Monday, May 5, 2003

Eustachy hearing may take weeks

By Tom Witosky
Des Moines Register

AMES, Iowa - Larry Eustachy wants to remain as Iowa State's head men's basketball coach, but a legal battle between the coach and the school, which is trying to fire him, could take a month or longer.

That's what Eustachy's 10-year, multimillion dollar contract with Iowa State indicates.

And there are millions of dollars at stake as the school and Eustachy's lawyers wrangle over the coach's future.

"Larry wants a second chance and he wants to stay at Iowa State," said Jerry Crawford, one of Eustachy's lawyers. "We believe there is good reason why he should be given that opportunity."

Eustachy and his lawyers have until Monday to decide whether to ask Iowa State for a hearing to review athletic director Bruce Van De Velde's decision to fire the coach.

Van De Velde announced on Wednesday that he was initiating procedures to dismiss Eustachy, 47, for behavior "inconsistent with his responsibility to conduct himself in a manner that reflects positively on Iowa State University and the university's athletic programs."

Van De Velde made his decision after The Des Moines Register reported that Eustachy, the state's highest-paid employee, acknowledged to school officials that he used bad judgment and made bad decisions at a party in late January in Columbia, Mo.

The Register published photographs taken at the party by a Missouri student. The photos show the coach, who is married, with beer and embracing and kissing women on the cheek or being kissed on the cheek.

Eustachy also attended a party in January 2002 at a fraternity house at Kansas State University in which he wound up in an argument with a student who found the coach's arm around his 19-year-old sister.

The disclosure of Eustachy's behavior ignited a national controversy over whether the coach should keep his job.

Eustachy acknowledged at a news conference that he was an alcoholic and was seeking treatment. He also acknowledged that his drinking had been out of control for many years and that other instances similar to the parties were in his past.

That news conference took place less than three hours after Van De Velde notified the coach's other Des Moines lawyer, Doug Gross, of his intention to fire Eustachy.

By instituting procedures for a "just cause" dismissal, the school is attempting to fire Eustachy without having to pay him any additional money.

If school officials can't fire Eustachy for just cause, then they would be presented with a difficult choice: Either retaining Eustachy at a cost of at least $1.1 million annually or facing the prospect of buying out his contract.

If they need to buy out his contract before June 30, 2006, it would cost the athletic department $2.5 million, according to the contract.

Eustachy said at his news conference - and in several interviews since - that he wants to continue on Iowa State's coach.

Crawford said that Eustachy's insistence that he remain as head coach is genuine and that trying to reach a financial settlement is far less desirable.

But that could change, particularly if school officials and Eustachy would decide to bring the controversy to an end in order to avoid more nationwide publicity. Last week, university president Gregory Geoffroy called the attention "embarrassing." This week, Sports Illustrated is expected to include a report on the Eustachy case.

Eustachy's contract permits the school to dismiss him without financial obligation only if he is found to have:

• Committed a criminal act other than a simple misdemeanor.

• Engaged in a major violation of NCAA rules.

• Violated school regulations that have a "materially adverse impact" on the university or its athletic program.

• Or engaged in "any gross misconduct which is substantially likely to have a materially adverse impact on the university or its athletic programs."

Proceedings to dismiss Eustachy are outlined in the coach's contract, which he signed in March 2001, soon after the Cyclone basketball team won its second Big 12 Conference championship in as many years.

Under the contract, Eustachy has five days to request a hearing before a university official after being notified that the school plans to fire him. If Eustachy does so - and Monday marks the fifth day since school officials told him he was being fired - a hearing would be scheduled by Tahira K. Hira, assistant to the president for external relations and executive administration.

Hira is required to hold a hearing within 20 days of receiving the request. The contract also provides no deadline for Hira to make a decision.

The contract also says that the decision may be appealed to the president of the university. There is no language in the contract specifying whether only Eustachy could appeal Hira's ruling if it is unfavorable, or whether both sides could appeal.

The contract specifies no timeline or procedures for Geoffroy to make a final ruling.

The contract & NCAA violations

Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy's contract lists a major violation of NCAA rules as grounds for dismissal, without the school being required to pay him any additional money.

But the contract would permit Eustachy to collect a buyout even if NCAA officials discovered a major violation within the program committed by any of Eustachy's assistant coaches.

Eustachy would be permitted to collect a buyout if he were fired and he could prove that he had no knowledge of the violations, or if he failed to take prompt action to address and report the violation.

The rule violations by Eustachy that were made public on Friday are considered secondary rather than major violations by the NCAA. Iowa State released documents showing that Eustachy had improperly paid cash to players in connection with free-throw shooting contests.

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