Colorado State basketball coach Larry Eustachy, left, is restrained by assistant Steve Barnes. Eustachy was placed on administrative leave Saturday and Barnes was named the interim coach. (Photo by Sean Star/Reporter-Herald)
FORT COLLINS – For the first time in 196 games, Larry Eustachy didn’t take the floor Saturday when his Colorado State men’s basketball team hosted Mountain West-leading Nevada.
The coach’s 27-year career, which has spanned five universities and plagued by controversy throughout, is again mired in turmoil.
CSU placed Eustachy on administrative leave just hours before tipoff, and he’ll remain away from the program until the athletic department concludes its investigation into the coach and his behavior.
“I have asked head coach Larry Eustachy to temporarily step away from the men’s basketball program, as he has been placed on administrative leave while we conclude our climate assessment,” CSU athletic director Joe Parker said in a prepared statement. “We are diligently working through this assessment as expeditiously as possible, understanding the importance of a thorough and fair process. No conclusions have been made. ”
CSU officials did not provide a time frame of how long the investigation will continue and did not provide an answer when asked whether the leave was paid and if Eustachy was allowed to contact his team.
Parker, deputy athletic director Steve Cottingham and compliance director Shalini Shanker began interviewing basketball players and staffers Tuesday regarding Eustachy’s conduct. While it remains unclear what sparked this investigation, multiple team sources told The Denver Post that Eustachy repeatedly screams profanities while singling out players during practice and that players further down the rotation get the worst of it.
Doing so would give CSU reason to terminate Eustachys contract — which runs through the 2020-2021 season — with cause, saving the school the more than $3 million it would owe him should he be fired without cause. This is the result of a zero-tolerance policy regarding derogatory language toward individuals Eustachy was given in 2014 by CSU when an internal investigation led by former athletic director Jack Graham discovered the coach emotionally and verbally abused players, punted basketballs in practice and threw unopened Diet Coke cans against walls during team meetings in the 2013-14 season. Eustachy admitted in that investigation that he “crossed the line” and later stepped “way over the line” when it came to creating a culture of fear and intimidation.
Graham recommended Eustachy be terminated with cause then; however, CSU president Tony Frank overruled him and instead instructed Eustachy to complete six anger management courses. Frank fired Graham later that year.
Serving as the Rams’ interim head coach until the active investigation concludes is Steve Barnes, a longtime assistant who many sources close to the program say has been an enabler of Eustachy’s behavior. The sources requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
“All Barnes does is echo every negative thing that comes out of Larry’s mouth, man. He’s just as bad,” one source said.
“He’s a mouthpiece for Coach (Eustachy) and a yes man. … He’s an enabler,” said another source.
Multiple sources from previous CSU teams under Eustachy echoed those sentiments. Barnes, 60, has been the Rams’ associate head coach since 2013 and held the same position under Eustachy at Southern Miss, for two stints at Iowa State and at Utah State.
When asked by The Denver Post on Saturday whether he’s ever spoken out against Eustachy when the coach has verbally attacked a player, Barnes declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Barnes was also asked what differentiates his style of coaching from Eustachy’s and said: “I don’t know. I think there are a lot of similarities, we both coach hard, we both get guys to try and do their best.”
Parker couldn’t be reached for comment Saturday to address why Barnes, who was high school and college teammates with Eustachy, was placed in charge of the program.
In almost six full seasons at CSU, Eustachy, 62, is 121-74, which ties Stew Morrill for the second-most victories in program history behind Jim Williams. Under Eustachy’s direction, the Rams went to the NCAA Tournament during his first season (2012-13), have twice reached the NIT (2014-15, 2016-17) and lack a Mountain West championship. After Saturday’s 76-67 loss to Nevada, the Rams fell to 10-15 overall and 3-9 in conference play.
In 2003, Eustachy was fired from his position as the head coach at Iowa State after photos were published by The Des Moines Register of him kissing co-eds and holding a beer at a party at Missouri shortly following his team’s loss to the Tigers. Eustachy also reportedly attended a party at Kansas State after an Iowa State loss. Eustachy won back-to-back Big 12 titles with Iowa State in 1999-2000 and 2000-2001, was named The Associated Press coach of the year in 2000 and led the Cyclones to an Elite Eight appearance.
His base salary at CSU this season is $985,012 and his contract, which has been extended by one season three times, gives him a 2 percent raise every year.