Sutton retires from Okla. State


STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) – Two victories shy of his 800th win, Eddie Sutton decided it was time to leave college basketball and let his son coach Oklahoma State.

The 70-year-old coach retired Friday, ending a 36-year career in which he made three trips to the Final Four and became the first coach to take four schools to the NCAA tournament.

He had considered returning to Oklahoma State after a Feb. 10 car accident that led to no contest pleas to drunken driving and other charges.

“This decision is about simply what’s best for me and what’s best for the basketball program at Oklahoma State,” Sutton said at a news conference.

His retirement takes effect June 30. He will be succeeded by Sean Sutton, who was an assistant on his father’s coaching staff and had taken the job on an interim basis.

Eddie Sutton plans to work in a new alcohol education and support program at the university.

“People today in our country know a lot more about alcoholism, but there’s still people that don’t know what the disease is, how it affects someone as a person,” he said. “It’s really slow suicide if you drink.”

Sutton had a 798-315 career record at Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State. He reached the Final Four with Arkansas in 1978 and with Oklahoma State in 1995 and 2004.

Only Dean Smith (879), Adolph Rupp (876), Bob Knight (869) and Jim Phelan (830) have more career wins among men’s NCAA coaches.

“It is now time for us to come together as a family again and support a new era in Cowboy basketball,” he said. “If given your support, I believe Sean can take this program to even greater heights. He has the tools, knowledge and experience. I believe Sean can take this program all the way to the top.”

Sutton started this season needing 19 wins for No. 800 and said he likely would retire at the end of the season even if he didn’t reach that mark.

After the Feb. 10 accident, Sean Sutton took over while Sutton was on a medical leave and picked up four wins on his father’s behalf but fell two short of 800.

“I always thought it would be neat to be one of the coaches to win 800,” Eddie Sutton said. “But I thought it was wrong in that if I retired after those two games it really puts more pressure on Sean.”

Sutton played for longtime Oklahoma A&M coach Henry Iba and his name is emblazoned on the court at Gallagher-Iba Arena. With a staunch defense inspired by Iba, Sutton took his teams to the NCAA tournament 26 times. Only Knight, Smith and Arizona’s Lute Olson went more frequently.

Kansas coach Bill Self, once an assistant under Sutton, lauded what he called a Hall of Fame career.

“He is one of the very, very few coaches out there who has withstood the test of time and achieved success at the highest level over several decades,” Self said.

He had a losing record only once – the 1988-89 season at Kentucky that ended with his resignation amid an NCAA investigation.

He arrived at his alma mater the following year, proclaiming he had beaten alcoholism with help from treatment at the Betty Ford Center. He soon resurrected an Oklahoma State program that had been to the NCAAs only once in the previous 25 years. He guided the Cowboys to the NCAA tournament each of the next five years, culminating with their Final Four berth in 1995.

Amid a run of eight straight NCAA tournament bids, tragedy struck Oklahoma State when a plane crashed on its way back from a game at Colorado. Sutton said he stops each day at a kneeling cowboy statue at Gallagher-Iba, a memorial to the victims.

Three years later, Sutton led the Cowboys to the Final Four again. Sutton often found players who, like him, needed a second chance. John Lucas III, seeking a new home after a Baylor teammate was killed, made the shot that lifted the Cowboys to the national semifinals. Spurned by North Carolina because of marijuana charges, JamesOn Curry also landed at Oklahoma State.

Following the February accident, Sutton said chronic back and hip pain led to a relapse in his fight against alcoholism dating to his days as Kentucky’s coach. Court records showed his blood alcohol level was 0.22, almost three times the legal limit. Since the accident, Sutton had back surgery and underwent alcoholism treatment.

He pleaded no contest to charges of aggravated DUI, speeding and driving on the wrong side of the road and received a one-year deferred sentence and was ordered to pay a fine.

His son inherits a team with a strong recruiting class entering its sophomore season. All eight of the team’s top scorers will return to try to stretch the school’s longest streak of consecutive postseason tournament appearances to 10.

“He seems really happy, relaxed, really comfortable,” Sean Sutton said. “I think he’s looking forward to turning the page and starting a new chapter in his life.”