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Eustachy should get a shot at redemption
If Larry Eustachy is forced out at Iowa State, his real sin won't be that he was photographed like the star of some "Coaches Gone Wild" video, with a beer in one hand and a student half his age in the other.
It will be that he lost.
In the tournament, in the conference, on the road -- just enough losses to embolden his critics to call for his job.
There is no defending what Eustachy did on at least two occasions and probably more.
There is no denying that a university's reputation is damaged when pictures of its head basketball coach behaving like a drunken frat boy turn up on the front pages of Iowa's biggest newspaper. Especially when the coach also happens to be a husband, father and the highest-paid state employee.
But unless those extra episodes Iowa State officials keep referring to as "extreme poor judgment" involve breaking laws or rules, dismissing Eustachy isn't just cruel -- it's an example of extreme poor judgment by the school itself.
Eustachy has already had to face his family, considerable public ridicule and his own flawed nature. He's promised to try and make amends. The least he deserves is a chance.
The same could be said for just-hired Alabama football coach Mike Price. He spent Thursday meeting with school officials amid reports about a free-spending night at a topless bar in Florida and that a woman charged more than $1,000 in food and drinks to his hotel room bill the next morning.
Whether Price gets to coach even one game for the Crimson Tide could be decided at a trustees meeting Saturday. Whether Eustachy gets to coach another at Iowa State may already be a fait accompli.
When athletic director Bruce Van De Velde suspended Eustachy and urged the school to fire its coach, he said, "Regardless of the reason, we have a right to expect better from such a prominent member of the Iowa State community."
No argument there.
But the same could be said about Van De Velde and David Fisher, a member of the Iowa Board of Regents who said, "You can't hide behind a beer bottle. If we don't fire him, it's going to have a devastating effect at the box office."
And that's what this is about, really.
About wins and losses, sagging profits and gate receipts -- not to mention the suspicions of some people inside ISU's athletic department that Eustachy has become more trouble than he's worth.
He went 101-59 and won consecutive Big 12 championships in five seasons at Iowa State and was coach of the year in 2000, when the Cyclones tore through the NCAA tournament to reach the round of eight.
But turn that record upside down and read it another way: Eustachy hasn't made it back to the NCAAs the last two seasons, something that hasn't happened at ISU since the waning years of Johnny Orr's tenure.
The Cyclones went 12-19 in 2001-2 and 17-14 last season, finishing ninth in the conference at 5-11. They've lost their last 17 conference road games.
Looking back, maybe it shouldn't have come as such a shock that Eustachy was drinking himself stupid at times.
"I can't have two or three beers. I've got to have 10 or 12," he said. "When I do that, you see a side of me that is well documented.
"That's not who I am. That's not who I want to be. But I am making no excuses. I am where I am because of what I've done."
More than a few coaches still roaming Division I sidelines have done worse.
Bob Knight choked a player, threw a chair at an official, kicked his own son, assaulted a cop in Puerto Rico, bullied his staff and occasionally left soiled toilet paper in a player's locker as a motivational tool.
He coached at Indiana for 29 seasons, never once apologized and never had to ask for a second chance. And it wasn't until the last of his three national and 11 conference championships were fading memories that Indiana president Myles Brand found the courage to hand Knight the university's "zero tolerance" policy -- something he had drawn up just for the occasion.
But at least Knight graduated his kids and didn't cheat. Last season ended with academic scandals at Georgia, Fresno State and St. Bonaventure that hurt the integrity of entire institutions.
Talk about impaired judgment: Those weren't just cases of coaches going wild, but of their bosses in athletic departments and administrations joining in, turning over programs to known troublemakers like Jim Harrick and Jerry Tarkanian.
Like Knight, both men went elsewhere to get a second chance. Eustachy, who acknowledged he's begun treatment for alcoholism, pleaded to remain at Iowa State to pursue his.
"I believe in second chances," he said, "I really do."
If there's any consolation, Eustachy already has secured the only one that matters. Sitting alongside him at a news conference the other day, his wife, Stacy, faced the cameras.
"He's a human being like everybody in here," she said. "He makes mistakes like you all do, like I have."
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press.