There never was much doubt that Larry Eustachy, Mike Price and George O'Leary would slip back into the college coaching ranks, despite their transgressions.
The surprise comes from where they landed and how soon.
Barely 10 months after Eustachy's fall from grace at Iowa State, he popped up at Southern Mississippi, saying he is ''a recovering alcoholic'' but is ready to jump back into the high-pressure world of college basketball.
Mike Price, fired for an indiscreet visit to a strip club before he even started at Alabama, grabbed a job several notches down in football stature and salary at Texas-El Paso.
O'Leary, cast away from the cathedral of college football, Notre Dame, for lying on his resume, wound up at, of all places, the University of Central Florida home of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
What's next? Will former Colorado and Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel surface from ignominy to take a job at Harvard? Will Jim Harrick and his knavish son return to some desperate school for a sequel to their Georgia follies?
As firing offenses go, the misdeeds of Eustachy, Price and O'Leary were of a lower order than those of some other coaches who committed various frauds in pursuit of victories. They didn't fix grades, pay off athletes, make deals with boosters, or hire hookers for recruiting.
What they did was undermine themselves with foolish behavior that could not, and should not, be tolerated.
The question for any school that considered hiring them, hoping to get a winner at a discounted price, was whether these coaches learned their lessons well enough to avoid further embarrassments and serve as models for their students.
Put another way, were the coaches worth the risk to the schools, and was there a fair balance between punishment and forgiveness?
Eustachy, Price and O'Leary all suffered shame, guilt and steep financial losses. They had to accept salaries far below the multimillion-dollar deals they had. They are all still extraordinarily well paid compared with professors at their school, so no one needs to feel too sorry for them.
In Eustachy's case, he has a four-year contract at Southern Miss with $230,000 a year guaranteed and up to about $500,000 more in incentives. If that's a huge drop from the $1.1 million a year he was making at Iowa State, Eustachy is grateful simply to get a second chance so soon.
''I hit rock bottom with nobody to blame but myself,'' Eustachy, The Associated Press Coach of the Year in 2000, said when he was hired last week. ''You can go one way or another. ... I am a recovering alcoholic and it's constant maintenance, it's constant work. But where I find myself now, I've never felt better.''
Southern Miss athletic director Richard Giannini said the opportunity came at ''the right time in the life of Larry Eustachy. It's the right time to have him as our coach.''
Yet any observer, especially anyone familiar with alcoholism, would have to wonder if Eustachy has given himself the time to treat the problem and cope with the pressures of his profession.
Giannini is not naive. He knows the power of the disease, the difficulty of shaking it.
''I know a lot about alcoholism,'' Giannini said. ''I've had it in my family. I've seen it. I've experienced it. I've seen miracles happen through the Alcoholics Anonymous program. My wife has been sober for 18 years. I saw a miracle happen with Gayle. She's got 17 years on Larry, but I can see the same kind of miracle happening with him.
''I sincerely believe he will be a better coach than he's ever been, and he has been one of the very best in the country.''
Giannini spoke about recoveries from alcoholism of other basketball coaches, including Oklahoma State's Eddie Sutton, who is taking his team to the Final Four this week.
If Eustachy can do something close to that for Southern Miss, without relapsing along the way, Giannini feels he will be worth the risk.
For his part, Eustachy could only thank Giannini and Southern Miss fans for believing in him and promise them he would not let them down.
In O'Leary's case, the Central Florida athletics director had been the associate AD at Georgia Tech, knew O'Leary there, and felt that what he did in gussying up his resume was not typical of who he was.
The irony of O'Leary landing on a campus with a high-profile sports ethics institute was not lost on the institute's director, Richard Lapchick. But Lapchick has been impressed so far by O'Leary's actions since being hired in January.
''Since he's been here the level of attention paid to the student athletes and recruits has dramatically increased the academic standards for football,'' Lapchick said.
If O'Leary, Price and Eustachy truly did learn from their mistakes, the schools that got them will come way with bargains.
Steve Wilstein is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com
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