By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist
The polls say the majority of us feel both Larry Eustachy and Mike Price deserved a second chance before losing their jobs at Iowa State and Alabama.
We don't know Larry, but we can tell he's in trouble. We know 47-year-old men should only party with frat boys in Will Ferrell movies. We're pretty sure we know self-destructive behavior when we see it, and we hurt for the guy, because we imagine he must be hurting to have done what he did. He isn't a coach right now, we think, he's a person; he needs a reach-out, needs someone to say they believe in him.
That's only right.
Never met Mike Price, either, but it isn't hard to imagine we know him. We certainly know folks -- regular folks -- a lot like him. He let his desire get in the way of his judgment. It happens. It's not criminal, and it's not even especially shocking or unfamiliar. He just got caught when the scrutiny was intense and the price was high. Bad luck.
Cut him some slack -- that's how we feel.
Maybe we can't quite imagine letting what these guys had slip away the way they did. Maybe we tell ourselves such things would never happen to us. And maybe we recoil at the speed with which their dream gigs and good reputations have gone up in smoke.
But at some basic level, we see ourselves in them, too. We know we're flawed characters just like they are, like everyone is. We understand the differences are just in degree and circumstance.
So we feel they deserved second chances, because we want to believe, when the time comes, someone will dig deep and cough up one more shot for each one of us. We feel it because we want to live in a world where redemption and forgiveness are real, and because the alternative is a damned uninhabitable place.
And we also feel they deserved second chances, because we want to give them; because granting them makes us feel good. (Sure, friends and former presidents abuse the kindness sometimes, but at the end of the day we figure it's better to risk getting burned every once in a while than to live life on a Monopoly board, with no stops and no opps between a man and his Jail sentence.) Brother can you spare a dime? We fish in our pockets. Please baby, please baby, please?! We're not like Lola Darling -- we bend our ears. Sorry seems to be the hardest word? Let us make it easier. Forgive me father, for I have sinned? Yes, son, go on. Larry and Mike come to us broken, and we want to make them feel whole again. They despair, and we offer them hope. And in renewing them, we renew ourselves.
So when the pollsters come around, asking whether, if it was up to us, we'd give Eustachy and Price second chances, we think of their press conferences, of the men and their families, looking so fragile and fried, looking so human, and we say, Yes. Because we feel for these guys. Of course we do.
That's our heart talking.
I love our heart. It inspires and cheers me.
But let's not be confused -- big and generous as it is, our heart's got nothing to do with the basic question of whether each coach had to go.
Because each coach had to go.
They were both well aware of the high expectations, professional and personal, that went along with their jobs, and they were further aware that there's no real difference between matters personal and professional when you're the top dog of a college sports program in a state with no professional sports. And along with all that, they both knew from the get-go that media attention, sometimes white-hot, and always present, was the workaday norm.
Still, Larry ends up at a Mizzou postgame party, smiling for the cameras, and Mike is loaning out his credit card for a new friend's big breakfast at the Pro-Am.
Do I wonder how it happened? Do I think the struggles between the better and worse angels on each man's shoulders must have been intense? Are there stories about the frailty of the human condition buried just beneath the surface of their experiences? Do I wish I could turn back the clock long enough to give them a chance to reconsider how they want to play things? Yes. Of course I do.
But is any of that wondering and wishing relevant to the question of their continued employment? No. They knew the job was dangerous when they took it, Fred. When things blew up, they had to go.
Eustachy crossed the line between faculty and student culture, and did it with a beer in his hand.
Can't do that.
They were both figureheads representing their universities, and the people and states that ran them.
They were among the highest paid employees in their respective states.
They were seen as standard-bearers.
They were teachers.
They were counselors to young men.
Plus -- and don't ever underestimate the importance of this -- they were now, and for the foreseeable future, doomed on the recruiting trail.
They left their schools open to derision from rivals, from local and national media, from folks just passing through, and from newborn babies taking their first squawks in Ames and Tuscaloosa just this morning.
Once points of pride, they were suddenly liabilities for boosters near and far. Eustachy went from respected coach of a program on the rise to punchline and drinking-game trigger word. Price quickly devolved from the white knight come to repair a sagging reputation and restore the glory of the Bear to another in a recent series of Tide football embarrassments and frustrations.
This is ultimately pretty simple, predictable stuff.
What's complicated is how sad and sudden things like this feel when they're done, and how that lingers. You forget whether an AD or a university president would or should give these guys a second chance, and wonder instead whether and how their wives, kids and siblings will see their way clear.
You think: Eustachy was building something at Iowa State, and Price was starting something at Alabama. And both opportunities are gone now and there ain't no getting them back.
You lead with your head and you know that that's the way it ought to be, the way it had to be, and you wait on word of the next guys who get a crack at those jobs.
But while you wait, in these few days of limbo, there's a sting, too, because you know limbo's liable to be a lot longer than a few days for Larry and Mike, because you have all this leftover heart for these two guys who blew it ... all this leftover feeling for second chances.
Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.