Southern Mississippi gives Eustachy opportunity to coach again
Posted: Tuesday May 18, 2004 3:56PM; Updated: Wednesday May 19, 2004 8:57AM
For years, the rap on college basketball coach Larry Eustachy was that he was an overbearing taskmaster, proud of running the toughest practices in the country. Then the scandal at Iowa State changed everything -- suddenly Eustachy was out of a job and forced to admit publicly that he had a problem with alcohol.
Today, Eustachy, a recovering alcoholic, has been given a second chance and is back in the game at the University of Southern Mississippi. And his past transgressions have not proven to be a liability in the ever-competitive world of recruiting. Southern Mississippi's recent haul has included four players -- one signed before the hiring of Eustachy. Instead of recoiling at the tales of his indiscretions, the kids and families have related to the human side of the coach.
"What you find in players I've signed is that they all have somebody -- whether it is directly in their family or indirectly, a cousin or nephew -- who has experience with some type of alcohol or drug abuse,'' Eustachy says. "My situation was so out in the open, but [alcohol abuse] is a much bigger problem than people will admit, and it is everywhere. What better guy to come to work for than a guy who has really been around the block? Let's face it, alcohol is a huge issue on campuses. It is as big a problem as it ever has been. So I can help. I am the expert, that is for sure.''
When we last saw Eustachy, wife Stacy by his side, he was forced to resign from a $1.1 million-a-year coaching job at Iowa State. Photographs of him at a college party -- a cold beer in hand, being kissed by college-aged women -- had appeared in the Des Moines Register last April.
It was easy to laugh at the frat boy coach gone wild. Now, as he spoke via his cell phone on his way to the Conference USA meetings in Sandestin, Fla., he sounded brutally honest. Eustachy, 48, is a guy you root for -- he doesn't make excuses, blame anyone else for his screw-up nor dance around his alcoholism or his time at a Minnesota rehab facility.
Asked to sum up the last year, he says it's been the best of his life. If not for his public stumble, he might never have had to come to grips with his alcoholism.
"Everything I've been through -- I wouldn't change a thing,'' he says. "Iowa State is a special place to me and we had a great run and a great time. But I would rather be at Southern Miss right now because of what I learned through the Iowa State ordeal.''
Eustachy doesn't utter a word of bitterness about starting anew in Hattiesburg, nor does he complain about the huge pay cut -- down to a guaranteed $230,000 a year plus up to $500,000 more in incentives. After 10 months on the sidelines, Eustachy is grateful for the opportunity to return to the college game and can't say enough about Southern Miss university president Shelby Thames or athletic director Richard Giannini.
Eustachy's name surfaced this spring for openings at Houston, James Madison and San Francisco, but only Thames and Giannini offered him a job. You suspect this won't be a stop-over job for one of the college game's better coaches because of the strong bond of trust that has developed between the school administrators and Eustachy.
"I don't need money,'' Eustachy says matter-of-factly. "I have been very fortunate to make enough money in basketball, and I don't really need to work again. When you have that, not as leverage but as comfort, it is a real peace of mind.
"It is more important who I work for. Face it, it took a heckuva president and athletic director to pull the trigger on me. And I don't forget those things.''
If the coach holds up his end, it's a masterful move by Giannini. There's no way Southern Mississippi would have gotten a return call from a former National Coach of the Year if Eustachy hadn't been the poster child for men behaving badly -- nor would he be working at such a discounted price.
Eustachy owes thanks to his best friend -- former Iowa State and NBA coach, Tim Floyd -- for pestering Southern Miss officials about Eustachy after coach James Green resigned. Floyd is originally from Hattiesburg and his father, Lee, coached at the school, so his calls had clout.
Giannini checked into Eustachy and heard superlatives from the athletic directors who hired him at Idaho, Utah State and even Iowa State. What ultimately sold him, though, was Eustachy's honesty.
"People deserve a second opportunity,'' Giannini explains. "He never had a DUI, had never been arrested, never had any issues like that. So, there is no question we were willing to give him that opportunity. And 99.9 percent of all the feedback we've had has been very positive.''
While unemployed, Eustachy never doubted he would return to the sidelines. It was simply a matter of who would take a chance on him. Floyd called him almost every day to keep his spirits up. Eustachy watched games and spent a weekend last September in Memphis, talking hoops with basketball guys like John Calipari, Isiah Thomas, John Lucas and Larry Brown.
Now, it's up to Eustachy to live up to the trust placed on him by the numerous coaches, administrators and players. So far, the early reviews are promising.
Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.