Dear member of Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Committee,
My name is Doug Gottlieb and I am writing this on behalf of the hundreds of kids who played for a great coach who made us into the men we are today. His name is Eddie Sutton, from Bucklin, Kansas. We all call him “Coach.” You know him well, or well enough to have made him a finalist for the Naismith Hall of Fame for the fourth time.
I’m writing this letter because the time is now. I could point out that Coach’s health isn’t the best or be bitter that his lovely wife Patsy won’t see him inducted on this earth. But the truth is, Eddie Sutton belongs in the Hall of Fame based on merit, not sympathy.
There isn’t another college coach with 800 wins, or 806 to be exact, who isn’t in the Naismith Hall of Fame. While he is in the College Basketball Hall of Fame, we all know that Springfield, Massachusetts is a special place and one that feels like the home of basketball’s all-time elites -- and that should include Eddie Sutton. While 806 wins is a big number, also consider he coached off the beaten path for much of his career, making it even more impressive.
Coach Sutton never won a national championship, so maybe you are holding that against him. Neither did Harry Litwack, E.A. Diddle, Ray Meyer (who won an NIT title in 1945), Ralph Miller, Lou Carnesecca, Pete Carrill, John Chaney or Guy Lewis and they are all in the Hall. As terrific a coach as some of the coaches who have won championships are, to have been as good as long as Coach Sutton was, and resurrecting as many programs as he did, is actually just as good or even a better accomplishment even if you don’t win your last game.
From a coaching standpoint, I can tell you first hand, he should get that call. I played for John MacLeod at Notre Dame, for Sasha Belov in Russia, Sharon Ducker in Israel, Brian Gates, Maz Trakh and Rory White in the minor leagues and Andy Ground, my high school coach, is now an elite junior college coach in California. I also played for coaches on the staffs of the Lakers and Timberwolves in NBA Summer League.
Eddie Sutton was the best coach I ever played for, bar none. Not even my late father could combine the ability to motivate, teach the finer points of both offense and defense and adjust to a game on the fly. A Hall of Famer has to be emulated historically to have truly left a mark, and his defensive techniques, drills and demands have all been copied and are taught today.
You want stats? College of Southern Idaho had no program before he arrived -- there literally was no campus or gym, and he won 33 games his first year. He took little known Creighton to its first tournament. He promised football power Arkansas’ that the freshman would play in the Final Four and they did as seniors. Arkansas had been to one tournament in 25 years and he went to nine straight.
Though Kentucky was a mess, he went to the Elite 8 his first season and made three NCAA Tournament appearances before the roof fell in his last season. At Oklahoma State, where his alma mater had been to one tourney in 25 years, he took the Cowboys to 14 NCAA Tournaments in 17 years. That includes two Sweet 16s, one Elite 8 and two Final Four appearances.
And again: 806 wins.
His assistants went on to great things as well because of how he taught them. Gene Keady, Rob Evans, Bill Self, Sidney Moncrief, James Dickey, Darrell Walker, Bob Gottlieb, Dwane Casey, Jimmy Dykes, Brooks Thompson and Sean Sutton, just to name a few. Watch Bill Self’s press break, it is the same one Coach Sutton taught every year.
What the stats don’t tell you is that we went to class, we cared for our school and cared for each other because that is how were were coached. We respected and feared him, and now revere him for teaching us work ethic, building our self-confidence and giving us a family outside of our blood to always count on.
If you are going to keep our coach out because he was leading Kentucky’s program during a scandal, then there are some other coaches you may need to think about pulling their plaques off the wall.
Jim Calhoun, Jim Boeheim, Denny Crum, John Calipari and Rick Pitino have all had their run-ins with the NCAA folks.
Not to mention Jerry Tarkanian. When Tark went in, it signaled the end of the prerequisite that NCAA violations keep a coach out. Tark didn’t like the rules and seemed to thumb his nose at them. I believe Tark is a Hall of Famer, but I’m also not blind to his style.
I don’t bring up these names to throw darts, I do so for perspective and fairness.
Eddie Sutton made it a point that we didn’t cheat. He took chances on players like me and rehabbed the person as much as the player. Yes, Kentucky is part of the story, but there was not a hint of indiscretion anywhere else.
Ask Darrell Walker, a great player at Arkansas who has said time and again that Eddie Sutton saved his life.
He fathered us, mentored us and oh yeah, coached the hell out of us.
Yes, there are some personal demons associated with Coach Sutton and alcohol, but those flaws don't make him any less of a worthy recipient. I don't excuse it, he is a man with certain flaws, but he has never wavered from accountability of his own misgivings.
You could put Tom Izzo in, no one would argue with you, he is deserving. But could he wait another year? Coach Sutton can not wait any longer. Now is the time, this is the year. When Eddie Sutton arrived at Oklahoma State, the athletics program was in shambles. Though golf and Olympic sports were doing well, football was coming off probation which caused them to go winless.
The old barn was filled and the school bounced back and it has been growing exponentially ever since.
Despite Oklahoma State's upset of Kansas on Tuesday, the Jayhawks have long been the Blue Bloods of the Big 8/Big 12.
When Coach Sutton came home to Stillwater, Oklahoma, OSU was 20-0 to start the second year of his stint. By 1995, the Cowboys went to their first Final Four since Hank Iba (who Sutton played for) coached at OSU in 1949.
Nowadays KU owns the league.
Kansas has won every league title since 2004, the season Sutton’s OSU team won the title with John Lucas, Tony Allen, Joey and Stevie Graham, Daniel Bobik and Ivan McFarlain. Lucas was a transfer from Baylor, Tony was a junior college player, Joey and Stevie transferred in from Central Florida because of coach’s relationship with former KU coach Ted Owens, Daniel Bobik’s dad played for coach (and Daniel for my dad) he transferred in from BYU and Ivan was a Prop 48. Under-recruited for a variety of reasons, all except Bobick played in the NBA. They dominated the Big 12, won the league, the league tournament and lost by a bucket to Georgia Tech in the Final Four. In Stillwater, that is the stuff of legend, or at least a Hall of Fame coach.
Consider the wins, on and off the floor. Consider the places he coached, the teams he built, the legacy he left and the shadow he still casts. I ask you this in the name of good basketball and a good man who taught me and my teammates so much. Please put Eddie Sutton in your illustrious Hall of Fame, because he deserves it.
Yours in hoops,