- Andy Katz, College Basketball Senior Writer
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HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- We sit down in Larry Eustachy's Reed Green Coliseum office -- a stark, rather blank canvas of a rectangular room with one window -- to discuss his new beginning and a fresh start for the Golden Eagles program.
Throughout the brief snapshot Eustachy gives us, it's obvious that he is still quick-witted, but without the edge. The anger is gone. There's almost a sense of tranquility when you're in his presence.
There is one picture on the wall opposite his desk, a framed plaque of Lee Floyd, the former Southern Miss coach from the 1960s, and father of Larry Eustachy's good friend, Tim Floyd. If it weren't for Tim's recommendation, then Eustachy might not be here.
Floyd's mother still lives in Hattiesburg. Tim lives about halfway between here and New Orleans. He comes often to practice. Eustachy and Floyd talk nearly every day. He is, probably, an unofficial member of Eustachy's therapy team after the former Iowa State coach proclaimed himself an alcoholic.
But the most important members of that team might be the players on the one he now coaches, along with the administration that took a chance on him -- just like he gambled coming here.
He said he hasn't had a drink in 18 months. He said he's as comfortable in his own skin as ever. But his marriage is over. His two sons, ages 12 and 10, are still in Ames, Iowa, near the school that fired Eustachy in the spring of 2003 after photos were made public in an Iowa newspaper that showed him drinking with co-eds at a campus party at Missouri.
His wife was in Hattiesburg for his news conference announcing his hiring on March 25. But, according to Eustachy, the family never moved.
"I thought in taking this job that everything would work out for me, but things went wrong," Eustachy said. "I didn't want it to happen. The boys are the most important things in my life. I try not to go 10 days without seeing them. I've got all the flights mapped out. You deal with life on life's terms. That's what you do.
"I'd rather have my boys with me, I miss them dearly but I find that I communicate with them more now than when I was there," Eustachy said. "I really wasn't there when I look at it now. I go to the laundry mat. I have to handle my insurance and all that. It sounds crazy. But I wouldn't change anything. This is what has been dealt me and I'm a better person for it. I treat people better."
The road to recovery and to Hattiesburg was filled with a 12-step program, counseling and good friends offering support. He spent quality time with coaching colleagues by going to practices at Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Detroit. He continued his blossoming relationship with Pistons coach Larry Brown, saying he talks to him often on the phone.
The basketball talk was therapeutic. And the chance to coach again without alcohol in his life made so much sense to him that he had to give it another go.
Remember this is a man who was able to live a "normal" life as a college basketball coach during practice and games. But afterwards, he was, as he says, an alcoholic.
"When you drink, the whole world revolves around you and the next place," Eustachy said. "I'm an alcoholic. What is abnormal appears normal to you. There was so much hypocrisy with me telling these guys that they have to get some sleep and take care of their body. I wasn't going to play, but I wasn't well rested. I'm a lot more well rested now. I get more sleep. I can fly. The thing that I thought helped me fly (drinking) hurt me from flying. The alcohol would bring on anxiety."
Eustachy used to cavalierly say that he would need a few drinks to get on a plane. He usually drove because he said he was afraid to fly. When Iowa State played Boston College two years ago in Chestnut Hill, Eustachy drove to Massachusetts and back.
"The first speaking engagement after we lost to Hampton (in 2001 in Boise), I got up in front of hundreds of people at Iowa State and I told them that I stopped at every bar along the way from Boise to Ames," Eustachy said. "People laughed."
Was it true?
"Just about," he said.
Eustachy said he still goes to meetings three or four times a week. He said he has "a disease. That's what it is. If you've got problems with kidneys, then you take dialysis. I need to take my treatments."
Eustachy's openness about his alcoholism actually helped him get the job. Southern Miss athletic director Richard Giannini had to make a splash with the hire. He wanted Eustachy and called around to do his homework. He talked to Chuck Bell, Eustachy's former athletic director at Utah State, and got rave reviews about the five years he had in Logan. He talked to Floyd, of course, and got a glowing opinion. So, he met with Eustachy in New Orleans and the two hit it off immediately. He knew Eustachy, who had coached as an assistant at Mississippi State, loves to fish and is fond of schools that aren't exactly in a metropolis (see: Idaho, Utah State, Iowa State).
"He addressed his issues up front," Giannini said. "I didn't have to ask him about them. I knew he was on a great road to recovery. I'm familiar with the disease of alcoholism and I knew from day one that he had a great recovery program going."
Giannini said he checked with the NCAA and found no issues.
"This was an opportunity for us to get a coach that, under normal circumstances, we would never get," Giannini said. "There's no way the head coach of Iowa State goes to Southern Miss. He's a former national coach of the year (2000). We're taking a chance but so is he. I'm familiar with this disease. It's in my family. I'm totally aware of it. Alcoholism is a disease and an addiction and he's had an incredible life change."
When Eustachy had team meetings with his new players, and while he was recruiting the newcomers, he was honest with them about his past. Senior Dante Stiggers said Eustachy didn't hide anything and told the players that he "messed up."
"He told us he made a major mistake but he wasn't going to run from it," said junior college transfer Solomon Brown. "He took full responsibility for what he did. I felt like he took a chance on me. I had somewhat of a checkered past myself (playing at Iona as a freshman, signing at another D-1 school out of a JC, not graduating from a JC, going to L.A. City College). This isn't a last chance for us, but more like a second or third chance for some of us."
Rashaad Carruth probably needed Eustachy as much as he needed him. Carruth, a rare McDonald's All-American at Southern Miss, played one season at Kentucky before being pushed out of Lexington. He went to Oklahoma and couldn't last for Kelvin Sampson. He declined to say why he couldn't cut it with Sampson, but said he regretted not being able to play for him after failing to make it through a redshirt season. He ended up at Indian Hills (Iowa) CC.
"This is my last time and everyone knows it," Carruth said. "Coach Eustachy told me the truth, not just what I wanted to hear. He was very open about how he turned his life around. We've both been through some hard times."
Eustachy said he didn't know this is where he would end up but was glad the Golden Eagles were the school that took a chance on him. He said he hasn't previously had to go to a program where he also had to work on getting fans in the stands as well as do major fund raising.
Eustachy's hire is akin to Texas Tech going after Bob Knight. The issues that brought them to their respective schools are different but their impact could be similar. Knight has been a financial hit for the Red Raiders. Eustachy has the potential to do wonders for Southern Miss. The hire is critical for Southern Miss as it enters a watered-down Conference USA without Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette, DePaul and Charlotte, among others.
"I've never had such a big challenge where there was a lack of interest and we had to come in here and create interest," Eustachy said.
The attention for this program was so down that Giannini took a home game against Marquette last season and moved it to Green Bay. The Eagles won the game, but the move irritated the league's coaches so much that Conference USA instituted a rule barring teams from moving a game outside of 100 miles from campus.
Giannini said that wouldn't have happened if Eustachy were the coach, which is essentially a reality slap to former coach James Green.
"James Green was a good solid coach and a good disciplinarian but we had our worst ticket gross here in 17 years," Giannini said. "We made over $100,000 going to Green Bay and the entire gross ticket sales here were $137,000 for the whole season."
Southern Miss has a Top 25 football program. It is nationally recognized in baseball. But basketball hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since its only two appearances in 1990 and '91. Giannini said schools like Cincinnati and Louisville can make millions in basketball while the Golden Eagles make only about $700,000.
"The upside here is huge and that's why this was a critical hire for us," Giannini said. Green Coliseum recently got an internal cleaning with heating and cooling systems upgraded. Phase two of the project includes new coaches' offices, player locker rooms and training areas after this season. Ultimately, floor seating, better concessions and more restrooms as well as a paint job are on the horizon.
"There's a tremendous amount of revenue that we could capitalize on that we're sitting on here," Giannini said. "We could jump to the top of the league. The mountain to climb was difficult with Cincinnati, Louisville, DePaul and Marquette. They had more resources, were in cities and had great traditions. The mountain will be a heck of a lot easier to climb now and it will ultimately be easier for Southern Miss to get into the NCAA Tournament than those teams in the Big East. Larry saw the road to the NCAA will be easier."
Giannini said the Knight analogy works since the people in Lubbock embraced him the way the folks down here have welcomed Eustachy. Eustachy is calling Southern Miss a gold mine, because of the proximity to players.
"If we fill this place every night, he'll be in an environment he enjoys," Giannini said.
The games are nice and all, but Eustachy loves practice. He still is quick to correct, and is as animated as he was before. But he's teaching now more than ever. He's always had solid relationships with his players, but they're now more genuine.
"A lot of coaches, including me, coach out of anger," Eustachy said. "I try now to just coach and not get so anger. My anger at times held the team back. I'm trying to stay even keel. You tell your teams to do that, to not get too high or too low. So you have to too."
Eustachy doesn't have any regrets or bitterness toward Iowa State. He said he stood up for everything he did and isn't looking for an excuse to explain his past behavior.
"This is a place where the people want to see their coach and I'm out in the community a lot," Eustachy said of his Southern Miss. "I go home a lot earlier now. The thing that got me to that party (at Missouri) was I thought of myself as a normal guy.
"I'm more interested in people and their issues as opposed to mine. This was a critical hire, whether it's positive or negative. So, far, it seems to be pretty positive. I'm just trying to build something here from the ground up."
Beginning with him. Next is Southern Miss. His track record shows that winning shouldn't be too far behind.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
Larry Eustachy is clean and sober, as well as back among the ranks of Division I head coaches.