Editorial: A Train Wreck Waiting To Occur

Let me start with the fact that I like Sean Sutton. I have known Sean since he followed his father to Stillwater after a year in college basketball purgatory to come back from the tough experience the family suffered at Kentucky to a glorious two seasons as a Cowboys player like his dad.

Under Eddie Sutton's guidance from the bench and with Sean Sutton on the court as the point guard the Cowboys broke free of years of mediocrity and worse with 52 wins over those two seasons and back-to-back NCAA Sweet 16 appearances. Sean then launched a successful coaching career. He had the gift of being sharp with the X's and O's of basketball strategy. That said, some of the following comments will be considered by some as blasphemy, and others will ask how could someone who said they like Sean Sutton write such things. This could go in the category of, "with friends like this, who needs enemies." You will have to take me at my word, that I really do like Sean Sutton, but I love Oklahoma State even more.

This whole scenario of hiring and, ultimately, firing Sean Sutton was a train wreck waiting to happen. The new fad these days is to hire a coach in waiting. I won't argue with the strategy, but it has a serious backfire when the athletic director, in this case Harry Birdwell, that makes the hire isn't waiting to be the athletic director when the time comes for the coach, in this case Sean Sutton, to take over. Sean Sutton was passed on to Mike Holder. That is not a comfortable situation, and while Holder will tell you that he is a big fan of Sean Sutton, and of his father that preceeded him, the truth is there have been some stresses in that relationship over the years.

It would not have been unreasonable when Birdwell resigned that the agreement with Sean Sutton have an escape clause. That was just a part of the problem. The way the program was handed over was another major problem.

Eddie Sutton, as head coach at Oklahoma State, and while driving an OSU vehicle on the way to the airport to depart on a team road trip, was admittedly under the influence of alcohol and lost control of his vehicle and struck another vehicle. Sean Sutton had to take over the team under those circumstances for the rest of the season, and was eventually named the head coach when the season was over and his father retired. That was as awkward a transition as you could have possibly had, and something Sean didn't need or deserve.

Do I think Sean Sutton is a good basketball coach? I have no doubt. But is he a good Division I head coach? A good head coach in the highly competitive Big 12?

I asked a good friend of mine, a long time Oklahoma State fan, what the four coaches in this year's Final Four have in common. Those coaches are John Calipari of Memphis, Ben Howland of UCLA, Roy Williams of North Carolina, and Bill Self of Kansas. My friends answer was immediate. "They all have presence, dynamic presence," he said.

He's right, and every successful major college coach these days seems to have it. They are great communicators that can walk in a room and draw the attention. They can captivate players, boosters, and the media alike. Sean Sutton is a good coach but he doesn't have that presence. His father does, even his brother Scott, the head coach at Oral Roberts University, does. It's not fair because Sean can coach, maybe he can't head coach, at least not in a league full of Selfs, Barnes, Drews, etc. It will be interesting to see if the scenario works out any better at Texas Tech where it is obvious that Pat Knight is lost in the gigantic shadow cast by his father.

This whole situation was a three-prong wreck. The first being the hiring of Sean as coach-in-waiting by one athletic director only to take over under another. The second prong was the hand-off of the program under adverse circumstances. The final prong was the firing, dismissal, or as the release states "mutually agreed on a new direction" involving one of Oklahoma State's own.

I'm sorry, you have to convince me that Sean Sutton capitulated on a job he had been dreaming of for more than a decade. I think the rumored $1.5 million buyout might have helped with Sean Sutton agreeing to the formation of the words on the release, but Sutton deep down only mutually agreed that he had to depart. Sean Sutton is a Cowboy and there is no school that he wanted to coach more than his own. He bleeds orange and hopefully always will.

The question now is how quietly will the Suttons will go? I'm sure Sean will because he is a team player, always has been. The question is whether Eddie Sutton, who still holds plenty of influence with some in the media, will cause any disturbance. I honestly hope not. Like I do with former OSU head coaches Pat Jones and Tom Holliday, I hope there will be a day that both Eddie and Sean Sutton can again fully enjoy their relationship and past with Oklahoma State. However, I'm human and I know bitterness takes time to wear off or down.

The media, many of them, will side with Sutton. Some of those are sincere and I respect them. Others are similar to myself and the OSU fans that "felt" John Blake was mistreated at the hands of David Boren and Joe Castiglione. Those media members, and they know who they are, enjoy the fact that under OU is 4-0 in the basketball version of Bedlam with Sean Sutton as head coach of the Cowboys. Yes, score is always taken in that series and always remembered.

There are those that will rebel. The Sutton family had a long relationship at Oklahoma State, and Eddie Sutton wielded a lot of power and influence until the incident that cost him his head coaching postion. There are some OSU fans that will be very upset over this. While I was not buying everything that was presented at Tuesday's press conference, I know this: Mike Holder has devoted nearly 35 years, his entire post collegiate life, to working for Oklahoma State. I have said before, I do not always agree with Mike Holder, but I know that his loyalty to Oklahoma State is undeniable.

"You know we are all Cowboys at the end of the day," said Holder. "I've got a book on the coffee table in my office called 'Cowboy Ethics.' I like to read that. It's a big deal for us to be Cowboys and there is a lot of grit, determination, and ethics in being a Cowboy. One of the great phrases in there, one of the principles is, 'Cowboys ride for the brand.' That means you saddle up and you do your job every day and you ride for the brand on the cattle or those horse you represent and we just all happen to be Cowboys riding for the OSU brand."

The ride today was a lot more difficult. The wind was biting, even causing the eyes to well up. These Cowboys will need some healing but in the end will the basketball program be better? You have to hope it will be. The hire Holder and the cast he choses for help will be critical toward that end. I do know this, as much as it pains me to say it, this scenario of a coach-in-waiting did not work. With all that happened along the way, it never had a chance.

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