PITTSBURGH – Southern Mississippi’s practice at Consol Energy Center was over and the coaching staff huddled to decide the next move: another practice at an area gym or take in a movie?
“We’ve had enough,” head coach Larry Eustachy told assistant coach Leonard Perry, who nodded. “We’ve worked pretty hard.” Just then, assistant coach Steve Barnes walked out of the locker room to join the conversation.
Twenty years after their stint together at the University of Idaho – Eustachy as head coach, Barnes as assistant and Perry as starting point guard – the trio is back together, helping the Golden Eagles to just their third NCAA tournament appearance in 21 years.
Eustachy’s post-Idaho journey has been well-chronicled. He went to Utah State and Iowa State, with Barnes and Perry as assistants at both stops. After winning Big 12 titles in 2000 and 2001, pictures surfaced online of Eustachy partying with University of Missouri students at a campus party in 2003.
Eustachy admitted he was an alcoholic in a press conference and was eventually fired by Iowa State. He sat out a season before landing at Southern Miss.
“I haven’t had a drink in almost nine years. It was Rainier Beer that started it,” a relaxed Eustachy said. “I went through something that actually turned out to be extremely positive – the Iowa State experience, the firing, getting divorced. It was tough at first, but sobriety has been great.
“I’m remarried; life couldn’t be better.”
Eustachy’s son Hayden is the basketball team manager at LSU. His younger son, Evan, just finished high school.
After two losing seasons at Southern Miss, Eustachy has won at least 19 games five of the last six seasons, and brought the program back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991. His ninth-seeded Golden Eagles (25-8) face No. 8 Kansas State in the first of four games today in Pittsburgh.
“I’m really proud of it because it was such a tough nut to crack,” he said. “We really got hit by (Hurricane) Katrina and people don’t realize that. They identify with New Orleans, but we had 110 mile-an-hour winds that hit houses and knocked over trees, and it set back money appropriated for a new building and practice facility. We were in a trailer for four years, winning 20 games a year, quite a feat.”
Perry, Idaho’s head coach from 2001-06, spent six years as an assistant coach, advance scout and in pro scouting with the Indiana Pacers before joining Eustachy’s staff this season. Barnes, who had a three-year stint as head coach at San Jose State, has been with Eustachy for eight years in Hattiesburg.
Eustachy said he has “the best coaching staff in the country,” going into great detail praising Barnes and Perry. He’s just as open with his personal life.
“When I can tell my story about nine years of sobriety and how much better my life is because of it, I think it helps people,” he said. “I’ve got too many letters from people that were inspired by it and it’s part of my 12-step program to give back.
“I’m kind of proud of it, to be honest with you.”