my opinion, what Chuck’s greatest asset is. He can watch a golfer and improve their game. That’s what young people want. They want to get better and shoot lower scores.
The ability for him to now work with women is just going to help us recruit those young ladies to come here. Chuck and Garrett have a great working relationship together, and the way it’s setup, Garrett can still work with the men, and Chuck can still work with the women. They’re sharing their resources all the way around.
Also, men and women’s golfers, it’s a very small world. They all know each other. This combination should help us recruit. Chuck’s done a great job recruiting men. I think now we'll be able to recruit women and get that women's program back where we know it can be.
CW: Has Chuck helped your golf game at all?
JA: He can’t help me. I’m hopeless (laughs).
CW: That makes two of us. One last question: how much longer do you want to do this?
JA: I really enjoy my job. I enjoy coming to work every day. I’ve got a group of coaches I really enjoy working with. Every day, it’s fun for me to come to work. I would love to do this as long as possible. As long as I enjoy coming to work, the challenges it brings, I’d like to do this for a while.