Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy's office is a leased white 2000 Lincoln Town Car I with the dealer sticker still pasted to the left rear window. The backseat is littered with yellowed newspapers, crumpled soda cans, random sneakers and maps of various Big 12 campuses. Eustachy swears that superstition, not sloth, is what prevents him from cleaning up this mess. Coins that fell out of his pants pocket onto the seat two weeks ago will remain there until the Cyclones lose another game. Likewise the keys will stay in the ignition and the doors will stay unlocked.
When Iowa State goes on a road trip, Eustachy treats the term literally. He has already driven 3,068 miles this season. Six hours round-trip to Lincoln, Neb. Seven to Lawrence, Kans. Eight to Columbia, Mo. And Stillwater, Okla.—well, that's a few exits past forever. Eustachy has had a distaste for air travel since enduring a rocky flight home to Idaho from the 1987 Final Four in New Orleans. While he will fly if fortified by a healthy dose of Valium, he has adopted a 10-hour rule, which stipulates that any game within 10 hours one-way is driveable. He slips into baggy sweats, kicks off his shoes and puts pedal to metal, stopping only at convenience stores to buy water, Cokes and beef jerky. During these journeys he lapses into a trance known to some in the program as LarryWorld in which he obsesses over details of his team's play. Dozens of times each trip he will pick up his cassette recorder and tape anything from a simple command to "Block out!" to a rambling soliloquy on how to break the Oklahoma press.
During the drive home from his most recent trip, from Lawrence, the morning after a 79-77 upset of Kansas in early February, the 45-year-old Eustachy grabbed his recorder and said, "The obvious isn't always obvious. They were supposed to beat us tonight, and now we're supposed to beat them next week. Kansas will be determined. Challenge our team to out-determine [the Jayhawks]."
Last Saturday afternoon at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Eustachy felt Iowa State was out-determined by Kansas in the first half, even though the Cyclones led 37-36 at intermission. He walked into the locker room and saw sophomore reserve forward Omar Bynum chuckling, ordered Bynum to take off his uniform and leave the arena and then moved his other players to another room while Bynum changed. Iowa State (22-3 through Sunday) out-determined Kansas in the second half for a 79-71 win to put a stranglehold on its second straight Big 12 title and become the first team to beat the Jayhawks under coach Roy Williams five times in a row.
The win was the sixth-ranked Cyclones' 54th since the start of the 1999-2000 season, the most for any Division I team. Iowa State's senior point guard Jamaal Tinsley dictated the action on both ends with 11 assists and six steals in one of the best games ever played by a guy who shot 1 for 13 from the field. The points came from two freshmen, forward Shane Power and guard Jake Sullivan, who combined for 40 points on the strength of 10-for-12 shooting from beyond the three-point arc. "Our team's strength is that you never know who will be The Man" Tinsley says. " Coach Eustachy's got all of us on the same page, and that's the best kind of book."
Who's Larry Eustachy? That's the question everybody's asking—everybody from the security guard at last year's Big 12 tournament, who forbade Eustachy from entering Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo., without a credential, to administrators at Indiana, who are rumored to covet him should Hoosiers interim coach Mike Davis falter down the stretch, to the public address announcers at road games who sometimes botch his name. (It's pronounced you-STAY-she.)
Eustachy began his Division I coaching career in 1981 as an unpaid assistant at Mississippi State, where after practice he worked as a waiter in a seafood restaurant where he sometimes served his own players. He has since made pit stops at Idaho, Utah, Ball State, Idaho again and Utah State before arriving in Ames in July 1998, and he has never suffered a losing season in 11 years as a head coach. Eustachy had been to Iowa only once when he inherited the Cyclones job from Tim Floyd, and in only his second season he won Iowa State's first regular-season conference title in 55 years. Floyd, the Chicago Bulls coach, who is a close friend of Eustachy's, recommended him for the job and even sold him his house in Ames, says Eustachy's secret is that he's not a "cookie-cutter coach."
Eustachy, who's married and the father of two children, owns only one suit. He used to have another, but he lost the pants during the move to Ames. For years he has coached in a black mock turtleneck. Oh, he tried a jacket and tie during his first year at Iowa State, but after the Cyclones finished 15-15 that season he went back to the turtleneck. "People assume I wear black to look like Brett Maverick riding into town," the 6'1", 200-pound Eustachy says. "Really it's because black makes me look less fat. I also have a red one, but it makes me look like a lobster."
Eustachy refers to his coaching philosophy as "Larry," as in All my players have to buy into Larry. Larry the philosophy is partly based on the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest. During Eustachy's first season, four team members quit, and the Cyclones practiced with only eight scholarship players. "Coach told us we had to cut the fat and get down to the lean meat," senior forward Martin Rancik says. "He's like a drill sergeant who tries to break you down, and you keep going only by telling yourself, There's no way I'm going to let this guy win."
Eustachy relates well to his players, though, thanks to his own athletic history. He was the captain at Arcadia ( Calif.) High in 1974 and then a decent junior college guard before he got cut at Division II Chico ( Calif.) State. "I've been a star and a nobody and everything in between, so I can understand different roles," Eustachy says. "No matter which of my players walks in my door with a problem, I've been that guy."