LARRY EUSTACHY: FORCED OUT
Larry Eustachy's slow dance with alcohol began on a warm spring evening in the 11th grade. He remembers all the details: how he and his friends stood outside an Arcadia, Calif., liquor store and coaxed a stranger to buy beer for them; how they took their treasure to a nearby backyard; and how he drank three cans that night, unleashing a rush like nothing he'd ever felt before. "The sensation was, Wow, this is where it's at," Eustachy recalls. "We became binge drinkers on weekends. Somebody's parents would leave town, and we'd go to their house and drink until we couldn't remember." � For 30 years Eustachy never stopped. Not through his college days at Chico State—"the Number 1 party school in the country," he says—when he'd regularly swill beer, then vomit and drink some more. Not through his steady rise up the college basketball coaching ranks, including head-coaching stints at Idaho and Utah State, when he quaffed a homemade screwdriver before each postgame press conference and pounded beers rapid-fire, 10 to 12 a night. And not through his tenure at Iowa State, where he was hired before the 1998-99 season, won two Big 12 tides in his first three years, was named the 2000 National Coach of the Year and never went a day without consuming alcohol. "People ask me, 'How the hell did you function?' " Eustachy said last Saturday, in his Ames, Iowa, living room. "Well, I'm a functional alcoholic. I'm probably the best in the country at it."
He was, at least until the rest of the country found out.
If History repeats itself, as Karl Marx told us, first as tragedy and then as farce, then last week's Eustachy saga presented a new kind of coaching scandal, one that swerved wildly from farce to tragedy. From the startling photographs of Eustachy, 47, frolicking in January at a late-night college party in Columbia, Mo., to his public admission that he is an alcoholic to the subsequent furor in Iowa over his suspension (one protester's sign compared Cyclones athletic director Bruce Van De Velde with Saddam Hussein), and, finally, to his forced departure (with a $960,000 settlement) on Monday, it was hard for even casual observers to avoid whiplash.
No laughing matter, though, was the fallout: a state divided, a basketball program in disarray and a coach who faces the challenge of recovering from his disease, to say nothing of finding another job and answering new allegations about his conduct over the years.
The uproar started on April 28, when The Des Moines Register published photographs provided by a University of Missouri student, junior Sean Devereaux, that showed Eustachy drinking with and being kissed by college-aged women at a coed apartment party in the wee hours of Jan. 22, following Iowa State's 64-59 loss to the Tigers. In the accompanying article witnesses described Eustachy's actions at two parties—the one in Missouri and a similar one at a Kansas State fraternity in January 2002—at which he reportedly consumed alcohol, made objectionable comments to women and, at the Kansas State party, argued with a male student about Eustachy's behavior. At the Missouri party, the newspaper said, Eustachy finally left between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m., only after the apartment's residents called a taxi for him.
The next day a Register editorial called for Eustachy's dismissal, and the embattled coach became the Trent Lott of the Plains, issuing increasingly contrite apologies with each news cycle. The crisis boiled over at an emotional press conference on April 30, when Eustachy admitted his alcoholism, said that he had begun counseling in early April and pleaded for a second chance. Afterward Van De Velde announced that he had recommended to the Iowa State administration that Eustachy be fired, citing a clause in the coach's $1.1 million annual contract that warrants dismissal for "any gross misconduct which is substantially likely to have a materially adverse impact on the University or its athletic program." Said Van De Velde last Saturday, "We have to think about young people and setting an example, not just at Iowa State but around the country, especially with the salaries coaches are making. It's like the old Bible verse: To whom much is given, much is expected."
Yet the swift dismissal of Eustachy raised several questions: Was the punishment too severe, or was the incident at Missouri the last straw for a program that in the past year had endured six player arrests, eight player departures and the indictment of assistant Randy Brown on Internet child-porn charges? (Brown resigned on March 3 and has pleaded innocent.) Would Eustachy have been fired if the incident had occurred in 2001, after he became the first Iowa State coach in 56 years to win two straight conference titles, instead of 2003, following two seasons in which his team had gone a combined 9-23 in Big 12 play? For that matter, was Eustachy's admission that he was an alcoholic merely a calculated attempt by a coach to win over public opinion and save his job? (Eustachy denies it.)
Alcoholism, Eustachy says, drove his maternal grandparents, Ethel and Slim Mansfield, to an early grave. Growing up, Larry spent a week every summer visiting the Mansfields at their house in Fallon, Nev. He has fond memories of riding horses and of catching frogs there, and says his grandparents didn't drink in front of him. "I never knew it at the time, but my parents' deal with them was, 'You can't drink this week or you'll never see [your grandchildren] again,' " he says. Larry was eight when Ethel died of an alcohol-related aneurysm. Eustachy says that his mother, Helen, carefully monitored her drinking after seeing what it did to her parents, but the same realization about the dangers of alcohol didn't hit Larry until earlier this year.
Perhaps warning bells should have sounded in October 2001, when Eustachy—who has a fear of flying and drives to most away games-described his trip the previous March after No. 2-seeded Iowa State's West Regional loss to No. 15 Hampton: "I hit every bar in Boise before driving home. And I can tell you the name of every bar between Boise and Ames, too. My picture's on the wall of every one of them." Instead of cringing, everyone laughed.