Larry Eustachy began his Utah State University coaching career by losing 78-63 to Stew Morrill's Rams at Colorado State in December 1993. Eustachy's USU teams were 0-3 in five years against Morrill's teams. Those games were arranged by former USU athletic director Chuck Bell, administrator at CSU before moving to Logan.
If you can't beat 'em, hire 'em the next time around.At least that's what new USU AD Bruce Van De Velde, just two weeks into his job, has done.
Morrill, 46, a Provo native, will take over as Utah State's new basketball coach replacing Eustachy, who is moving with most of his staff to Iowa State and the Big 12.
After all, Colorado State is on the Aggie schedule for Dec. 5 in Logan.
"I know him real well," said Eustachy about Morrill, who also beat Eustachy's Idaho teams two of three times. "I'm 1-5 against him," Eustachy said. "He's a good choice. He'll do well here."
"We're real excited," Van De Velde said of his first coaching hire. "I don't know too many coaches who win 20 games. I just saw no downside with Stew. I think we really did well."
Van De Velde said he had about 45 applicants in the eight or nine days since Eustachy was named Iowa State coach. Van De Velde cut the field in half, then to 12 and then to five or six, whom he thoroughly investigated. "Cross-checked and triple-checked," he said.
He spoke with former CSU athletic director Tom Jurich, now at Louisville (where he hired Aggie football coach John L. Smith late last year), Mike Montgomery of Stanford, Gary Cunningham at UC-Santa Barbara and Big West commissioner Dennis Farrell, among others, regarding Morrill.
According to them, it was "a coup," Van De Velde said. "I don't look at it that way - we should attract these (caliber of) people all the time. It's a growing, vibrant university."
Morrill calls it "a homecoming of sorts" for him. His mother, brother and sister live in Salt Lake City and two nieces attend USU. "I am very familiar with the tradition of Utah State University basketball and can name the Aggie greats as well as any alum," Morrill said.
"It is a good basketball situation and the premier job in the Big West Conference. Logan is a great place to live, and that's important to me and my family," Morrill said.
Van De Velde said Morrill fit five of his personal criteria for the job, No. 1 being that he demonstrated integrity and honesty and still achieved success at both CSU and Montana. "It didn't matter so much that it was an assistant or head coach," Van De Velde said, "but head coach was weighted."
The only other coach Van De Velde admitted to giving a formal interview was Eustachy's associate head coach Steve Barnes, who had only high-school head-coaching experience but was a choice of many Aggie boosters. After the interview, Barnes told Van De Velde he was going to Iowa State with Eust-achy for the sake of his children, who needed to know quickly where they would go to school. Barnes didn't want to wait a long time to find out about USU. Van De Velde confirmed that Barnes indeed withdrew before Morrill's name was known to him.
Other influences on Van De Velde included Morrill's recruiting network and ties to Utah and the Northwest (he played at Gonzaga University in Spokane and coached successfully at both Montana of the Big Sky and CSU). "Certainly (getting) in-state kids is very important to us - and the surrounding states," Van De Velde said, noting that a coach who's familiar with most of the schools USU plays is also a positive.
The obvious question is why Morrill would go from the WAC and CSU - where he's coached for seven seasons and is coming off back-to-back 20-9 seasons and where he recently signed a contract extension good through 2001 - to USU and the lesser-known Big West.
"I don't know the insides of the Colorado State job," said Eust-achy, "but I know (USU) is a very good job." He and Morrill discussed that very issue a couple of years ago. "First of all, they're all difficult," Eustachy said, "but by national standards, this is a good job.
"And I don't think he would ever have a chance to win a conference championship there with New Mexico and Utah. Here, you have that possibility. But then, you trade out because only one team is going to go to the (NCAA) tournament." USU (25-8) was that team in March 1998.
Van De Velde also said the chance to win a conference was important to his new coach.
"It just made sense to us," Morrill said. "We will miss our friends, but it is just time for a change."
Morrill sought and then withdrew last year from the BYU search to replace the Roger Reid/Tony Ingle regime. Soon after, he signed his CSU extension. Van De Velde said Morrill negotiated with CSU AD Tim Weiser and will not have to buy out his remaining contract.
Morrill and CSU basketball are said by Denver media to have been overshadowed by Sonny Lubick's football program that is picked to win the 1998 WAC and a women's basketball program that has gone to the NCAA tournament two of the past three years. Fans have not supported CSU hoops, despite six straight winning seasons. And CSU's budget is under wraps because of the WAC-wide revenue downturn.
Though he has a 101-77 record at CSU and his players are upstanding people who actually graduate - another of Van De Velde's five points - Morrill has been criticized for perceived weak scheduling. Other fan gripes are that he recruits few Colorado athletes, doesn't schmooze boosters and his teams are considered boring despite high scoring and mounting success.
Five times, Morrill's CSU teams have won 17 or more games. They have had only one losing season (14-17 in 1991-92, his first year) and his back-to-back 20-9 seasons are only the fifth and sixth times in CSU history the Rams have won 20 games.
The '97-98 Rams were 14th in NCAA scoring defense (62.1 ppg) and 10th in field-goal percentage defense (39.0). Until last season, when they averaged 70, the Rams averaged almost 80 ppg and had four of the top five scoring seasons in school history under Morrill. In 1996, CSU was second in the NCAA with a school-record 51 percent field-goal shooting average.
Morrill, a former Ricks College player who became a two-time All-Big Sky Conference player and team MVP at Gonzaga University and a European professional player, was 97-52 in five coaching campaigns at Montana. He also had two 20-win seasons there. He moved to CSU after winning the 1991 Big Sky title (23-8).
Last season ended on a downer. The Rams lost six of their last eight games, including the last three, two in the WAC tournament and a postseason NIT appearance against eventual-champion Minnesota (77-65 at Minnesota). CSU also went to the NIT in 1996 on an 18-12 record.
Morrill and wife Vicki have four children, Jesse, Allan, Nicole and Tiffany. They are said to be very family oriented and Van De Velde said they have taken in and eventually placed 23 foster children.