How valuable is he to the Cowboys?

For years the debate has raged – who will be the Cowboys' next basketball head coach? Up until his hiring at Kansas last spring, the debate was basically between former Cowboy and successful head coach Bill Self and current Cowboy associate head coach Sean Sutton. Now Sutton is considered the front runner, but some Cowboy fans want to look over the entire collegiate landscape to see who would be interested in following a legend in Eddie Sutton. Let the debate rage on.

The current fact is that with father and legend Eddie Sutton serving as the CEO of OSU basketball, his son Sean is the most valuable coach when it comes to the current success and national prowess being exhibited by the Cowboys. From recruiting to scouting and game planning for high-powered opponents like Texas, Kansas and rival Oklahoma, the younger Sutton has been a driving force to the top of the Big 12 Conference standings.

It's easy this season to divide Sean Sutton's value to Oklahoma State basketball into three phases. The first is a little ambiguous to outsiders, but still crystal clear in its result. Eddie Sutton is 67 years old, a time in the life of most college head coaches that sees them retired and enjoying long winter vacations to warm destinations. A time when they might catch a game or two, make an appearance at the Final Four, but are out of the day-to-day grind and pressures of being a head coach. Eddie Sutton will be the first to tell you that the reason he is still coaching is that he has someone he can completely trust and de-pend on to absorb many of those head-coaching duties. That person is Sean.

"Oh, I don't think I would still be coaching if Sean wasn't here," Sutton has said on several occasions in the past. "Sean has had opportunities to leave, but I believe he has realized how important he is to me, to this program, and I hope he has taken great satisfaction in what we have been able to accomplish here. It wouldn't have been possible without him. I deflect a lot of the duties of this position to him, and that has been a major reason I've stayed with this. Most people don't know how important Sean's contributions have been."

"It certainly has helped him having Sean," ESPN analyst Andy Katz recently told The Daily Oklahoman. "Eddie seems to still have as much energy. He's been able to relate to today's players probably just as well as when he started out."

To his credit, Sean has been the "good soldier." He could have left for one of several head coaching opportunities that were hinted could be his. He could have opted to walk around beating his chest and publicizing how instrumental his role has been at Oklahoma State. So what's kept him from it? Respect to begin with. It's an ideal that seems to be wilting in society, but the younger Sutton has an incredible amount of respect for his father. When asked about successes in the program, even ones that he may have had the main influence in creating, the former point guard who grew up watching his dad conduct practices at Arkansas, gives all the credit to his father. Whether it's a teleconference with the media, a coaches show, a meeting with the athletic department, a trip to eyeball a prospective recruit, a scouting report, or pregame or halftime speech to the team, Sean Sutton has been exposed to virtually every duty thrust on a head coach and has handled them all with flying colors.

"I love Oklahoma State," Sean has said often. "This is where I want to be, and I feel fortunate that I've been able to help my father accomplish what he has at Oklahoma State. This is truly a very special place. It has been to me and my family, and I have been here because I've wanted to be."

The next time you are sitting in Gallagher-Iba Arena enjoying a big run on the scoreboard by the Cowboys, look down at the bench, at the old man with the scowl, one of the all-time greatest coaches in college basketball, and realize he wouldn't still be sitting on that bench if not for the younger man sitting next to him.

The next major value Sean Sutton offers the O-State program is one that has been handed down to him from his father, handed down to him, in part, from Mr. Iba. Sean Sutton is one of the best X and O coaches in the game. Forget that he is an assistant or associate head coach, Sean Sutton can take an opponent like Kansas, Oklahoma or Texas and break them down and then come back with the right strategy to beat them. Sean draws the big game when it comes to devising the scouting report and game plan. There is group participation from the entire coaching staff, but it is Sean that presents it to the team. Eddie Sutton is the first to tell you that Sean has the responsibility for calling the "special scoring plays" that have become legend under Eddie Sutton's tenure at Oklahoma State. This season fans and network TV cameras have seen during time-outs that Sean is instructing the team, or at the least conferring with his father before Eddie Sutton directs the squad.

"Sean had a great scouting report on Kansas," Eddie Sutton said earlier this season after the Cowboys' 80-60 win over the Jayhawks on a Big Monday. "Sean has always had Kansas, and with the coaching change from Roy Williams to coach Self, Sean made the right adjustments. He really got our players to listen and execute the key factors we felt were necessary in winning the ballgame."

The third, but not necessarily the final, value that the 35-year-old Sutton has brought to this year's team is his individual work with the player that many observers feel is the biggest difference-maker this season. Former Baylor guard John Lucas arrived in late August, virtually September, and was immediately thrust into the point guard role for the Cowboys. Yes, Lucas is the product of a basketball background having grown up around and inside the sport with his father John Lucas Jr., an NBA standout and coach. And, yes, Lucas was not a rookie to the Big 12 having played as a freshman and sophomore at Baylor, but Lucas admits it was a far cry from playing in Oklahoma State's system and what they did at Baylor.

"At Baylor we would get a brief scouting report, watch a little tape and then go play," said Lucas. "Here we have a 40-page scouting report to learn, watch more tape, work on all of it, and then play the game. It is a lot more extensive than what I was used to."

Imagine the preseason practices and having a little over a month on the floor to learn Eddie Sutton's halfcourt offense, the breaks, the special scoring plays, the inbound plays, and the nuances of the fierce man-to-man defense the Cowboys play roughly 98 percent of the time.

Sean Sutton grew up doing what John Lucas had to learn and execute in a matter of weeks. It was Sutton who became almost a personal tutor for John Lucas. It's a situation not that different from that of South African and Cowboy seven-footer Franz Steyn. Steyn had to learn basketball, and has been given the patience to progress. Lucas had the aptitude going in, but he had to learn more intense and precise version of the sport in a short amount of time. Lucas credits his personal tutor for getting him there.

"Sean has been the major reason that I've been able to step in here and play well," said Lucas. "At first, it was a little intimidating because we didn't have as complicated a system or as many plays at Baylor. There was a lot for me to learn and a little bit of a different mindset to running the offense. Sean had done it as a player and so it was easier for him to show me the ropes. He's a good teacher."

Another example of Sean Sutton's influence on Lucas is the leadership Lucas displays, both on the floor and off. A sample of that leadership was evident in the postgame comments he made following the 80-60 win over the Jayhawks.

"This is our motto for this year," Lucas said. "Once we get a team down by five, we want to move it to 10. When we get it to 10, we want to move it to 15. Move it 15, we want to get to 20. We want to take the life out of them and let their confidence slip away and then keep battling and keep battling and making good decisions on the court."

It may have come out of John Lucas' mouth, but I swear I can see Sean Sutton's lips moving. Lucas has turned into the kind of point guard Sean Sutton once was for the Cowboys, and because of that the Cowboys are a top-10 team with a chance to earn a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.

There is enough success to happily pass around accolades for all the players and coaches. No doubt, Eddie Sutton is due many of those plaudits. He could likely earn his fifth National Coach of the Year honor, he is a shoe-in for the Big 12 Coach of the Year, this season could end up with Sutton's third trip to the Final Four, and, with a little luck, maybe this is the March that leads Eddie Sutton's team to a national championship. Whatever postscript is written to this season, and whatever honors come the program's direction, it is only fair that fans, media and observers give credit where it is due. It would not have happened without Sean Sutton, and the man whose victory total climbs with each final buzzer will be the first to tell you that. Still, I'm sure the debate will rage on.

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