Burnt Orange Glasses: The Sins of the Fathers

In his political and pop-culture infused off-beat commentary, Jeff Connor looks at two legendary Big XII basketball coaches who have "redefined nepotism by gerrymandering their employment contracts to have their sons step into their very large, smelly sneakers."

"When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down,
And ask forgiveness: so we'll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we'll talk with them, too
Who loses and who wins: who's in, who's out;
And take upon's the mystery of things,
As if we were God's spies."
–"King Lear," Act V, Scene III

"A man's desire for a son is usually nothing but the wish to duplicate himself in order that such a remarkable pattern may not be lost to the world."
–Helen Rowland

Call it Shakespeare on the Great Plains. In a story that could come straight from "King Lear" (or "Star Wars" for those of you who no longer read literature), two legendary Big XII basketball coaches redefined nepotism by gerrymandering their employment contracts to have their sons step into their very large, smelly sneakers. In a move that's usually reserved for Eurotrash pseudo-royalty, without even the dignity of a coronation ceremony, the sons of royalty inherited the sins of the fathers.

For Eddie Sutton, the walk away from Oklahoma State's basketball program was one involving twelve long steps. A remarkably productive, proliferate coach, Sutton is one of only six men's Division 1 basketball coaches with more than 800 wins. Ordinary objects falling to the ground move at the rate of 32 feet per second squared. That means the higher the position before the fall, the longer the period of acceleration, and the bigger the resulting splat. Sutton outran that formula with a dizzying, petal-to-the-metal tumble from grace that made Cowboy fans' heads spin. Police records from events on February 10, 2006 indicate Sutton's vehicle slammed into the rear end of another car at 60 miles per hour while driving to the airport to fly to a game at College Station. Sutton allegedly had a blood alcohol level of .22, almost three times the legal limit, and eventually plead no contest to the charges related to the accident.

In a similar but unrelated situation, Bobby Knight, the winningest college men's D-I basketball coach in recorded history, left the Texas Tech Red Raider team in mid-sentence as abruptly as the season finale of "The Sopranos" didn't stop believing. The General is one part brilliant military strategist, one part gifted, Zen-like teacher, and one part asshole. He has worked, uplifted, bullied, instructed, cheered, coerced, encouraged, raged, and cajoled great efforts out of his lieges, both off and on the court. Coach Knight justifiably has a massive, larger than life reputation that only a handful of sports figures have the personality, force of will, or presence to match.

Pat Knight, unfortunately, is not that towering a figure. By all accounts a nice guy, Pat suffers from an androgynous name, a tendency to wear corporate logo sweater vests with short sleeve shirts, and the burden of bearing hopelessly exaggerated expectations. Men have spent countless hours on therapists' couches or closing down bars with issues related to seeking the approval of or being as good as their daddies. Will Sean Lennon ever make music like his father, the late Beatle John Lennon? Can Hank "Bocephus" Williams, Jr. ever sing "Your Cheating Heart" like his daddy?

Coaching father and son combinations are no different. When a son chooses the same general profession as his dad, there will inevitably be unflattering comparisons, unrealistic expectations, and nostalgic ruminations about how great the father was back in the day. When the son takes the exact same identical job as daddy, the comparisons are multiplied by a factor of ten thousand. I suppose that Sean Sutton, the son of Eddie and current OSU coach, and Pat Knight have forever forfeited their right to be judged on their own abilities, successes, and failures. Regardless of their coaching prowess, it will be decades, if ever, before these sapling coaches are able to grow on their own in the warm sunlight, free from their fathers' long, cold shadows. But, as Super Chicken noted, "You knew the job was dangerous when you took it, Fred!"

The results of this social sporting experiment have been remarkably consistent. Pat Knight's Red Raiders and Sean Sutton's Cowboys both had identical Big XII regular season records of 7-9, tied for seventh place in the Conference. Both teams have big wins, including Tech's frenetic, student-body-storming-the-court win over the Horns last Saturday before last and Oklahoma State's mid-season five game winning streak with victories over A&M, Baylor, and the Kansas Jayhawks. Both teams are firmly outside the bubble of making the NCAA playoffs, and both will probably end their season playing in a less prestigious three-initial tournament. Are these guys living off the largess in their famous fathers, or are they both legit D-I coaches worthy of respect for their own coaching skills?

Too soon to call. Another characteristic OSU and TTU share is wildly, stunningly inconsistent play. In the games before and after they spanked the Horns, Tech lost by over 40 points in College Station and more than 50 points in Lawrence. Think about that for a minute. 40 points (much less 50) is a legendary, record-setting, this-must-be-a-misprint ass-whipping. Schools go generations and have stunningly bad teams and never manage to lose by 40 points. To give up two contests like that within a one week period borders on the incredible and unforgivable.

My beloved, mighty, fighting Texas Longhorns have also been inconsistent this season, but the fluctuations in their performance seem like waves on the shore compared to Oklahoma State's hurricane and Tech's tsunami. At 13-3 in conference with a half game lead on Kansas by virtue of a head-to-head win over them, the Horns clinched a share of the regular season championship by beating Okie State in Austin last Saturday, securing the number one seed in the Big XII tournament. Yes, the loss to Tech was hard to watch and I've been taking merciless crap from my Tech buddies, but I keep warning Inside Texas posters that Lubbock has weirder mojo than Crispin Glover and Andy Dick together on a bad acid trip.

Like the "King Lear" quote above, I'm sure the Suttons and Knights will some day sit down together, swap stories, and talk about "court" news, even thought there will need to be some reconciliation first. But the Longhorns have no such Freudian father problems, and Rick Barnes seems to be a well-adjusted, sharp, capable, mentally stable coach. In addition to the other things we don't have to worry about as Horns, we are blissfully free of the forced obligation to provide lifetime employment for Barnes' did-you-mess-them-up-in-the-head kin folk.

Since our father/son issues are far off the basketball court, I say we take care of business, whip the Cowboys, and see how far we need to go in the Big XII tournament to bump an NCAA two seed into a number one.

Hook ‘em.

Jeff Conner's political and pop culture-infused Longhorn commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.


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