Archive for Wednesday, May 7, 2003

ISU picking up pieces

Ames, campus rattled by Eustachy scandal

May 7, 2003


— The conference championships Iowa State won under Larry Eustachy brought the school some of its brightest moments.

During the last week Eustachy was the key figure as it went through one of its darkest periods, battering the image of this normally tranquil campus and leaving a basketball program in disarray and a community divided.

"I don't ever remember an issue as divisive as this," said Dr. Jon Fleming, an Ames physician and longtime Iowa State booster. "It's been an ugly, messy time."

Now the university must patch it all up following Eustachy's resignation.

After first vowing to fight for his job, Eustachy stepped aside Monday, one week after the publication of embarrassing photos of him drinking and kissing young women at a fraternity party. With a $1.1 million salary, he had been Iowa's highest paid state employee and was the AP national coach of the year in 2000.

"We've seen it in politics, but never thought of it happening here," said Matt Moles, an ISU sophomore. "It was educational in how fast a person can fall from grace."

The photos were accompanied by reports of Eustachy drinking at parties with students in Columbia, Mo., and Manhattan. The Missouri student who took the snapshots sent them to The Des Moines Register, triggering a week marked by one startling development after another:

l Eustachy said last Wednesday he is an alcoholic and is seeking treatment. Three hours later, athletic director Bruce Van De Velde suspended Eustachy and recommended that he be fired, an action that could not take effect immediately because the coach had five days to appeal.

l Steve Barnes, Eustachy's top assistant, was suspended after allegedly telling a player and his family that they needed to get behind Eustachy and "go after the people that got us." Barnes denied making that remark.

l The next day, Iowa State disclosed that Eustachy broke NCAA rules by twice paying players to make free throws. The NCAA suspended Eustachy for one game.

l A student manager for the basketball team said he was fired because of his support for Eustachy. School officials said the manager yelled profanities and threats during a meeting with Van De Velde.

Weeks before the Eustachy story broke, assistant coach Randy Brown was charged with possession of child pornography after his office computer was seized. Later, two players were charged with alcohol-related offenses.

"It was surreal," Fleming said. "You just couldn't have written a scenario like that."

Van De Velde's recommendation to fire Eustachy angered many fans who thought the coach should be given a second chance. Some threatened to withdraw their financial support if Eustachy wasn't the coach, and players threatened to transfer.

Students rallied several times on campus in support of Eustachy, a hyperactive coach who prowled the sideline in a black turtleneck sweater and guided Iowa State to Big 12 championships in 2000 and 2001. Football player Hiawatha Rutland led chants of "Larry, Larry, Larry" at one rally.

In this stormy atmosphere, the university is trying to present a united front while Van De Velde looks for a new coach. Gary Thompson, an All-American at Iowa State in 1956-57, wonders how the program will be perceived.

"Most coaches will want to know if they're going to have somebody in the administration that supports them," Thompson said. "I'm not saying (Iowa State) won't do that, but they're going to have to sell this new person, if that's their question, that they're going to be behind him."

Thompson said he'll continue to support Iowa State even though he thought Eustachy, who wants to coach again, should have been allowed to stay.

Another booster, Bob Gitchell, isn't as forgiving. Gitchell is giving up his front-row seats at basketball games and ending his donations.

"I hope things work out well. I wish no one ill will through this whole thing," Gitchell said. "The bottom line is I'm just disappointed."

University President Gregory Geoffroy said the administration will insist the new coach's contract contain strong language on behavior.

"All coaches of major intercollegiate athletic teams are highly visible people," Geoffroy said. "Because of that, they have a unique responsibility to represent the university well.

"It is absolutely essential that any coach we consider understands that."

Geoffroy said he was confident the hiring of a new coach would help reunite the Iowa State community.

Fleming thinks the university can count on something else, too.

"Time is an incredible healer," he said. "The wounds are fairly deep right now, but it'll pass. All things come together with time."

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