Floyd, Eustachy home in on success
The old farmhouse at 3621 Woodland Ave. was built in 1906. It sits on a quiet street just west of the sprawling Iowa State campus in Ames.
In 1994, Tim Floyd bought it. He had been hired as ISU’s basketball coach, where he would lead the Cyclones to three NCAA tournaments in four seasons. Meanwhile, his wife, Beverly, restored the house to its original form. In 1998 they were seeking a buyer, the couple about to head off to the bright lights of the NBA, where the task of maintaining the Chicago Bulls dynasty, perhaps even with Michael Jordan still in uniform, awaited.
At the time, the promise of tomorrow was infinite for Tim Floyd.
In 1998, Larry Eustachy needed a home in Ames. He was set to succeed Floyd at Iowa State, following the footsteps of his one-time boss and longtime friend. Eustachy was considered one of the up-and-coming coaches in the game. He arrived with Floyd’s full recommendation.
At the time, the promise of tomorrow was infinite for Larry Eustachy too.
Up the ladder they were going: one into town, one out of town; one to conquer the NBA, one to take the Big 12 by storm. Each had huge expectations for success.
So Tim Floyd sold Larry Eustachy his home on Woodland Avenue.
On Tuesday, Floyd recalled that day by saying, in a coy tone, that he gave a sweetheart deal to his buddy. Eustachy, with just as much comedy, said it went the other way.
“If you ask Tim, he’ll say he got screwed on the deal,” Eustachy said. “And I say I got screwed on the deal.”
The two friends, confidants and one-time real estate transaction participants will meet up Wednesday when Floyd’s UTEP Miners (19-5, 7-2) travel to play Eustachy’s Southern Miss Golden Eagles (18-6, 7-4). The game is significant in the race for the Conference USA championship.
It’s a long way from that heady day in Ames, where Eustachy would soon take the budding power Floyd had built to heights not seen at Iowa State before or since.
Neither is young anymore – Floyd is about to turn 57, Eustachy is 55. Neither is a hot coaching commodity. Neither works in the national spotlight they once chased and then thrived in. This is C-USA. Dick Vitale will not be courtside at Reed Green Coliseum.
Each man has been bounced from the big-time for various setbacks, scandals and personal foibles – feuds with bosses, embarrassing antics, NCAA investigations and so on.
None of it was as bad as it first appeared. Some of it was nothing at all. The coaching business isn’t built for patience and perspective, though. Perception can be everything. You’re on your way up or you’re on your way down – moving in or moving out.
“We’ve been down the pipe, both of us,” Eustachy said. “And both have the scars on our fannies to prove it.”
With it has come wisdom though; the confidence, each says, in knowing what’s important and what isn’t, what matters and what doesn’t.
So here they are, two meandering career paths meeting up again, two coaches who through it all have been able to fall back on a singular ability – they know how to win ballgames. They aren’t just recruiters or showman in a business full of them. They’re real coaches.
And what they know now, perhaps more than ever, is to appreciate the work, the experience and the shared journey. Two guys who once swapped a house on the way to the big-time are playing in mid-February.
It’s for a share of first place.
It’s Tuesday afternoon and both are on the phone together, laughing, joking and busting each other’s chops. This is what friends do.
Floyd is claiming he needs extra time with his players to prepare defensively for what he mockingly calls the “intricate offense” of the Eagles. Eustachy tells him not to bother; USM isn’t even going practice for the game, so UTEP shouldn’t take it too seriously either.
They are enjoying every last minute of their jobs and this is part of it.
Old friends, new competition.
“I got a technical in the first minute,” Eustachy recalled. “I could see Tim down there laughing at me.”
It might be impossible to get Coach K and Roy Williams on a three-way call the day before a Duke-Carolina game. And if you do, it isn’t going to go down like this. Eustachy and Floyd appear to appreciate a neutral judge to rule on their various “disputes.”
Consider that Floyd owns a vacation home on a fishing lake about 45 minutes from USM’s Hattiesburg campus. Eustachy had enjoyed complete reign over there, until recently.
“I offered free access,” Floyd explained. “Then he’d leave his worm boxes out on the dock. And his Coke cans out there. And his rods and reels. I didn’t want the property values to drop, so I had to cut off access for a few months.”
“Yeah, well, I’m sitting in your fishing house eating your Vienna sausage right now,” Eustachy teases. “You know, he builds a new house and won’t tell me where the key is. Tim, why isn’t the key under the mat?”
The two first met back in December 1984, when Floyd was an assistant at UTEP and Eustachy was on the staff of Mississippi State. They were hard-charging assistants of great promise when they spoke at El Paso’s old Sun Bowl Classic. They hit it off because they each worked for demanding, old school head coaches – Don Haskins at UTEP, Bob Boyd at Mississippi State.
“We could trade stories about how they’d get so mad they wouldn’t talk to us for months on end,” Eustachy said.
When Floyd became a head coach at Idaho, Eustachy joined his staff. Through the years, they talked almost every day, in good times and tough moments. They shared each other’s success, cheered each other’s victories and were there when things broke bad and a lot of folks didn’t return calls.
Eustachy never wavered when Floyd bombed out with the Jordan-less Bulls or resigned in the middle of the O.J. Mayo investigation circus at USC.
Floyd never turned away when pictures of Eustachy drinking beer with college kids hit the Internet, leading to a divorce, a firing by Iowa State and the admission of alcoholism.
“He’s always been in my corner,” Eustachy said.
“Larry is a true friend,” Floyd said.
It can be a confusing profession – unpredictable in what is deemed acceptable; unexpected in who is and isn’t given another shot at the top.
Consider Eustachy. Iowa State is not an easy job, especially in the Big 12. Yet he led it to two league titles and in 2000 got the Cyclones to the Elite Eight only to lose a heartbreaker to eventual national champion Michigan State (in Auburn Hills, no less). ISU has just one NCAA tournament appearance since Eustachy was fired. Last year, its coach, Greg McDermott, voluntarily left to take over Creighton.
Eustachy won a lot in Ames. He drank a lot more though, literally boozing his way out of the job. In 2003, the pictures of him partying with coeds and Natural Light did him in. As embarrassing as it was, as quickly as he became a national punch line, it was for the best, Eustachy said. The incident sent him to rehab and changed his life for the better. He’s almost eight years sober now.
So he’s essentially the same coach that won all those games at one of the toughest jobs in the Big 12.
“I’m a much better coach now,” he said. “I drank every night. A hangover was a way of life. A lack of sleep was a way of life. When you start to drink, you stop maturing. I started drinking at 18.”
Yet of all the coaches the big-time has given second and third chances too, it hasn’t called Eustachy back up. It wasn’t coaching or compliance that got him fired. It was alcohol. He’s proven he’s done with that.
Eustachy says he doesn’t really care. He sounds believable. He’s happier now, he says. This is better, he insists. He’s on his way to posting his fourth 19-plus win season in five years. The other year, he gave back part of his salary because he said he didn’t deserve it.
Once, he admits he would’ve coveted the chance to get back to the top. Now he sees how fortunate he is to be coaching a team at a school that appreciates him. The rest is just window dressing. He thinks Floyd sees it the same way.
“No, we’re way past that,” Eustachy said. “If he’s 33 and I’m 32, at that stage of the game, our egos probably would’ve been different.
“It doesn’t make one bit of difference,” he said of the nationally televised games and trappings of fame. “At the end of the day, are you at peace? I’m at peace. I think Tim is too.”
Floyd left the booming Iowa State program to take a daring – and multi-million dollar – shot at the Bulls. He was the ultimate NBA outsider, about to take the reigns of an iconic six-time championship team, replacing Phil Jackson. At the time, this was the biggest job in all of basketball.
“I took it being very realistic,” Floyd said. “I knew the team was going to be dismantled. I didn’t know if it would be in the first year or three years later.”
It turned out to be the first year – Jordan, Scottie Pippen and others were gone before Floyd coached a single practice. It was immediately an impossible job. The whole franchise was a mess. In four seasons he compiled a disastrous 49–190 record. That was the gamble.
“It was an incredible opportunity the Bulls gave me. I didn’t want to have regrets at 70 years old, saying, ‘I didn’t have the courage to walk into maybe the most difficult pro job anyone ever has.’
“I wouldn’t change a thing.”
He later went 41-41 in one year coaching the New Orleans Hornets and then wound up at USC, where he reached three NCAA tournaments in four seasons. A NCAA investigation into former star O.J. Mayo however, where he was accused of giving money to one of Mayo’s associates, left him feeling unsupported by then Trojans athletic director Mike Garrett. So Floyd resigned.
“I felt I was being made the issue when I wasn’t the issue,” Floyd said. “And that was proven when an 18-month investigation did not find one violation involving either me or any member of my coaching staff.
“I just lived by my convictions. I knew it would work out. And it has.”
Floyd’s father, Lee, coached at Southern Miss for 14 seasons. His mother, Alice, still lives in Hattiesburg. Tim was born there and attended the school for a couple years. His roots in the state run deep.
Eustachy is quick to acknowledge he got the Golden Eagles job because Floyd pushed him to the USM administration.
“I knew he’d be a great fit and he has been,” Floyd said. “He’s built a top 50 program there. That program is now better than half the programs in the major conferences.
“You know, with Larry, he’s really misunderstood. He’s a great, great person. He checks in on my 87-year-old mother all the time. He’s just not a perception guy. What you see is what you get.
“I really admire what he’s done with his life. He said that he wasn’t going to drink again. And he hasn’t. That’s hard.”
Meanwhile, Floyd returned to UTEP, where he’d started his coaching career. He had maintained a father-son relationship with legendary coach Don Haskins, keeping him popular with fans. He’s got a dangerous, veteran team, plays in front of rowdy, 10,000-plus crowds and is reveling in being at a school where he is appreciated. It’s a lot closer to high major basketball than most think.
“I’m at a great place; we’re very happy and feel lucky to have this job.”
So who got the best of that house sale, the one from a moment in their lives that seems so long ago?
Floyd recalls selling it for $240,000, a steal since he said he had an offer for $500,000. Eustachy says it was between $350,000 and $400,000. Later, Floyd figures it was maybe $300,000. Neither guy sounds particularly believable, a fish tale on both sides.
A public records search showed the sale went down for $350,000. Floyd originally bought the place for $245,000 and claims there were at least $80,000 in renovations. The house is currently assessed at $505,000. It’s owned by Eustachy’s ex-wife.
One question remains, how many times in college basketball history has there been a game featuring one coach who sold his house to the other coach?
“We gave him a hell of a deal,” Floyd said, laughing.
“Oh, that’s such bull,” Eustachy interrupted, laughing even harder.
“Obviously, because our team had done well, it drove the property value up,” Floyd deadpanned.
“He was coming off a 12-18 season; it wasn’t like his stuff was flowing,” Eustachy pointed out.
“As I recall, we had a lot of demand for the house,” Floyd said. “Just being the friend I am, I said (to his wife) ‘Bev, we’ve got to give Larry a deal.’”
Then Floyd joked (we think) that he may have made his recommendation on a successor at Iowa State contingent on taking the house off his hands.
“Four other low major coaches also put in a bid with me,” he said.
“I remember this,” Eustachy said. “Two weeks after we got into that house the water heater broke. It cost me five grand to replace it. Five grand. I called him up and he thought that was real funny.”
“I knew something was wrong with that thing,” Floyd laughed.
“It was a good house,” Eustachy said. He then paused and chuckled. “Of course, little did anyone know, that five years later, there’d be television helicopters flying overhead trying to take pictures of me after my drinking deal.”
Floyd laughed at that one. Eustachy laughed even harder. Ames is a long time ago. The battle for Conference USA never felt so good.