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Thursday, January 6, 2011
Coach with rare disease sidelined for now

By Dana O'Neil

Mike Sutton wishes he could offer a concrete answer or even attempt a prediction at the future.

He can’t.

Right now all the Tennessee Tech head coach knows is that when his team takes the court on Thursday night against Morehead State and on Saturday at Eastern Kentucky, he won’t be on the sidelines.

Sutton, who was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder six years ago, said a recent symptom flare-up has made him concerned enough that he’s elected to stay home.

Tennessee Tech's Mike Sutton
"I just really take things one day at a time and deal with the next situation," said Tennessee Tech coach Mike Sutton who suffers from a rare disorder similar to polio.
He has appointments lined up with doctors and from there? From there he doesn’t know.

“I’m really in limbo with all of this,’’ Sutton said. “I just really take things one day at a time and deal with the next situation. Right now, I didn’t want to get myself in a situation where I was four hours from home and have something happen.’’

Sutton has Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder that has been likened to mild polio. He first learned of it in 2005 in Portsmouth, Va. He remembers little, other than stumbling in the hotel and waking up hours later on a ventilator in Nashville.

“I remember the bumpy plane ride a little bit,’’ he said.

There is no known cure for Sutton and he was literally clinging to life while hospitalized in 2005.

But he managed to fight off the crippling disease, slowly gaining enough strength to use a cane to get around. The muscles in his hands remain weak and occasionally he’ll need a wheelchair, but the lifelong coach, a self-described old-schooler who idolized Dean Smith, never once considered quitting.

He admits that there is pain, pretty much every day, but laughs it off – “I could complain or whine, but who's going to listen to me?”

Sutton relies heavily on his assistants -- Steve Payne will coach Tennessee Tech in the next two games -- but said that the idea of missing work never crossed his mind before this weekend.

“You hear about people who miss work. I don’t understand that,’’ he said. “Coaches don’t think that way.’’

The Golden Eagles practiced on Wednesday and Sutton planned to follow the team to Morehead on Thursday, driving up in time for shootaround.

But the symptoms set off some red flags and his longtime therapist, who knows his situation better than anyone else, also told him to pay attention to his body.

So Sutton made the decision to stay home.

It wasn’t a fun choice, but frankly, he said, it was an easy one.

“I don’t want to put myself or the kids in jeopardy,’’ he said. “It’s hard enough on them dealing with my condition and they’ve been so good. It just wasn’t smart.’’

Sutton will use livestreaming on the computer and the radio to follow the Golden Eagles and almost assuredly drive his wife, Karen, crazy in the process.

“It will be worse than being there,’’ Sutton said. “I’m sure Karen will have had enough of me.’’