FAYETTEVILLE – It took the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame seven ballot years and 804 career victories to recognize in Eddie Sutton what the late Frank Broyles recognized after his new basketball coach’s first games. Sutton, 84, and a 2011 inductee into the Collegiate Hall of Fame in Kansas City, was told Friday that he finally had been elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
He was formally announced Saturday among eight in the 2020 Hall of Fame class. Pat Foster, an outstanding Razorback for the late Glen Rose, and the assistant that Sutton retained from predecessor Lanny Van Eman, recalled Athletic Director-Head Football Coach Broyles repeatedly praising early in Sutton’s 17-9 first season.
Sutton coached the hybrid of Van Eman holdovers off a 10-16 season, and his own first recruits, including eventual Arkansas Sports Hall of Famers Marvin Delph and Dr. Jim Counce, and Western Kentucky star transfer Kent Allison. That 1974-75 foundation set what the Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer and Delph Triplets along with Counce churned into the spectacular: 26-2 with a 16-0 Southwest Conference championship in 1976-1977, and 32-4 Final Four and SWC co-championship in ’77-78.
“Coach Broyles would come by in that first year he was here and say, ‘He can coach can’t he?” Foster, retired in Fayetteville after head coaching Lamar, Houston and Nevada, said last Friday night. “And I would say, ‘Yeah he can, Coach. He can really coach.’ Then I’d see him later and he’d say, ‘He’s good isn’t he? He’s really good!’ And I would tell him again how good he was. That first year Coach Broyles knew from watching the games that he had someone really special.”
Broyles certainly did. His first coaching hire now joining Broyles’ second basketball, hire, Arkansas 1994 national championship Coach Nolan Richardson, and Razorbacks All-American/ 5-time NBA All-Star Moncrief, in the Naismith Hall of Fame.Sutton went 804-328 record head coaching Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma State and the University of San Francisco. He took Creighton to the NCAA Tournament his last year. In 11 years he took Arkansas to the NCAA Tournament nine consecutive times including a Final Four and an Elite Eight. He took Kentucky to one Elite Eight among three NCAA Tournaments in four years. In 16 years took Oklahoma State to 13 NCAA Tournaments including two Final Fours and one Elite Eight. He won eight conference championships starting with five at Arkansas.
“Well deserved and long overdue,” Counce said Friday night of his coach, speechless in ill health after strokes. “I am glad the Hall of Fame selection committee finally recognized Coach Sutton’s greatness and distinguished career in basketball. I’m glad for the boys (Steve, Sean and Scott, sons of Eddie and the late Patsy Sutton). They have been wanting this for a long time. I think he’s still the only coach that’s ever taken four different schools to the Final Eight. It’s a mystery why it’s taken so long.”
Bouts with alcoholism late at Arkansas and during his Kentucky tenure and a relapse ending his Oklahoma State tenure and a Kentucky probation likely figured. All that should have been far outweighed by his record, development of players on and off the court, and the strength under stress he displayed upon the tragic stress when one of the Oklahoma State team planes crashed killing all on board.Other than not winning a national championship, and the Naismith Hall has elected some who didn’t while winning far less than 800, Sutton did it all as a coach. Sutton started most importantly with the basics that Broyles recognized.
“He could coach the fundamentals,” Foster said. “That might sound simple but it’s not. He could teach a guy how to set all kinds of screens and he could teach a guy how to come off a screen. He could teach things that others don’t get into the detail that he could. Boy, he had the game down. Every time a player moved he had him doing something constructive. He made all of them a lot better.”
The great ones greater and the supporting cast A-1 in their own right. “He could take an average player and make him into a very good player and fit him into a role to find his strengths,” Foster said. “We got a lot of guys drafted that for another coach wouldn’t have had that opportunity.”
Led by senior scoring great Martin Terry Arkansas just two years earlier had gone 16-10. But how Sutton’s 17-9 first year Hogs performed left a lasting impression this would last. The bandwagon rolled well even before soaring in ’76 and ’77. “It was easy to spot for fans at all levels,” Foster said of Sutton’s impact even pre-Triplets. “People that were very interested and even fans who were not really into basketball that much, they got into it. He had some things that most people don’t have.” It took way too long, but finally the Naismith Hall of Fame has them, too.