Eddie Sutton waited so long to be admitted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He couldn’t hold on long enough to make it to the ceremony.
The man who led three teams to the last four and was the first coach to bring four schools to the NCAA tournament passed away today. He was 84.
Sutton’s family said in a statement that he died of natural causes at home in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area, surrounded by his three sons and their families. His wife, Patsy, died in 2013.
“Mom and Dad treated their players like family and always believed that his teaching went beyond the basketball court,” the family wrote. “He cherished the time he spent in each school and appreciated the support of their loyal fans. He felt they deserved so much praise for the success of his programs. ‘
Elected a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on April 3, Sutton fell six times short as a finalist before finally being selected. He had said he believed a scandal that ended his Kentucky stay was likely the culprit for his long wait. The NCAA announced eighteen charges against the program in 1988 and resigned in 1989.
He certainly had a worthy resume. He was 806-328 in 37 seasons as the head coach of Division I – regardless of wins or losses – and made it to 25 NCAA tournaments. He led Final Four squadrons in Arkansas in 1978 and Oklahoma State in 1995 and 2004. He took Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State to the NCAA tournament. He was Associated Press Coach of the Year in 1978 in Arkansas and 1986 in Kentucky.
Former Kentucky star Rex Chapman appreciated his time under Sutton.
“Eddie Sutton was a fascinating and complicated person,” Chapman wrote in a tweet. He was also an incredible teacher of the basketball game. I was lucky to learn from him. Grateful.”
Sutton’s retirement from Oklahoma State in 2006 came about three months after he went on medical leave from a traffic accident that led to accusations of exacerbated DUI, speeding, and driving on the wrong side of the road. He did not argue against the charges, was sentenced to one year in prison and sentenced to pay a fine.
All this kept him immensely popular in the state of Oklahoma, where he often attended competitions while in a wheelchair. He would receive loud cheers as the camera turned to him and Aloe Blacc’s “The Man” played over the sound system.
“Oklahoma State University is deeply saddened by the death of coach Eddie Sutton,” said Oklahoma President Burns Hargis, in a statement. “A Hall of Fame Coach with over 800 wins, he has revived our historic basketball program and will always be revered and loved by the Cowboy family. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Sutton family. ‘
Even rivals had the utmost respect for Sutton.
“It seems we celebrated the news a few days ago that coach Eddie Sutton had been elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame,” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said in a tweet. “Now this very sad news of his passing. So grateful that I got to know him and his family. Thinking of Steve, Sean & Scott. RIP Coach. ‘
Sutton was born in Bucklin, Kansas, in 1936. He played in Oklahoma State under Hall of Fame coach Henry Iba and stayed there to begin his assistant career under Iba in 1958.
Sutton got his first Division I head coach job at Creighton. He led the Bluejays to a level of 82-50 in five seasons from 1969 to 1974.
He took over in Arkansas in 1975, and the Razorbacks went 9-9 and 9-9 before embarking on a nine-year run of twenty wins. He finished his run in Fayetteville nine times in a row to the NCAA basketball tournament. His 1978 Final Four squad included versatile stars Sidney Moncrief, Marvin Delph and Ron Brewer.
Sutton has left his mark in Arkansas – the gym there is named after him. Former President Bill Clinton, who was Arkansas Governor for part of Sutton’s run there, once sent a video message for a ceremony honoring Sutton in Arkansas in 2016.
“Your time as a coach was a defining time in Razorback basketball,” Clinton said. “You put our program on the map. You helped turn a generation of student athletes into winners on the field and after they left. You made us think we can win again. ‘
Sutton went on to replace Joe B. Hall in Kentucky in 1985. While there, he put together a 90-40 record, including two titles from the Southeastern Conference. But he collapsed at the end, and his program underwent NCAA research.
He led Oklahoma State from 1991 to 2006. The Cowboys reached the Sweet Sixteen in their first two seasons as head coach. In 1995, Bryant Reeves and Randy Rutherford led the Cowboys to the NCAA Final Four 1995. The Cowboys reached the Final Four in 2004, with Tony Allen and Joey Graham leading the way.
Sutton’s last coaching stint came in 2007-08 as an interim coach in San Francisco, where he achieved his 800th victory.