Ready for Eddie? Former players and coaching peers agree Sutton’s Hall of Fame induction is well past due

By: Bob Holt
Published: Friday, April 3, 2020
University of Arkansas head basketball coach Eddie Sutton watches as his Razorbacks are introduced prior to their Southwest Conference Tournament game with SMU in Houston, Texas, March 2, 1978. (AP Photo)
University of Arkansas head basketball coach Eddie Sutton watches as his Razorbacks are introduced prior to their Southwest Conference Tournament game with SMU in Houston, Texas, March 2, 1978. (AP Photo)

FAYETTEVILLE -- For the seventh time since 2002, Eddie Sutton is a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Sutton, 84, had an 806-329 record in 37 seasons as a college head coach -- including 260-75 in 11 seasons at the University of Arkansas from 1975-85 -- with 26 NCAA Tournament appearances.

"I hope it's lucky seven for Coach," said Darrell Walker, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock coach who was an All-American guard for Sutton with the Razorbacks. "Hopefully, he'll get a joyful phone call."

Inductees for the 2020 Hall of Fame class will be announced Saturday, but the finalists should get a call today informing them of the result.

"Hey look, we could talk about this all day, how shameful and disrespectful it is that Coach Sutton isn't already in the Hall of Fame," Walker said. "He deserved to be in there a long time ago.

"I don't know who votes for the Hall of Fame, and at this point I really don't care. But they just need to do the right thing and put him in there."

The voters who select the inductees are not announced. Neither is how they voted.

"You've got 24 voters that nobody knows who they are," said Sean Sutton, Eddie Sutton's son who is on the Texas Tech staff as an adviser to Coach Chris Beard. "It's a secret ballot. I don't think they ever even sit in the same room and talk in person, but you have to get 18 of 24 votes to get inducted.

"I think my dad has been on the doorstep a couple different times and just fell a little bit short. It's obviously frustrating to the people that love him and care about him. We don't understand really why he isn't in there yet.

"But we'll hope that this year is the year. If you get there seven times as a finalist, you have to think one of these years is going to be the year. We're hoping for good news this weekend."

Sutton is one of nine NCAA Division I coaches with 800 victories and ranks No. 8 on the list. The seven ahead of him are all in the Hall of Fame. The ninth coach with 800 victories, West Virginia's Bob Huggins, reached that milestone this season.

"I'm dumbfounded, like everybody else, that Coach Sutton is not already in the Hall of Fame," said Joe Kleine, an All-Southwest Conference center at Arkansas for Sutton. "I don't understand it.

"To me, him not being in the Hall of Fame discredits and lessens the people who are in it. The people in the Hall of Fame know he should be in there with them."

Kansas Coach Bill Self, an assistant coach for Sutton at Oklahoma State, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017 and spoke up for his mentor.

"It's a little embarrassing, to be candid, that I would be doing this when [Sutton] hasn't done it yet," Self said about his induction.

Self again took the opportunity to praise Sutton this year after he was announced as a finalist.

"Hopefully, he'll be elected into the Hall this year, which he richly deserves," Self said in January after Kansas won at Oklahoma State. "He's an amazing coach. I spent three years with him, and the things we do every day are things that he taught us and taught me."

Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman honored Sutton before this season by having he and Nolan Richardson -- who won the 1994 national championship as the Razorbacks' coach and was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 2014 -- be honorary coaches for the Red-White game.

"Coach Sutton means so much to basketball," said Musselman, an NBA head coach with Golden State and Sacramento. "Growing up, he was a coach I looked up and studied from afar."

Sutton was the first coach to take four different colleges to the NCAA Tournament with Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State. He had three Final Four teams -- 1978 at Arkansas, and 1995 and 2004 at Oklahoma State.

The Razorbacks had been to one NCAA Tournament in the 25 years before Sutton was hired at Arkansas. He took the Razorbacks to the NCAA Tournament in his final nine seasons.

Oklahoma State, Sutton's alma mater, had been to one NCAA Tournament the 26 years before he got the job. He took the Cowboys to the NCAA Tournament his first season as their coach and had 13 appearances in 16 seasons.

Sutton took over a traditional powerhouse when he was hired at Kentucky, and the Wildcats went to the NCAA Tournament his first three seasons on the job, but he resigned under pressure after his fourth year amid an NCAA investigation as Kentucky finished 13-19.

Kentucky was placed on NCAA probation, but Sutton was not named in any of the rules violations.

Sutton, who underwent treatment for alcoholism after he left Kentucky, had a relapse during the 2005-06 season at Oklahoma State when he was arrested for driving under the influence. He took a leave of absence and resigned after the season.

"Is Coach Sutton perfect? No, he's not," Kleine said. "But if we're looking for perfect people to be inducted, then there would be no Hall of Fame.

"If they're not going to put Coach Sutton in the Hall of Fame, it's not a credible Hall of Fame."

Kleine said he believes there has been an organized campaign to keep Sutton from receiving enough votes to be a Hall of Fame inductee.

"I wish someone would come out and tell me why he's been blackballed, because that's what it is," Kleine said. "It really infuriates me."

Sutton didn't win a national championship, but neither did 26 other coaches in the Hall of Fame who coached after the NCAA Tournament was first held in 1939.

EDDIE SUTTON’S CAREER RECORD

Eddie Sutton, who for the seventh time is a finalist for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, had an 806-329 record in 37 seasons as an NCAA Division I head coach with 26 NCAA Tournament appearances. He became the first coach to take four different colleges to the NCAA Tournament. Here is his year-by-year records:

Season;school;record;postseason result

1969-70;Creighton;15-10

1970-71;Creighton;14-11

1971-72;Creighton;15-11

1972-73;Creighton;15-11

1973-74;Creighton;23-7;NCAA Tournament

1974-75;Arkansas;17-9

1975-76;Arkansas;19-9

1976-77;Arkansas;26-2;NCAA Tournament

1977-78;Arkansas;32-4;NCAA Tournament (Final Four)

1978-79;Arkansas;25-5;NCAA Tournament (Elite Eight)

1979-80;Arkansas;21-8;NCAA Tournament

1980-81;Arkansas;24-8;NCAA Tournament (Sweet 16)

1981-82;Arkansas;23-6;NCAA Tournament

1982-83;Arkansas;26-4;NCAA Tournament (Sweet 16)

1983-84;Arkansas;25-7;NCAA Tournament

1984-85;Arkansas;22-13;NCAA Tournament

1985-86;Kentucky;32-4;NCAA Tournament (Elite Eight)

1996-87;Kentucky;18-11;NCAA Tournament

1987-88;Kentucky;27-6;NCAA Tournament (Sweet 16)

1988-89;Kentucky;13-19

1990-91;Oklahoma State;24-8;NCAA Tournament (Sweet 16)

1991-92;Oklahoma State;28-8;NCAA Tournament (Sweet 16)

1992-93;Oklahoma State;20-9;NCAA Tournament

1993-94;Oklahoma State;24-10;NCAA Tournament

1994-95;Oklahoma State;27-10;NCAA Tournament (Final Four)

1995-96;Oklahoma State;17-10

1996-97;Oklahoma State;19-13;NIT

1997-98;Oklahoma State;22-7;NCAA Tournament

1998-99;Oklahoma State;23-11;NCAA Tournament

1999-2000;Oklahoma State;27-7;NCAA Tournament (Eight Eight)

2000-01;Oklahoma State;20-10;NCAA Tournament

2001-02;Oklahoma State;23-9;NCAA Tournament

2002-03;Oklahoma State;22-10;NCAA Tournament

2003-04;Oklahoma State;31-4;NCAA Tournament (Final Four)

2004-05;Oklahoma State;26-7;NCAA Tournament (Sweet 16)

2005-06;Oklahoma State;17-16;NIT

2007-08;San Francisco;6-13

TOTALS;806-329

Walker mentioned Lou Carnesecca, a 1992 Hall of Fame inductee who was 526-200 with one Final Four appearance in 24 seasons at St. John's.

"Did Lou Carnesecca win a national title? No. And I'm not taking anything anyway from Lou Carnesecca," Walker said. "I'm just saying Coach Sutton belongs in the Hall of Fame, too."

Guy Lewis, a rival of Sutton's in the SWC, had a 592-273 record in 30 seasons at Houston with five Final Four appearances, but not a national championship.

"I've got absolutely nothing against Guy Lewis," Walker said. "But you're telling me he's a Hall of Fame coach and Coach Sutton isn't?

"It's sad, it's heartbreaking, but let's just be positive and hope he gets in this year."

Sidney Moncrief, who starred for Sutton at Arkansas, was inducted into the Hall of Fame last year when Texas Tech played in the Final Four and lost to Virginia in the title game. Sutton also was a finalist last year.

"That would have been the perfect scenario last year, for Dad to go in with probably the greatest player he ever coached in Sidney Moncrief and with Sean's team playing in the Final Four," said Scott Sutton, Eddie Sutton's son and an Oklahoma State assistant coach. "That would have been pretty special."

Mississippi State Coach Ben Howland faced Sutton's Arkansas teams in the 1978 and 1979 NCAA Tournament as a player at Weber State.

"I think Eddie Sutton being put in the Hall of Fame is a no-brainer," said Howland, who led UCLA to three consecutive Final Four appearances. "I just can't imagine he's not already in there.

"He's just such a great coach and did so much for the game. I have nothing but incredible respect for Coach Sutton. He definitely deserves it to be in the Hall of Fame. He's a great man and a great coach. I'm hopeful that he gets in."

Sutton is in a wheelchair and struggles to speak after suffering a stroke.

"If he does get into the Hall of Fame, it'll be bittersweet because he won't be able to express how he feels, his emotions," Scott Sutton said. "He won't be able to thank the great players and wonderful coaches that helped him along the way. But hopefully it's something we'll have to deal with.

"If he never gets in, it'll be extremely disappointing. But I think the people that really matter -- the people that know him and the people he impacted -- understand that he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame."

The Sutton family will be gathered in Tulsa today waiting to hear from the Hall of Fame.

"My dad certainly will be excited if he gets inducted," Sean Sutton said. "He's always had so much respect for the history of the game, and to see himself up there with some of the great basketball players and the great coaches, no question it would mean a lot to him.

"I'm not sure what his reaction will be if he doesn't get in. I think he's gotten to the point now where he doesn't really get his hopes up. I think he's just not sure it's ever going to happen. And if it doesn't, it doesn't. He's still had a fabulous career.

"He's very thankful for the career he had and the players he got to coach at the schools that he coached for, and the coaches that worked with him.

"He has a lot of special memories, and this would just be icing on the cake for him if it were to happen."

Sports on 04/03/2020

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