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Eustachy Comes Of Age At Utah State Former Vandals Coach Returns As A Mellowed, Life-Loving Man

They’re printing up 1,000 Larry Eustachy masks for today’s return of the former Idaho men’s basketball coach.

Wonder what they’ll do with the extra 200? Just kidding - attendance hasn’t been quite that bad.

The Eustachy who brings his Utah State Aggies into the Kibbie Dome for a 1 p.m. game against Idaho won’t be wearing a mask.

Sure, to Dome regulars he’ll look roughly the same as he did when he coached the Vandals from 1990-93. But he is much different.

The ‘97 version is a funny public speaker. He entertains boosters at his home in Logan. He’s been known to drive 90 miles for 7 a.m. breakfast meetings with boosters.

He’s mellowed. He’s enjoying life, his two young sons and a career that’s never seen a losing record in seven seasons.

At 41, maybe he’s grown up.

“I’d like to think I’m far more relaxed, comfortable,” said Eustachy, though those things probably won’t be identifiable in the heat of battle today.

Back in 1990, Eustachy was following close friend Kermit Davis, who all but walked on water in two championship seasons and was a big hit with boosters.

Eustachy, more reserved than Davis, was a first-time head coach of a team picked to win the Big Sky title, though it had lost Riley Smith and Otis Livingston. Lofty expectations weighed on him, as did the insecurity of working on a one-year contract.

“I never felt insecure about my coaching. It was all the other things I’d never done before,” Eustachy said. “I hadn’t dealt with writers, luncheons. I hadn’t had people critical of me. The first time the school paper wrote something critical of me, I was crushed.

“One thing I can say is I never tried to be him (Davis), I never tried to step out of character. I followed a real talented guy. That was a dream two years for Kermit and you add his personality and talent, yeah, you really have something. I think it shows in (Idaho) hiring him back.”

Eustachy is a primary reason Davis is back at Idaho. He hired Davis at Utah State in 1994 after Davis had been banished to the JC ranks following NCAA violations at Texas A&M;, his post-UI destination.

The two go back to 1981 when Eustachy was a volunteer assistant at Mississippi State and Davis was a point guard. Both eventually assisted Tim Floyd at UI in the mid-1980s.

“I think Larry, Tim and I all like each other because we were the most non-playingest suckers around,” Davis joked.

All three can coach, though Eustachy’s on-the-job training didn’t go as smoothly as Davis’.

“It was a tough situation for Larry,” Davis said, turning the clock back to 1990. “People get false expectations. They went to the finals of the (Big Sky) tournament. From there, it was a rebuilding process and they won 24 games in his third year.”

“I was, whatever you want to call it, walking around in a fog, paranoid,” Eustachy said. “But you compare Tim Floyd to where he is now. He’s a far better coach. I think a lot of it was my immaturity.”

That’s about as close as Eustachy gets to regrets over his UI tenure. And why should he apologize? His teams won 70 percent of their conference games, second-best in UI history.

Eustachy left for Logan within days after UI’s 24-8 ‘92-93 season, which ended with a disappointing home loss to Boise State in the conference championship.

Fast-forward to present day. Eustachy has won a regular-season Big West title and came within a basket of advancing to the NCAA Tournament last season. His Aggies played in the ‘95 NIT.

He’s in the second year of a seven-year contract that pays - when a $250,000 annuity kicks in - nearly $250,000 annually. He turned down the UNLV job last season.

“He just really seems to enjoy it more than he did before,” said Utah State assistant A.D. Rance Pugmire, one of 11 ex-UI athletic staffers in Logan.

Eustachy counts members of Utah State’s administration as some of his biggest supporters. The Aggies draw fairly well and have a talented team that will make a run at the Big West title this season.

“I owe everything to Idaho. It helped build my character and maturity and I’m much better for it,” he said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo


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