Commentary

The 'other' Sutton quietly thrives at ORU

Originally Published: January 6, 2010
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

His boys grew up on the basketball court -- a manager would fetch them after school and bring them to practice. They'd be in the locker room for all of dad's halftime and postgame talks.

They watched the glory up close and only suffered the sting of disappointment from afar.

Still Eddie Sutton didn't think his three boys would want to follow in his footsteps and wasn't the least surprised or disappointed when his eldest, Steve, decided to become a banker.

And then came Sean.

He was too stubborn and too foregone into the world of basketball to be reined back in, so Eddie threw in the towel: his middle child would be a coach, no sense wasting his breath.

[+] EnlargeScott Sutton
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesScott Sutton (left) grew up around the coaching profession, as dad Eddie built his legendary career.

That left Scott, younger than Sean by 20 months and as much a basketball junkie -- he played for his dad at Oklahoma State -- but different. He had a degree in business and was going to be a businessman.

Eddie was sure of it.

And then Bill Self called.

Then the head coach at Oral Roberts, Self was looking for an administrative assistant (what we'd call a director of basketball operations today), a young kid interested in getting his coaching feet wet.

"Fortunately I happened to be in the living room," Scott said. "Otherwise I think my dad would have given him three other names. After I talked to him, he called Bill back and said, 'Scott's really interested in the position.'"

The way Eddie figured it, he was sentencing Scott to a few years of harsh reality and maybe in the end, he'd come to his senses: "I said, 'Go over there and coach for a few years and see what you think. You're young enough so if it doesn't work, you can try something else.'"

That was 15 years ago.

Scott Sutton not only is still coaching -- he's still coaching at Oral Roberts.

And these days he's the boss.

More mild-mannered than his fiery brother Sean, Scott has quietly carved a successful niche at the Christian-based university in Tulsa, Okla. The Golden Eagles went to three straight NCAA tournaments from 2006-08 and have wrested control of the Summit League from Valparaiso, claiming the league title in four of the past five years.

Along the way they have become something of a giant-killer, taking down mightier programs almost annually -- Arkansas (2002), Georgetown (2004), USC (2005), No. 3 Kansas (2006), Oklahoma State (2007) and this year, Missouri, Stanford and then-unbeaten New Mexico, which was ranked No. 12 at the time.

But perhaps more impressive than his success is Scott's longevity. Unlike his coaching brethren, constantly searching for the next brass ring to latch onto, Scott has contentedly remained at Oral Roberts. He's had chances to look elsewhere -- in 2007 he withdrew from consideration for the Wichita State job -- but has never jumped.

"I've talked to a lot of people in our profession who have chased bigger jobs with bigger money or bigger conferences and they're not nearly as happy," Scott said. "I put a lot of stock in happiness. You can't put a price tag on that."

It's a lesson Scott learned watching his father build a Hall of Fame-worthy career. Scott enjoyed the glory days in Arkansas and watched everything unravel at Kentucky amid NCAA rules violations.

But he was young enough to be shielded from the grind of the profession, enjoying the fame without going behind the curtain to see the toil that made the machine work.

"I tried to talk him out of it," Eddie said. "But I also didn't want to be that father who told their sons, 'Don't do that,' and then they get to be 38 years old and they don't like their job and they want to know why dad didn't give me a chance."

Instead, Eddie armed Scott with sage advice: "If your family is happy and you're happy and you like your school, there's only one question: Can you win? Don't ever go someplace if you're not able to win. You won't last very long and your family will suffer."

[+] EnlargeScott Sutton
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireDespite injuries, Sutton's team has already beaten Stanford, Missouri and New Mexico this season.

Scott has followed dad's formula to a T: The family is happy and Oral Roberts is winning.

Scott isn't foolish. He won't promise to be ORU's head coach for life. As the Golden Eagles prosper, he knows the opportunities will continue to come and eventually one might just tempt him away.

For now he's focused on not just getting Oral Roberts to the tourney, but winning a game once he gets there.

He'll have to do it with a severely depleted roster this season. After going an entire coaching career without losing a player to a significant knee injury, Scott watched as two of his players went down with ACL tears in the span of 20 minutes. At a preseason practice, rookie guard Hunter McClintock went down first, followed in short order by backup center Tim Morton.

On Nov. 18, point guard Roderick Pearson hit a buzzer-beating game winner at Stanford. On Nov. 21 against Virginia, Pearson crumbled to the floor before halftime. He, too, had a torn ACL.

Mix in a broken hand that sidelined Javier Nasarre, a sprained ankle for Kyron Stokes, a hand injury for Warren Niles and Beloved Rogers' decision to leave the team over Thanksgiving break -- add all that up and Oral Roberts was down to six scholarship players when it was blown out at Louisville on Dec. 16.

"There was a point where the guys were looking around like, 'What's going on? Are we cursed?'" Scott said.

It is a run of tragically unfair bad luck for coach and program, the tough part of coaching Eddie knew would someday rain on Scott's sunshine-filled parade.

Rather than lamenting what might have been and howling at the cruelty of running a practice with barely enough guys to field a tennis team, Scott soldiered on.

And on Dec. 23 -- just more than a week after the death of the school's founder and namesake -- Oral Roberts upset 12-0 New Mexico with seven scholarship guys. With the Golden Eagles 3-1 in league play heading into Thursday's game against Oakland (ESPN360, 8 ET), ORU is now downright flush with eight players.

Still, what's the use in complaining? You won't hear it from Sutton.

"I'm like anyone who really loves his job," the would-be businessman said. "I don't feel like I'm working. I'm getting paid to have fun."

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com.

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