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Search under way for Utah State hoops coach

SHARE Search under way for Utah State hoops coach

New USU athletic director Bruce Van De Velde didn't want to lose basketball coach Larry Eustachy to Iowa State - and almost didn't - but he's confident a quality replacment can be found quickly.

Van De Velde, just back from Big West Conference meetings in Boise, said late Thursday night he's already gotten a lot of calls and made a lot in pursuit of Eustachy's USU successor, but he wouldn't confirm or deny talking with specific suitors."We'll get a good coach," Van De Velde promised, saying the hire is up to him but that he would want the support of USU president George Emert before choosing someone. "He will be pleased," Van De Velde said of Emert, who's shown great interest in Aggie athletics.

But he may already have a frontrunner in mind. "It would be really easy for me to pull the trigger," he said, "but I wouldn't be doing the right thing for Utah State if I did that. I need to look at the people that are interested in here and see how they stack up against the people that are here, or the people that are interested. And that's not to read into anything. It's just that I want to do what's best for the university."

One name to surface as a possible Eustachy successor is Northern Arizona University coach Ben Howland.

The Arizona Republic reported Van De Velde had called Northern Arizona University to inquire about Ben Howland, who turned one of the nation's worst programs to a 42-15 team over the last two years, winning a Big Sky Conference championship and gaining NAU's first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.

Howland, 58-51 overall at NAU, was reportedly a top candidate to replace Utah coach Rick Majerus if he'd have taken any of the many jobs he's been offered in the last year or so. He is a former Weber State player, and his wife is from Roy.

Somers said NAU athletic director Steve Holton told him Van De Velde had called to tell NAU of an interest in Howland but hadn't asked permission to speak to the coach as of Wednesday night.

Van De Velde said Eustachy's associate head coach of the last two years, Steve Barnes, is also being considered but that he hasn't talked yet with the associate head coach of three years ago, Kermit Davis, also a local favorite now associate head coach at Louisiana State.

Another name from USU's past, Jim Harrick, a former Aggie assistant who got into trouble at UCLA and resurfaced with Rhode Island, is said to be quite interested in the job in Logan.

Jeff Judkins, Majerus' assistant at Utah, is a possibility, according to some Aggie fans, and some would like to have Pacific's Bob Thomason.

Van De Velde said he doesn't want to be caught in a timetable. "I'm just going to go as fast as I can go, but not so fast that we don't cover all our bases. We are going to try to make this hire sometime here in August. If it takes longer than that, it does, but I don't think it will.

"We're going to go real fast," he said, adding it might not be as quick as next week. "I don't want to make a mistake," he said, noting he'll do thorough background checks and get cross references and probably won't put out a list of finalists, as was done by USU in the case of his own hiring.

He said he's talked "to a lot of people, but the list is getting shorter and shorter. We started out with a lot of names. We're getting close, but not close enough yet."

Van De Velde, whose experience is mainly in the Big 12 with Kansas State and Missouri, said he has no one specifically in mind that he favors from there.

Van De Velde, who over the reins as Aggie athletic director just 12 daya ago, also said Utah State was "closer than you would ever believe" to keeping basketball coach Larry Eustachy this week.

"He was torn," he said of the fifth-year coach who on Wednesday was announced as the new coach for Iowa State of the Big 12, Van De Velde's alma mater.

"I think Larry really wanted to stay. If he didn't have the relationship he had with Tim Floyd (former ISU coach now with the Chicago Bulls is Eustachy's close friend), and they didn't have Tim recruiting him, he wouldn't have gone," Van De Velde said.

Although USU couldn't match the $500,000-a-year, five-year contract Eustachy got from Iowa State, "We have a nice package. It's very competitive with our league and other Division I schools. It's not like Iowa State's, but few are," Van De Velde said.