Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Floyd, Eustachy Share Special Bond in Conference USA
NEW YORK — Tim Floyd insists he has no special motivation in his first year as the head coach at Texas-El Paso, but his longtime friend Larry Eustachy believes otherwise.
“Some coaches will take jobs just to kind of get the golden parachute and finish it out,” Eustachy, the Southern Miss coach, said Wednesday at Conference USA media day in lower Manhattan.
“That’s not Tim Floyd. He would do it for free and he’ll do it harder than anybody. I know he’s going to have a huge impact on this league. Once you’re competitive you’re always competitive.”
Floyd, 56, and Eustachy, 54, share a long and special bond, one that allows them both to joke about which one has put on more pounds since last season and to uniquely understand the scandal that has impacted each man’s career.
“He’s my best friend in coaching and probably my best friend outside of coaching,” Eustachy said.
When Floyd took his first head coaching job at Idaho in 1986, the “first guy” he hired was Eustachy. More than a decade later, when Floyd resigned from Iowa State to coach the Chicago Bulls, it was Eustachy who replaced him. Now, after resigning from USC last June in the wake of the O.J. Mayo scandal, Floyd has followed Eustachy to Conference USA.
Following an internal investigation, USC vacated its 21 wins from the 2007-08 season, Mayo’s only year on campus, and withdrew from postseason consideration (including the Pac-10 tournament) for the 2009-10 season.
Asked if he thought he might never coach again in college because of the scandal, Floyd said: “I knew I would because I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. And I was so glad that that all came out. After an extensive 18-month investigation, there were no violations amongst any member of our coaching staff. As it turned out, they put the basketball program on probation for institutional control violations within the athletic department, and that’s fine.”
Floyd returned to UTEP, where he began his coaching career as an assistant to Hall of Famer Don Haskins from 1977-86. During that time, the Miners went to three straight NCAA tournaments from 1984-86.
The current UTEP team is without New Jersey native Derrick Caracter (pictured), now with the Los Angeles Lakers, and Arnett Moultrie, whom Floyd said he encouraged to transfer.
Yet it features 6-foot senior guard Randy Culpepper, the reigning Conference USA Player of the Year, and is considered one of the favorites to win the league, along with Memphis and Southern Miss.
Floyd insists he has nothing special to prove at UTEP, where he takes over for Tony Barbee, who left for Auburn.
“I know who I am,” Floyd said. “I’m just trying to coach and do what I like to do. I view this as a tremendous basketball school, as a school that probably has had more NBA players than the school that I left, has had bigger crowds than the school that I left, has a won a national championship and the school that I left had not.”
Still, Eustachy said, Floyd has worked as hard as any coach in the league since taking the job.
“There’s a real competitiveness that’s deep in him that will never leave him, ever leave him,” he said. “I don’t know who’s worked harder since he’s come in this league.”
Like Floyd, Eustachy came to Conference USA off a scandal.
In April 2003, The Des Moines Register ran a picture of Eustachy kissing several young women and holding a beer at a party near Missouri’s campus just hours after the Tigers defeated Eustachy’s Iowa State club that January.
The next day, Missouri’s student newspaper reported that Eustachy had propositioned several women at that party, and was so inebriated that someone had to call a cab for him. The Register also reported that Eustachy had been seen at a fraternity party at Kansas State hours after his team lost to the Wildcats.
Eustachy later held a press conference in which he apologized for his behavior and admitted he’d recently begun rehab treatment for alcoholism. He resigned that May.
“I’ve learned a lot,” Eustachy said of that time in his life. “I’ve matured a lot. I was very immature in my early coaching. I was the youngest Division 1 coach in the country at one time [at 33].”
After a year out of coaching, Southern Miss hired Eustachy in 2004. He has gone 83-81 in six seasons.
Asked if he felt the need to prove himself once he got to Conference USA, Eustachy said: “I’ve never had anybody question can I coach basketball. I think they’ve questioned, ‘Is he still drinking? What is he off the court? Is he just a guy that is sometimes out of control on the sideline. Who really is this guy?'”
In his previous coaching stints at Iowa State, Utah State and Idaho, Eustachy won league titles, something he still seeks at Southern Miss.
“We’ve always won the league and we haven’t won it here yet, and that’s what I want to do,” he said.
Now that they are coaching in the same league, both Floyd and Eustachy want to make the point that Conference USA is a legitimate league with plenty of traditional powerhouses.
They point out that Memphis made a “mockery” of the league by winning a Division 1 record-tying 64 straight games before UTEP ended the streak last January.
Still, Eustachy points out that Memphis proved it was one of the best teams in the nation –not just C-USA — by reaching the 2008 NCAA championship game against Kansas.
“They should’ve won the national championship that year with [Derrick] Rose,” Eustachy said.
Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson has been vocal in his desire to leave Conference USA for a BCS program, saying on Wednesday, “I don’t want to lie to you. In the ideal world, the SEC would call and we’d go tomorrow.”
Floyd coached at USC during the time John Calipari and Memphis dominated C-USA, but he argues that just because it isn’t a BCS conference, C-USA still boasts plenty of strong teams.
“I think anybody that understands basketball understands the history at these programs, how many great players have been at the University of Houston, Memphis, Tulsa, UAB,” he said.
“Since 2005, the Big Ten has had 14 draft picks. Conference USA has had 14 draft picks. Not many people recognize that. Last year we had four draft picks; the Pac-10 had two. Only one of them was from University of Memphis so there are other good players from other good schools.”
Removed from their respective scandals and bonded by a three-decade long friendship, Eustachy and Floyd are pressing forward in Conference USA.
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.