Men's Basketball Insider: Special Edition

In a special off-season edition, Cyclone Nation's Basketball Insider Gary Thompson gives his take on Larry Eustachy's resignation, the ensuing coaching search, the choice of Wayne Morgan as coach, and several other issues surrounding the men's basketball program.

Gary Thompson is the long-time color analyst for the Cyclone Television Network. The 'Roland Rocket' was ISU's first 1,000-point scorer and was selected as an All-American following the 1957 season. He concluded his three-year career with 1,253 points, which ranks 16th on the Cyclones' all-time scoring list. He has also served as a commentator on NBC, ABC, ESPN and Big Eight basketball telecasts.

CN: Looking at the first few weeks of Wayne Morgan's tenure at Iowa State, what type of grade should the first-year coach receive thus far?

Thompson: If you're going to give a grade to him on his early performance, you'd have to give him an A-plus. He's done everything you'd want done from an Iowa State standpoint and Iowa State fan's standpoint. That's one of the crucial things that had to be considered before a new coach was hired – whether you could retain the recruits.

A lot of the recruits had been calling talking about releases if Wayne Morgan wasn't the coach. So Wayne has fit in perfectly for Iowa State. He's the perfect fit at this time and has done a tremendous job. He immediately had the three recruits he was involved with personally saved. There was no problem as long as Wayne Morgan was here.

Then, of course, he kept in contact with all of the kids that were here and kept them all going forward when we were in between coaches.

The real coup ended up being with Damion Staple. I thought he handled that situation perfectly, in that he went down to visit with him right away and asked him to come to Iowa State and give us a fair chance to see what's up here. A coach and player had been upset with the administration here a little bit, because they wanted to be released. I think it was right on athletic director Bruce Van De Velde's part of not releasing anybody, because that's an emotional time and he owed it to whoever would be the coach to give that new coach a chance to talk to the recruits.

CN: What direction do you think this program is headed right now?

Thompson: I think everything is looking forward right now. It has gotten a jump start with Wayne going out and saving all of the recruits, when it looked like at one time you could have the possibility of five or six kids not being back on this team next year. The end result right now with the job that Wayne's done is that every kid is going to be back and available for this team.

People want to say there's some healing that has to be taking place. If some people have deep-seated feelings when things don't go there way and want to make it difficult to come back to the program, then that's certainly the first thing that Wayne's going to be doing at Cyclone Club outings. He's done a great job of that already and has been available for everything in the media. Wayne certainly represents himself in a first-class manner and the University.

The choice of Wayne Morgan is going to help mend fences right away, and the job that he's doing. Then when you start playing games and winning games, that rights everything in a hurry. I don't have any feelings about that, though, I've moved forward. I share my opinions and others get paid for making decisions here at the University.

Everything is moving forward and it's a good time of the year for Wayne to get his feet on the ground and start getting his staff put together. I know he said he's going to take his time and has a lot of applications. He'll probably be getting that done in the month of June, because July is usually a month that the coaches can be out (recruiting).

CN: That has to be a great feeling after the tumultuous few weeks that proceeded his hiring. Given your history around this program as a player, broadcaster, fan and booster, how did you personally get through the days leading up to Larry Eustachy's resignation and week following?

Thompson: Of course when the publicity came out in the paper regarding Coach Eustachy, it was disappointing to everybody and more disappointing to Larry himself than anything else. Being friends with Larry over the last few years, when he called me the day after things broke in the paper and apologized for the bad judgement he had used and the fact that he wanted me to know that he'd been diagnosed as an alcoholic.

As we proceeded to talk, he said that he would like to have the chance to right himself and stay here as the coach and show what he could do. I had some empathy for his disease. I told Larry if he admitted it, was going to get treatment and follow up with it, I would support him having the opportunity to have a second chance. But if he fell off of that and reverted back to any kind of similar behavior, I'd be the first one looking to ask him to leave.

CN: When it became evident he was not going to be given a second chance, how did you change your mode into that of looking for a new coach instead of trying to save the soon-to-be former coach?

Thompson: I had told Bruce and Dr. (Gregory) Geoffroy from the start what my position was. Mine was just an opinion and how I felt about a person getting a second chance, because of being diagnosed as an alcoholic. But I said if there was something else besides that you could show me, then that would make a difference in my position. They went another direction and I decided to jump in the boat and start rolling in the right direction again.

I told them I'll always be an Iowa Stater and it's not my way or the highway. I can give opinions, but I don't get paid to make decisions. That's somebody else's job. So when the decision came to terminate, I was asked if I would help with (the search). I never asked to be involved in anything. I've always been available if Iowa State asked me and wants my assistance. But when they came to ask, I said I'd be glad to help with anything.

CN: What did you think of the way the coaching search was conducted, with the names of Steve McClain and Jeff Lebo being mentioned as front-runners before any talk was made of Morgan getting the job?

Thompson: By the time that I came on board, they had already identified candidate. There was a pool of candidates out there, so we started from the right direction. It was a difficult search, because you had a staff member in Wayne Morgan that was applying for the job. You had some parents with some people they would like to see as coach. They had some other individuals that they didn't want to have as the coach. So there were a number of things to go through during the search.

As with all searches, you come up with problems one way or another for different reasons. I always say that Utopia would be if you could get 100 percent of everything the University wants as a coach. So the next thing you try to do is get the most positives you can. If utopia is 10, you try to get as close to 10 as possible.

There was the danger of a new coach coming in, if he didn't retain staff and with the 5/8 rule, he could lose recruits and this program being in deep trouble. That was a possibility. Wayne Morgan had showed he was a great recruiter and recruited these kids, so you wanted him on the staff. You did not know what another head coach is wanting, especially when Wayne was going for the head job. Some coaches become leery of taking on somebody if they get the job and another guy's been in the running. In the end, I think Wayne Morgan was the perfect fit right now for Iowa State.

CN: Looking ahead to the start of the 2003-04 season and Morgan's tenure as coach, what might we see in terms of style of play and what do you think of a different approach than what we saw in the days of Eustachy and Tim Floyd?

Thompson: That was the one area I wasn't as familiar with Wayne, with him only being here for a year and on the road most of the time recruiting. That was the emphasis that Larry gave him for his first year. He was at some practices working with the kids at times, but I did not see a lot of him on the floor and was not familiar with him at Long Beach State.

Going off of what Wayne says, he wants to up-tempo the game a little bit more and push the ball down the floor a little harder. And if he's true to the Syracuse defense, you'll probably see him play a little bit more zone than what Larry Eustachy or Tim Floyd played here.

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