As kids, when we got in trouble, we blamed a sibling. As adults, we blame a disease.
A guy gets caught with hookers? He’s a sex addict. A guy gets caught shoplifting? He’s a kleptomaniac.
A college coach gets caught drinking beers with coeds? He’s an alcoholic.
Larry Eustachy, the basketball coach at Iowa State, admitted his addiction last week. The timing was interesting. The school was on the verge of firing Eustachy after photos emerged showing him drinking and kissing women at several college parties after Iowa State games. The parties weren’t even on his campus.
“I have a problem,” Eustachy said at a quickly assembled news conference. “But I plan on being better.”
Since then, the school has been frozen in a politically correct limbo: Should it fire the coach, citing the principle of standards? Or should it keep him, citing the principle of helping those with addictions?
To me, it’s a no-brainer. His name might be Larry. And he might be an alcoholic. But he should be gone.
A university, not a rehab clinic
Whether Eustachy is truly a booze addict is not the issue. It’s healthy he admitted his illness. It’s appropriate he apologized. But Iowa State is a university, not a rehab clinic. And its first obligation is to the students it accepts — not to teachers or coaches.
So here is something you should know about Eustachy’s team of students: In the last two years, no fewer than four players have been arrested on charges related to substance issues. One player was found drunk and lying in a street. Another got nabbed for a DUI. Another was charged with marijuana possession. Another was charged with assault — in a bar.
You see a pattern here? What kind of message can a school send about booze when its basketball coach is hoisting a beer can and kissing coeds for souvenir snapshots? This is not about imbibing. It’s about image.
Remember, Eustachy didn’t wander into a lonely bar and drown his sorrows in a martini glass. He went to parties. With students. More than once. And he drank with them. And he posed with them. And he supposedly told them, “My team sucks.”
That’s not about alcohol. It’s about judgment. Bad judgment. Judgment made before the booze took over. He might have gotten smashed at parties, but he wasn’t smashed when he decided to attend. I understand how hard addiction is to break. But no one is addicted to frats or dorms.
Sending a dangerous message
What some sports types are addicted to is a sense of entitlement. Win games — as Eustachy has — and someone will clean up your messes. It’s a dangerous message to send, and keeping this coach would only enforce it.
“I came here to play basketball for Larry Eustachy,” one of his players, Jackson Vroman, declared last week. “I don’t know if I’ll be around here if he doesn’t coach.”
You see? Inside that statement is the very seed of the problem. I’m in sports. Do me wrong, and you might not have me. It’s a threat, wrapped in a posture of righteousness.
To which the school should say: Bye-bye, kid. There’s a difference between the NBA and college. At least there should be. And Eustachy, who is paid $1 million a year on a contract that runs until 2011, should have understood that when he signed.
As this is being written, another college coach, Alabama’s Mike Price, is accused of frequenting a strip club and having $1,000 worth of food and drink charged to his room by a dancer named Destiny. I can hardly wait to hear the addiction for that one. You can picture the news conference. The coach shrugs and says: “What can I say? You can’t fight Destiny.”
But you can fight hypocrisy. It begins with men like Eustachy, who deserves the boot. Were his actions criminal? No. Were they a fireable offense? In this job? You bet.
“It’s a shame,” said Vroman, the player. “Coach came out and said he was an alcoholic, and they basically turned their backs on him.”
Oh, really? Was that before or after he smiled for the cameras?
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org.