Changes mean Larry Eustachy is most experienced coach in conference by far

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Larry Eustachy. Credit: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports.

Today rings in the sixth year of Larry Eustachy as the head coach of Colorado State Rams men’s basketball.

Over the course of his first five seasons, Eustachy’s bent but never broken, a saying he gave to his 2016-17 “Magnificent Seven,” who struggled through, and yet rose above a great deal of adversity.

In five seasons, Eustachy’s Rams own 111 wins and 59 losses, a 65.3 winning percentage overall, the best in CSU basketball history. They’ve been ranked in the Top-25 twice, both occurring during the 2012-13 season, Eustachy’s first in Fort Collins. And, the team not only made the NCAA Tournament that year, they also beat Missouri before losing to the eventual champion Louisville Cardinals in the third round.

Outside of that magical 2012-13 season, Eustachy’s led his Rams to two NIT appearances and they also struggled through two seasons while hovering around .500. But this year, even with only seven players eligible during most of conference play, Eustachy pushed them to a 21-10 regular season as he won Mountain West Coach of the Year.

And, he’s not only an influential coach in terms of CSU hoops history, Eustachy is now the class of the conference in terms of coaching experience, wins and longevity.

Multiple coaching changes have occurred lately in the Mountain West, leaving Eustachy, 61, as the most senior member of the coaching ranks.

Steve Fisher, the former head coach of San Diego State University, retired on Tuesday after 18 years with the school. His 168 victories with the school represent the most of any coach in Mountain West history, and he took his Aztecs to the NCAA Tournament six times, pushing them to the Sweet 16 twice. And from 2005-16, SDSU was in the postseason every year, either in the Big Dance or the NIT. But that streak of 11 years ended this season, and now, the 72-year old has left the school and the game.

And 11 days ago, Craig Neal was fired by the New Mexico Lobos after four years as the team’s head coach. It followed a mass exodus of players from the program and three straight years of nary a postseason berth.

Now, two of the most prestigious programs in the conference are headed by new coaches; former assistant Brian Dutcher for SDSU and former New Mexico State head coach Paul Weir in Albuquerque.

In Las Vegas, where the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels are the third big-time program in the MW, Marvin Menzies will enter his second season in charge in 2017. In fact, six schools’ coaches were hired since 2015, representing more than half the league.

Simply, it’s a conference in transition, hoping to regain the status it once held.

In 2013, the Mountain West sent five teams to the NCAA Tournament’s group of 68, with Boise State losing in the First Four. That left UNLV, SDSU, New Mexico and Colorado State as four representatives in the group of 64 teams.

This year, only one team – Nevada – got into the big dance due to winning the Mountain West Tournament. Eric Musselman, who was nearly lured away by the Cal Bears of the Pac-12, has brought his Wolf Pack along quickly, winning 24 games and the CBI in 2016 before winning the Mountain West Tournament and 28 games this year, as the lone conference representative in the Big Dance.

For those concerned about the health of the conference, they’ve got to be hoping Musselman can continue what he’s started in Nevada, at least this next season.

The longest-tenured head coach is Leon Rice at Boise State and the Broncos have enjoyed five straight 20-win seasons. Then, it’s Dave Pilpovich of Air Force, and third, is Eustachy.

Eustachy, who just finished his 26th season as a college head coach, surpassed both 100 wins with Colorado State last year as well as 500 career wins overall. He’s the only head coach to win 24-plus games in a season at five different schools and now Rams fans are hopeful the conference’s highest-paid coach can lead the team to a conference championship in the near future.

In October of last year, Eustachy’s contract was extended through the 2020-21 season and he’s said since he was hired by the school in that 2012 press conference that he wants to finish his career at Colorado State.

The up-and-down tenure has brought along some criticism.

The Rams’ best season under Eustachy came when he inherited Tim Miles’ 2012-13 team which featured a group of seniors who had grown up together in Nebraska as well as the addition of senior center Colton Iverson. During the last four years, his recruiting has focused on landing mainly junior college and Division I transfers rather than high school players who can grow over the course of 3-4 years.

Last season, with four DI transfers sitting on the bench and waiting to become eligible, the Rams had three players – all JUCO transfers – become academically ineligible, leaving Colorado State with a mere seven players. Eustachy not only caught some backlash from fans for that, but then an incident involving Emmanuel Omogbo, New Mexico assistant coach Terrence Rencher and Eustachy was caught on film following the teams’ game in January in which a verbal argument nearly got physical.

Then, in the midst of his season pushing him over the 500-win mark, Eustachy was again under fire when a report came out of an investigation surrounding his “culture of fear”. It was discovered through the investigation that former AD Jack Graham suggested Eustachy be fired for his unacceptable behavior.

“Everything we have been through…All the ups and downs…All the negativity…It never broke us. It didn’t even bend us,” Eustachy said after Prentiss Nixon‘s buzzer-beater win over rival Wyoming during senior night in late February.

With multiple coaching changes sweeping through the Mountain West landscape, Eustachy seems as safe as ever at CSU. Can he not only lead his Rams back to the NCAA Tournament, but simultaneously help lead the conference back to where it was a few years ago?

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