Thursday, May 1, 2003 Updated: November 9, 12:53 PM ET
I come to praise Larry ...
By Patrick Hruby Special to Page 2
If renegade cop dramas have taught us anything -- beyond, that is, the necessity of handing over both badge and gun before dispensing a little unhinged, nothing-left-to-lose justice -- it's that sometimes you have to discard the police manual. Take it to the streets. Get a little crazy. Be the bad guy in order to beat the bad guy.
Which brings us to Larry Eustachy.
The men of "Old School" provided a service to the minors in their company.
Over the last three days, the Iowa State basketball coach has been pilloried -- and now appears on the verge of being fired -- for his behavior at a University of Missouri student party, where he was photographed holding a beer can, hugging coeds and giving and receiving kisses on the cheek.
One national columnist likened Eustachy to John Blutarsky from
"Animal House." Another said his life had become a "really bad reality TV show"
In typically evenhanded fashion, Page 2 ran not one but two pieces ridiculing the embattled coach, his signature black turtleneck, even his taste in beer. Unrefined as it happens to be.
This has to stop. And not just for the sake of Natural Light Ice -- whose low-grade properties, it should be noted, probably helped half of us get lucky as undergrads. So sneer all you want.
While those calling for Eustachy's smiling, lipstick-smeared head are suitably outraged -- what was a married, 47-year-old basketball coach doing partying with undergrads until 4:30 in the morning, "Old School"-style? -- they're failing to ask the larger question.
"Namley, what was the method behind Eustachy's honey-nuzzling, suds-guzzling madness?"
The answer is not what it seems. Then again, when is it ever?
According to a Kansas State student who ran into Eustachy at another party at that school's Kappa Sigma house, the coach claimed that he was on a mission -- a mission that had nothing to do with guzzling suds and macking on coeds.
Larry was following the mantra of Crockett & Tubbs.
Nicole Wenger, a KSU sophomore, told the Des Moines Register that Eustachy asked her to show him around the fraternity, because, in his words, "there is a party going on tonight, and I just want to make sure my players aren't here."
Now, is that so bad?
Like undercover aces Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs, Eustachy wasn't out to cause trouble. He was looking to thwart it. From the inside. Decked out in tres cool, age-appropriate attire.
To put it another way: Eustachy wasn't looking to sauce up and get down with barely-legal lovelies. Instead, he was selflessly stepping into harm's way, the better to prevent his players from saucing up and getting down with barely-legal lovelies.
Seen in this light, Eustachy's reported actions at both the Missouri and Kansas State parties make perfect sense:
At the Missouri party, Eustachy arrived in the wee hours with Tigers' player Josh Kroenke. Kroenke's father, Stan, is a friend of Eustachy's. Wouldn't you sleep better knowing a responsible, married, 47-year-old basketball coach was chaperoning your son at a college party? Just in case, you know, he needs an extra hand doing keg stands or something?
According to eyewitnesses, Eustachy drank beer into the early morning hours. Good for him. Every shotgunned can is one more brew that won't fall into the hands of his players, over-intoxicated students or -- God forbid -- a minor. Better to keep those suds in the responsible, married and apparently cast-iron stomach and bladder of a 47-year-old basketball coach.
Around 3 a.m., Eustachy refused to leave the party, despite the encouragement of the people he was with. Again, good call: As anyone who's ever been on campus can tell you, the real trouble starts around 3:30. And how is a responsible, married, 47-year-old basketball coach supposed to keep an eye on things if he's passed out in the back of a cab, halfway between Manhattan and Ames?
At the Kansas State party, Eustachy said his team's play was "pathetic." Considering that his Cyclones lost to KSU 63-52, his assessment wasn't that far off the mark. Besides, nothing motivates a pathetic group of underachievers like an honest-to-goodness chewing-out from a responsible, married, 47-year-old basketball coach. Especially if said chewing-out carries a faint whiff of beer breath.
Who would you rather have back you up - a drinking rookie or a veteran?
Also at the KSU party, Eustachy told Wegner that she was "pretty good-looking," then asked, ""What are you doing here? Why aren't you going to KU? The girls down there are much hotter. You belong there." Clearly, Eustachy was offering heartfelt social and academic counsel, the kind that only a responsible, married, 47-year-old basketball coach can provide. And in coming on to Wegner, Eustachy was making sure that his Cyclones steered clear of her. After all, winning basketball demands total commitment. We can't count high enough to tabulate the number of seasons that have been dashed because a star player got mixed up with the wrong girl.
Of course, the depth of Eustachy's self-sacrifice goes well beyond these examples. By hailing a 5 a.m. taxi, he sent a powerful message about the perils of drunk driving. By chatting up coeds, he forced their usually-inattentive boyfriends to take their eyes off the 2 a.m. SportsCenter. And so on.
Point is, Eustachy shouldn't be condemned. Rather, he should be praised. He was simply trying to do some good, the only way rogue cops and responsible, married, 47-year-old basketball coaches know how. Which ought to be enough.
If we don't believe that, we've learned nothing from Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Let alone Steven Seagal.
Patrick Hruby is a sportswriter for the Washington Times. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.