PITTSBURGH — Larry Eustachy has won 402 games in his head-coaching career. But no victory was bigger than the one he won against alcohol.
Eustachy, now the head coach of Southern Mississippi, was fired from his head-coaching position at Iowa State in 2003, when pictures of him drinking at college parties surfaced— one of which occurred at a Kansas State fraternity after his Cyclones had lost to the Wildcats in Manhattan.
Eustachy, who led Iowa State to back-to-back Big 12 championships, was an alcoholic, something that started when he was 17 years old.
“They say when you start drinking you stop maturing,” Eustachy said at the podium of the Consol Energy Center on Wednesday morning. “I had my first drink at 17. So basically at the (past NCAA) tournaments I was a 17-year old coming to tournaments.”
Things are dramatically different now. Southern Mississippi gave him a chance to return to the coaching business in 2004, and the move has benefitted both sides. Eustachy is now sober, and the Golden Eagles (25-8), who play Kansas State (21-10) tomorrow at 11:40 a.m. in the second round of the NCAA tournament, are winning at a high rate.
“It’s been quite a long time since I’ve had a drink,” said Eustachy, who is one of 43 active coaches in the game to have at least 400 career victories. “I’m far more mature. I’d like to think I’m more humbled. I’m much more appreciative if that makes sense. Very grateful and I don’t take it for granted.
“This is a special, special deal — unlike none other. This is a neat, unbelievably well-oiled machine when you talk about the NCAA tournament. It’s an honor to be here and I didn’t look at it that way (in the past).”
Frank Martin, who as a high school coach admired Eustachy-coached teams, said he’s happy, but not surprised, to see him having the success he’s had with the Golden Eagles.
“Larry is one of the guys as a young high school coach I had the most amount of respect for,” the K-State head coach said. “His teams always maximized who they were. He took his kids and made them better. I thought his teams played the game the right way. They never backed down from a challenge.
“He was on top of the mountain and he fell off. He has fought his tail off to do what he loves to do and that’s help kids and put them in a great place.”
Eustachy has guided Southern Mississippi to a 67-32 record over the past three seasons, and for the first time in 21 years, the Golden Eagles are back in the Big Dance.
“I remember when I was at Cincinnati (as an assistant) and Southern Miss was my scout,” Martin said. “That was (Eustachy’s) first year at Southern Miss. I was watching tape from the season before and there was no one in the arena at Southern Miss. As I’m preparing for them in this tournament you can’t find a seat in that arena (when I watch film). That’s Larry Eustachy. He’s a fighter.”
That fight helped him get through his battle with alcohol, and now he’s enjoying his life like never before.
“I’ve settled into a new way of life that is much more enjoyable than the old way,” he said.
Eustachy isn’t ashamed of his past because he learned from it, and it’s a subject the 2012 Conference USA Coach of the Year will openly talk about.
“There’s nobody that’s got more scars on their fanny than me,” he said. “I could do this blindfolded and backwards and every day. So I think my story is a neat story. I think it inspires people. I welcome the opportunity to talk about it any moment, any chance I get. I think it’s brought attention to a real problem.
“I’m proud of what’s transpired the last 10 years. I’m proud of what I’ve addressed and what I’ve conquered and what I continue to conquer.”