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A Clinic of Bad Behavior

Iowa State's Eustachy and Alabama's Price put their careers in jeopardy with reckless incidents.

May 02, 2003|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

Contracts routinely prohibit it.

No one uses it in conversation.

But folks in Ames, Iowa, and Tuscaloosa, Ala., now have working definitions for the word turpitude.

As in, acts of baseness.

As in, the recent conduct of Iowa State basketball Coach Larry Eustachy and Alabama football Coach Mike Price, conduct reckless enough that their multimillion-dollar jobs are in jeopardy.

Conduct embarrassing enough to threaten every aspect of their coaching performances -- recruiting, commanding respect from their players, maintaining fan loyalty and, of course, winning games.

All of which affects the pocketbooks of their employers, institutions of higher learning and huge revenue.

As David Fisher, a member of the Iowa Board of Regents, said of Eustachy: "If we don't fire him, it's going to have a devastating effect at the box office."

Eustachy, 47, drank and partied with students at Missouri and Kansas State after games last season, incidents made public from photographs of the coach kissing female students on the cheek while holding a beer.

He also told his party pals from those rival schools, "My team sucks," which didn't earn him sympathy in Ames.

Iowa State suspended Eustachy -- who is under contract for $1.1 million a year through 2011 -- with pay. Athletic Director Bruce Van De Velde intimated that other incidents have come to light and recommended to school officials Eustachy be fired even though the coach acknowledged he is an alcoholic currently receiving treatment.

Price, according to published reports, spent hundreds of dollars at a Pensacola, Fla., strip club two weeks ago. The next morning, a young woman ordered more than $1,000 in food and drinks from his hotel room while he was playing golf. Price, 57, paid the tab later that day.

Administrators met with the coach Thursday, and his future at Alabama could be decided at a trustees meeting Saturday. Price, who took the job in December after 14 seasons at Washington State, might have less leverage than Eustachy because he has yet to sign his seven-year, $10-million contract.

Alabama is already on probation for a recruiting scandal and former football coach Mike DuBose and basketball coach Wimp Sanderson have admitted they were involved in affairs with athletic department employees.

The Crimson Tide is tired of its tarnished image.

"You don't really understand what it's like to be a coach or player at Alabama until you're there," said former player Shaun Alexander, Alabama's all-time leading rusher and Price's golf partner at a Birmingham pro-am Wednesday.

"[Price] is a grown man, though, and he can't act like a little kid."

Swift, fair resolutions for both coaches are problematic because of the unique landscape of college athletics, where athletes under their supervision are neither grown men nor little kids.

"Everyone understands that high school and youth coaches are supposed to be role models, and nobody expects pro coaches to be character builders," said Jim Thompson, director of the Stanford-based Positive Coaching Alliance.

"College coaches are in limbo between the two. It's a big business, but it's also still about teaching."

Ethical standards are elastic. Coaches have survived everything from hitting their wives to throwing chairs to excusing the criminal misconduct of players.

But swill beer and cozy up to female students from a rival school? Throw around cash at a strip club like a sailor on shore leave? That invites ridicule and undermines a coach's ability to do what it takes to win.

Imagine the snide comments about Price rival Southeastern Conference coaches might make to recruits and their parents. Imagine the fun fans at rival Big 12 Conference schools might have at Eustachy's expense when Iowa State visits.

A bar near the Missouri campus is holding "Larry Eustachy Night," offering a beer, a kiss by a waitress and a photo.

To many observers, the damage has doomed their careers.

"If they were working for me, I would definitely say goodbye," noted ethicist Michael Josephson said. "They have disqualified themselves from wearing my uniform.... Out of dignity, they should resign."

The coaches, both of whom are married with children, are fighting to keep their jobs.

"It's the only way I know how," Eustachy told ESPN Radio. "You preach that and you teach that. I just believe that I'm the best person for this situation."

Eustachy led Iowa State to the Elite Eight in 2001 but has lost 17 consecutive Big 12 road games. There also is evidence his problems have seeped through the program.

In February, forward Clint Varley was charged with drunk driving. In March, center Jared Homan was charged with public intoxication after he was found lying on a sidewalk in Ames.

Eustachy said he realized he needed help after a meeting with Homan.

"We talked about his involvement with alcohol," Eustachy said. "When he left, I felt like the biggest hypocrite."

Both coaches have supporters on their campuses and in the media downplaying the misdeeds.

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