Monday, February 13, 2006
Big 12 coaches sad to see Sutton out of coaching
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The end of Eddie Sutton's illustrious coaching career is just about the last thing Kelvin Sampson wants to see.
It matters not that Sampson's Oklahoma team has to confront Sutton's tough, well-drilled Oklahoma State Cowboys at least twice every year. The respect and fondness Sampson feels for his archrival's accomplished head coach is too great to suppress.
"I hope he's back next year. I mean this sincerely," Sampson said Monday, shortly after Oklahoma State announced its 69-year-old coach was taking a medical leave for the rest of the season.
"I've never coached against a better coach than Eddie Sutton," Sampson said. "I mean that from the bottom of my heart."
Sutton, who has been bothered all year with chronic back and hip problems, sustained head and facial injuries Friday when his sport utility vehicle crashed into another vehicle in Stillwater, Okla.
There were no other serious injuries. But adding to everyone's sense of sadness was the news Monday that he had been cited with driving under the influence.
Sean Sutton, his son and designated successor, will finish out the season for the Cowboys. The school said no decision has been made about whether the end has come to Eddie Sutton's long and productive career that's only six wins short of 800.
"I just hope he can get back," Texas coach Rick Barnes said.
In his 36th season, Sutton has hinted he might coach one more year. Earlier this month, after Oklahoma State beat Kansas State in its once-every-two-years trip to Kansas State, he had said with a grin that it would probably be his last appearance there.
But a moment later he also disclosed that his back was killing him.
"It's obvious he's been in pain," Barnes said. "I've been worried all year just watching. I knew he was having a tough time -- if somebody came crashing into the bench, maybe him not being able to get out of the way."
Although he has never won a national championship, Sutton has done just about everything else in college basketball since he came out of little Bucklin, Kan., to play for Oklahoma State's legendary Henry Iba. He was a winner at Creighton, Arkansas and Kentucky before taking charge at his alma mater in 1990.
He took Arkansas to the Final Four and his Oklahoma State teams have been there twice. He has become so popular at Oklahoma State that the court has been named in his honor and the fans at always-packed Gallagher-Iba Arena chant "Ed-DIE, Ed-DIE" whenever he questions an official's call.
"I think [Sutton is] one of the best and most brilliant basketball minds that's been around college basketball," Baylor coach Scott Drew said.
His record at Oklahoma State stands at 364-146. For his 36-year career, he has 794 victories.
He has not been free of controversy. He resigned from Kentucky in 1989, and the Wildcats, who have a long history of NCAA troubles, were placed on four years' probation. When he was introduced at Oklahoma State the following season, he spoke freely of an alcohol problem and his treatment at the Betty Ford Center.
If his career does end this season, he would go out with one of his worst records in any year. Going into Monday night's home game against Kansas, his youthful Cowboys were 13-11 overall and near the bottom of the Big 12 at 3-7.
But it's only as a winner that Sutton will be remembered.
"The one thing he always stood for was class," said Kansas coach Bill Self, who played at Oklahoma State and is one of Sutton's biggest admirers.
"Regardless of the situation, he always handled things very professionally. That's also been a positive influence for me. We still do drills very similar to what we did at Oklahoma State."
The only active coach with more wins than Sutton is Texas Tech's Bob Knight. While Knight was at Indiana and Sutton was at Kentucky, the two had some memorable tussles both on the court and on the recruiting trail.
"He's been a very good coach at a number of different schools," Knight said. "His teams have always been very sound fundamentally. They've played both ends of the floor extremely well."