Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Iowa's highest-paid drunk

Larry Eustachy is the State of Iowa’s highest-paid employee, earning about $1 million annually to coach Iowa State University’s men’s basketball team. Eustachy holds a prominent leadership position which requires him to represent the university publicly in various capacities, most notably as a recruiter for the basketball program. Like all coaches, Eustachy must personally sell students (and their parents) on the value of attending Iowa State over other schools, including Iowa State’s various competitors in the Big XII Conference. For all these reasons, Eustachy’s personal integrity is essential to his ability to perform his duties to Iowa State University and, more generally, to the Iowa taxpayers who pay his salary.

This week the Des Moines Register reported Eustachy, on two occasions, attended late-night parties on the campuses of two Iowa State opponents after games. At one such party, held on January 23 at the University of Missouri, Eustachy was photographed drinking with students and kissing several female students on the cheek. That Eustachy did this as a 47 year-old married man with two children is bad from a personal standpoint. That he did so as a representative of Iowa State University is bad from a professional standpoint, given the importance of a basketball coach’s reputation and integrity.

A year earlier, Eustachy attended a party at Kansas State University, like Missouri a conference rival of Iowa State. The Des Moines Register reported this account of Eustachy’s actions:

In January 2002, the coach was at an early-morning fraternity party in Manhattan, Kan., hours after his team lost a game to Kansas State, students told the Register. On that occasion, a fraternity member said he wound up in an argument with Eustachy because he found the coach's arm around his 19-year-old sister.

The woman told the Register that Eustachy walked into the house and complimented her on her appearance, saying that she should be attending the University of Kansas, where the girls are "much hotter."
Under Eustachy’s contract with Iowa State, which runs through 2011, the coach is required to provide "positive representation of the university and the university's athletic programs in private and public." It’s hard to argue Eustachy’s actions at the two parties did not violate this requirement. Eustachy admitted his actions, but earlier today refused to resign.

Eustachy’s defense proved more interesting than the photos in the Register. Eustachy claimed his job should be saved on the grounds that he’s an alcoholic:

"For the rest of my life I will seek counseling for this illness,'' [Eustachy] said. "I have no excuses for my behavior. ... We'll see what happens in the future, but I am looking forward to the future as a sober person.''
Eustachy says he deserves a “second chance” and should not be fired. This is an unfathomable position. By his own admission, Eustachy has coached a college basketball team for several years with the knowledge that he has a drinking problem. Eustachy said he often drinks “10 or 12” beers during the average workday. Who knows how often the coach was actually drunk while on the job. Who knows what image he was projecting while visiting recruits, representing Iowa State at alumni events, or attending NCAA functions.

Any suggestion that Eustachy’s behavior should be excused because he’s an alcoholic is absurd. If a person has a deadly virus and, knowing he’s infected, fails to obtain treatment and then infects other people, such a person could not defend his actions on the grounds that he was sick. While alcoholism is not contagious, the principle still applies. If you know you have a problem and fail to seek treatment, you are responsible for your actions. The only question is whether Iowa State should fire Eustachy for his misconduct.

The university should fire him, and word late this afternoon is that’s what will happen. Iowa State athletic director Bruce Van De Velde suspended Eustachy this morning and, pending a required five-day appeals period, the university’s president will likely fire him next week. This decision should enjoy no serious dissent. To do otherwise would be an approval of Eustachy coaching college students while admittedly drunk. Most college basketball coaches are fired for far less serious offenses, and Eustachy should receive nobody’s sympathy for his disgraceful actions.

If Eustachy placed any value on his own integrity (to say nothing of the university or the state’s), he would have resigned. But he declined to do so, saying that despite his “poor judgment” and “bad decisions,” it was not “my way” to simply resign. Frankly, coach, it was doing things your way that got you into trouble in the first place. Indeed, had it not been for the pictures in the Des Moines Register, Eustachy would probably have continued to ignore his drinking problem. Asking for a second chance when you were caught in the act is disingenuous, to say the least.

As a post script, I would suggest Iowa State consider hiring Eustachy’s predecessor, Tim Floyd, to return to coach the basketball program. Floyd made a mistake when he left Iowa State five years ago to coach a wretched Bulls team. But unlike Eustachy, Floyd’s error is forgivable without having to go through the Betty Ford Clinic.

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