Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year three times.
Eddie Sutton coaching tree extends far and wide
From left: Eddie Sutton, Pat Foster and Gene Keady participate in a panel at the Little Rock Tip-Off Club on March 29, 2010.
FAYETTEVILLE — Eddie Sutton’s coaching tree grew steadily.
Over 37 seasons as a college head basketball coach, 26 of his former assistant coaches and players — both in some cases — along with one team manager have gone on to become college or NBA head coaches.
Sutton’s proteges have taken 19 different college programs to the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s a pretty amazing list,” said Pat Foster, an assistant coach for Sutton at the University of Arkansas who as a head coach led Lamar, Houston and Nevada to a 366-203 record in 19 seasons and five NCAA Tournament appearances. “Eddie knew how to get you ready to be a head coach.”
Three former Sutton assistant coaches went at least as far as the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight as head coaches: Bill Self (Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas), Gene Keady (Purdue) and Leonard Hamilton (Florida State). James Dickey took Texas Tech to the Sweet Sixteen.
Self, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee with a 706-214 record in 27 seasons, won a national championship at Kansas in 2008.
Dwane Casey, a Sutton assistant at Kentucky, was the 2018 NBA coach of the year with the Toronto Raptors.
Ole Miss had one NCAA Tournament appearance, in 1981, before Rob Evans became head coach. Evans, a Sutton assistant at Oklahoma State, led the Rebels to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 1997 and 1998 before leaving for Arizona State.
The Sutton Sequoia National Forest of Coaches seems more appropriate considering the vast legacy he produced in his tenure at Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State.
The team manager who became a college head coach?
That was Doc Sadler, a Greenwood native who was a team manager for Sutton at Arkansas and became a head coach at Texas El-Paso, Nebraska and Southern Mississippi. He is now an assistant coach for the Cornhuskers.
“If you got your coaching chops under Eddie Sutton, then that said something for you,” said Jim Counce, a player and assistant coach for Sutton with the Razorbacks.
Sutton died May 23 at age 84 after being elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame several weeks earlier, but he lives on in the accomplishments of his former assistant coaches and players.
Last season, Self led Kansas to a 28-3 record and the No. 1 ranking in the final Associated Press poll when the NCAA Tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Hamilton’s Seminoles were 26-5 and ranked No. 4. Self and Hamilton were Sutton assistant coaches at Oklahoma State.
Darrell Walker, an All-America guard for Sutton at Arkansas, led the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to a 21-10 record and the Sun Belt Conference regular-season championship last season. Kyle Keller, an Oklahoma State assistant for Sutton, led Stephen F. Austin to a 28-3 record, including a victory at Duke.
“Coach Sutton had a philosophy about how the game should be played that to me still carries on today,” Walker said. “He always believed in defense, dedication and discipline. He also believed in taking a shot that you can make 50% of the time.
“There are a lot of things I’m teaching my guys now that I got from Coach Sutton. The game is always going to be about the fundamentals. Nobody is going to reinvent it.
“Playing tough man-to-man defense, being ready to help on the weak side. Moving the basketball, setting screens. Taking a charge. Today’s players are like, ‘Take a charge?’ Yeah, line up and get ready to take a charge. That’s going to separate the real winners from the guys that really don’t want to win. I’ve always thought that.”
Walker laughed while recalling how he learned the importance of taking charges from Sutton during practices in Barnhill Arena.
“I can tell you, I turned sideways a lot the first couple of weeks of practice, but Coach Sutton would just make you get back in line and do it again until you started taking the charge,” Walker said. “Then you got used to it.”
Counce, who is now a heart surgeon, said the number of Sutton’s assistant coaches and players who became head coaches takes a back seat to no one.
“Coach Sutton’s coaching tree is comparable to if not better than any other coach in the history of basketball,” Counce said. “It says that he had a lot to teach, and guys had a lot to learn from him.
“In order to be a great head coach requires a lot of qualities, but the first thing that you’ve got to have is an exquisite knowledge of the game. You have to be able to teach that. Then you have to be able to evaluate talent and go out and recruit players and develop them.
“I think Coach Sutton did a very good job of passing that along to guys on his staff and giving them the confidence that they could get it accomplished in their own careers as a head coach.”
Oklahoma State assistant coach Scott Sutton played for his father with the Cowboys and had a 328-247 record in 18 seasons as Oral Roberts University’s coach, including three NCAA Tournament appearances.
“My dad really let his assistants coach,” Scott Sutton said. “There are a lot of head coaches that want total control of practices and every aspect of their program, but my dad’s philosophy always was, ‘I want my assistants to be guys that will be able to go on and be successful head coaches.’
“He wanted them to be vocal in practice. He wanted them to take a lot of ownership in the program. I think that allowed them not only to grow as a coach, but probably grow in confidence.”
When Eddie Sutton left Creighton to become Arkansas’ coach for the 1974-75 season, he retained Foster as an assistant coach from Lanny Van Eman’s staff.
Foster, an Emerson native who played for the Razorbacks, was on the same Arkansas staff with Keady, who had a 550-289 record in 27 seasons at Western Kentucky and Purdue with 18 NCAA Tournament appearances.
“We had a lot of freedom as assistant coaches,” Foster said. “We were not restricted in any way. Eddie allowed Gene and me to be ourselves. He didn’t try to change our approach to how we would deal with players. If we made a mistake talking with the players, he’d stop us, because obviously he was the head coach. But that didn’t happen a lot.
“It was obvious what a great coach Eddie was from day one. He had his system down to a T, and he had his methods of getting his system across down to a T.
“I remember Gene and me talking several times about, ‘Hey, what we need to do as his assistants is find our exactly how he wants things done and do it to the best of our ability.’ I think that’s what we did.”
Dickey, a Valley Springs native who led Texas Tech to three NCAA Tournament appearances, was a Sutton assistant at Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State.
“Coach Sutton would let you work,” Dickey said. “He would give you the opportunity to learn and grow as a coach.
“I’ve always believed that Coach Sutton coached the coaches as much as he did the players. He wanted you to advance and run your own program.”
Dickey said at times Sutton let his assistant coaches take the lead in running practice.
“There would be days where he might not say a whole lot in practice,” Dickey said. “He’d let the assistants do the majority of the work.
“Then there would be other days where he would do the majority of the coaching and we wouldn’t say a whole lot. That was part of trying to understand what he wanted. That there was a time to voice your opinion and a time when you needed to be quiet and listen.”
Scott Sutton said his father’s former assistant coaches benefited because college administrators saw the success Keady and Foster had after moving on from Arkansas.
“If you were an athletic director or a college president looking to hire a coach, that was a pretty attractive quality that guys on my dad’s staff had done well for themselves,” Scott Sutton said. “I think that’s a big reason why so many guys who coached with my dad got head coaching jobs of their own.”
Arkansas assistant coach Corey Williams, who previously was the head coach at Stetson, played for Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State and was a student assistant coach for the Cowboys.
“Coach Sutton, the way he taught us, the way he prepared us, I think it boded well for a future in coaching,” Williams said. “He required you to be at the top of your game whether you were a player, an assistant coach, a manager.
“You always were pushed, and he held you accountable. He taught you how to be disciplined, organized, punctual. I think that helped allow a lot of the people who were part of his programs to become head coaches, because he had laid that foundation in our lives.
“Everything you did had to be done with integrity and class. He demanded that. That wasn’t something he was going to allow you to do any different. He wanted it the way he wanted it. Everybody understood that.”
Walker, an NBA head coach with Toronto and Washington, said he didn’t realize it at the time, but that playing for Sutton prepared him to become a teacher of the game.
“I just think if you played or worked for Coach Sutton, you soaked in what he was teaching you,” Walker said. “Then that was going to stay with you.”
Dickey said on Sutton’s advice, his assistants didn’t always take head coaching offers.
“Coach Sutton always tried to encourage you to take the right job,” Dickey said. “Not just take any job to be a head coach, but take a job where you have an opportunity to win.”
Sean Sutton, the youngest of Eddie and Patsy Sutton’s three sons, like Scott Sutton followed his father into coaching. Sean Sutton, who is now on Coach Chris Beard’s staff at Texas Tech, played for his father at Kentucky and Oklahoma State, then was a longtime assistant coach with the Cowboys and succeeded Eddie Sutton as head coach.
“My dad didn’t really want us to go into coaching,” Scott Sutton said. “He always kind of tried to steer us away from becoming coaches, because he knew it was a tough job with a lot of pressure and you had to be away from home a lot.
“But for Sean and me, we just had the same passion for coaching our dad did.”
It’s a trait Eddie Sutton passed along to plenty of others whom he also considered family members.
“To coach Sutton, if you played for him or worked with him, you were like family,” Dickey said. “When one of his former players or assistants called, they’d get right through. He’d either take the call or call them right back.”
Williams said Sutton spoke unabashedly about his love for his players and coaches.
“Coach Sutton used the word ‘love’ a whole lot,” Williams said. “He was always saying, ‘I love you.’ Most men his age, they’re not going to say ‘I love you’ very much, if at all.
“It’s like my granddad. I’d say, ‘I love you, Granddad.’ He’d say, ‘OK, all right.’ But Coach Sutton always said, ‘I love you.’ I’d say, ‘Coach, I love you, too.’
“It was just very personal with him. He understood the value of not being afraid to tell people you love them. He really loved us. I can still feel that love.”
Eddie Sutton Coaching Tree
Eddie Sutton’s coaching tree includes 26 former assistant coaches, players and a team manager who went on to become NCAA Division I or NBA head coaches. Some both played for him and were his assistant coaches.
Nineteen of the coaches on this list have taken teams to the NCAA Tournament at the Division I and II levels. One former assistant coach was an NBA coach of the year. Here’s a rundown:
Kansas head coach. … Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee. … Led Kansas to the 2008 national championship. … His teams at Oral Roberts, Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas have made a combined 21 NCAA Tournament appearances. … Has a 706-214 record in 27 seasons. … Two-time AP national coach of the year, and six-time Big 12 coach of the year. … Sutton assistant coach at Oklahoma State.
Led Western Kentucky and Purdue to a 550-270 record in 27 seasons with 18 NCAA Tournament appearances. … Twice led Purdue to Elite 8 appearances. … AP national coach of the year in 1996. …. Six-time Big Ten coach of the year in 25 seasons with the Boilermakers. … Sutton assistant coach at Arkansas.
Florida State head coach. … Has a 582-431 record at Oklahoma State, Miami and FSU with 10 NCAA appearances. … Twice Big East coach of the year, and three-time ACC coach of the year … NBA head coach for one season with Washington Wizards. … Sutton assistant coach at Kentucky.
Led Lamar, Houston and Nevada to a 366-203 record in 19 seasons with 5 NCAA Tournament appearances. … Led teams to championships in the Southland Conference, Southwest Conference and Big West. … Emerson native played at Arkansas and was a Sutton assistant with the Razorbacks.
Had a 232-186 record in 14 seasons at Texas Tech and Houston. … Led Texas Tech to 3 NCAA Tournament appearances, including the Sweet 16 in 1996 when the Red Raiders were 30-2. … Valley Springs native who played at Central Arkansas and was a Sutton assistant coach at Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State.
Had a 205-201 record in 14 seasons at Ole Miss and Arizona State. … Led Ole Miss to back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 1997 and 1998. … SEC coach of the year in 1997. … Sutton assistant coach at Oklahoma State. … Arkansas assistant coach for John Pelphrey.
Oklahoma State assistant coach. … Led Oral Roberts University to a 328-247 record in 18 seasons with 3 NCAA Tournament appearances. … Three-time Summit League coach of the year. … Played for his father at Oklahoma State.
Member of the Texas Tech staff as a special adviser to Coach Chris Beard. … Longtime Oklahoma State assistant coach who succeeded his father as the Cowboys’ head coach, going 39-29 in two seasons. … Played for his father as a point guard at Kentucky and Oklahoma State.
University of Arkansas at Little Rock head coach. … Led Trojans to a 21-10 record last season and the Sun Belt Conference regular-season championship. … All-America guard for Sutton at Arkansas who played 10 seasons in the NBA. … NBA head coach with Toronto and Washington. … Led Clark Atlanta University to a 45-18 record in two seasons and back-to-back NCAA Division II Tournament appearances. … 31-31 in two seasons at UALR.
Tennessee Tech head coach. … Has 158-148 record in 10 seasons at South Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee Tech, with 2 NCAA Tournament appearances. … Was 69-59 in four seasons at Arkansas with an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2008. … Played for Sutton at Kentucky, and was an assistant coach for him at Oklahoma State.
Assistant coach at Nebraska, where he previously was the head coach. … Led Texas El-Paso, Nebraska and Southern Mississippi to a 205-261 record in 13 seasons with 1 NCAA Tournament appearance. … Greenwood native was a team manager for Sutton at Arkansas.
College basketball analyst for ESPN. … Led the UA women’s team to a 43-49 record in 3 seasons with 1 NCAA Tournament appearance. … Walk-on player at Arkansas for Sutton, and an assistant coach for him at Kentucky.
Led Sacramento State, Kenyon College and California University of Pennsylvania to a 490-337 record in 30 seasons. … Led Kenyon College, an NCAA Division III school in Ohio, to 2 NCAA Tournament appearances, and California University of Pennsylvania to 6 NCAA Division II Tournament appearances. … Retired from coaching after the 2015-16 season. … Sutton assistant coach at Arkansas.
Arkansas assistant coach. … Had a 58-133 record in 6 seasons at Stetson. … Played for Sutton at Oklahoma State and also was a student assistant coach for him with the Cowboys. … Rookie guard on the Chicago Bulls’ 1993 NBA championship team.
Led San Diego State to a 55-83 record in 5 seasons. … Had 329-36 record, including a 137-game winning streak, as a junior college coach at Southern Idaho. … Played for Sutton at Southern Idaho, and was an assistant for him at Arkansas.
Led Creighton, Colorado and Appalachian State to a 318-292 record in 22 seasons. … Creighton assistant for Sutton who succeeded him as the Blue Jays’ coach when Sutton left for Arkansas. … Led Creighton to 3 NCAA Tournament appearances.
Head coach of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. … Has a 434-394 record in 11 seasons as NBA head coach with Minnesota, Toronto and Detroit with 6 playoff appearances. … NBA coach of the year with Toronto in 2018. … Sutton assistant coach at Kentucky.
SMU head coach. … Has a 90-46 record at North Texas, Illinois State and SMU with 1 NCAA Tournament appearance. … Sutton assistant at Oklahoma State.
Led Texas-San Antonio to a 130-176 record in 10 seasons with 1 NCAA Tournament appearance. … Died after the 2015-16 season at age 45 from double organ failure and a blood infection. … Sutton player and assistant coach at Oklahoma State. … Played in the NBA for four seasons.
Stephen F. Austin head coach. … Has 88-41 record in 4 seasons with 1 NCAA Tournament appearance. … The Lumberjacks were 28-3 last season, including a victory at Duke. … Sutton assistant coach at Oklahoma State.
Southern University head coach. … Has a 151-190 record in 11 seasons at Mississippi Valley State, Morehead State and Southern with 1 NCAA Tournament appearance. … Played for Sutton at Kentucky.
Had a 97-91 record in seven seasons at Jacksonville (Fla.) and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. … Led Jacksonville to the NIT semifinals in 1974. … Creighton assistant coach for Sutton. … Died in 2014. … Son Doug Gottlieb played for Sutton at Oklahoma State.
Had a 143-174 record in 11 seasons at Arizona, Grand Canyon and UCA. … Led Arizona to a 21-14 record and the NCAA Tournament as the Wildcats’ interim coach during the 2008-09 season after Lute Olson resigned for health reasons. … After going 72-44 at Division II Grand Canyon, Pennell was 50-116 at UCA. … He was an assistant coach for Sutton at Oklahoma State. … A walk-on player at Arkansas for Sutton, then transferred to UCA, where he became a starting point guard.
Assistant coach in the NBA for the Washington Wizards. … Became interim head coach of the Brooklyn Nets during the 2015-16 season after Lionel Hollins was fired. … Played for Sutton at Arkansas.
Led Missouri State to a 39-46 record in 4 seasons. … Sutton assistant coach at Arkansas. … Died in 2014.
Had a 31-79 record in four seasons at Washington State. … Sutton assistant coach at Oklahoma State.
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