Sutton takes leave to enter treatment facility

Updated: February 16, 2006, 9:18 PM ET
Associated Press

STILLWATER, Okla. -- When Eddie Sutton became the basketball coach at Oklahoma State in 1990, he openly spoke of his struggle with alcoholism.

Sutton underwent treatment for alcoholism at the Betty Ford Center in 1987, while he was the coach at Kentucky, and while discussing the issue three years later, he said, "I've dealt with it."

Eddie Sutton and Sean Sutton
Elsa/Getty Images Sean Sutton (right) will take over the reigns at Oklahoma State after Eddie Sutton (center) announced he will leave to program to enter a treatment facility.

Now he's going to deal with it again.

During a strange late-night press conference on Wednesday at Gallagher-Iba Arena, where the Cowboys play their home games on Eddie Sutton Court, Sutton addressed reporters by telephone and acknowledged drinking before an accident Friday that has cast a cloud over the future of his 35-year coaching career.

Sutton apologized to numerous people for the accident: his university family, his current and former players, and the driver of the other vehicle involved in the wreck. He said that he plans to seek treatment for his drinking relapse during his current medical leave of absence, which began Monday.

He didn't say where he would be seeking treatment, but did say he would do so next week.

"I have a problem with alcohol," Sutton said. "That said, I make no excuses for what has happened. I recognize it and I will be seeking treatment for it. I know I have let many people down."

But many of those people expressed support for Sutton and the coach's effort to approach his drinking problem head-on.

One of Sutton's assistant coaches, James Dickey, said Sutton is "like a brother" and that "he has always taught personal responsibility and accountability to our coaches and players. And that's what he's doing this evening: taking responsibility and accepting accountability. I would expect nothing less from this wonderful man."

Added Randy Rutherford, a guard on Oklahoma State's 1995 Final Four team: "He has taught us a lot about basketball, but more importantly, he has taught us a lot about life. Tonight he's once again teaching us about life -- about accepting responsibility for our actions.

"We all make mistakes in life. But we shouldn't be judged by the mistakes. Judge a man by what he does to correct that mistake."

Sutton didn't address his coaching future during the press conference and didn't take questions.

Most NCAA Tournament Wins,
No NCAA Titles
Coach Wins
Eddie Sutton 39
Guy Lewis 26
John Chaney 23
Bob Huggins 20

Oklahoma State President David Schmidly said Sutton's future would be determined after he returns from his medical leave of absence. Sutton's son, Sean Sutton, will continue to coach the Cowboys in the interim.

Schmidly said the university will support Eddie Sutton.

"We want him to get well, get back on his feet and we will look forward to the time when he will return and continue his contribution to our university," Schmidly said.

Schmidly said the announcement Wednesday didn't necessarily mean Sutton would be retiring, but the president said he wouldn't be surprised if that happened.

"If anybody has seen this man, [they] know what kind of pain he's in," Schmidly said. "He's 69 years old. We've got to get Coach to focus on his health. That's the most important thing."

Sutton has had chronic hip and back pain in recent years. In September 2004, he cracked his tailbone in five places when he jumped into a ditch to avoid being hit by a vehicle.

The chronic pain drove him to alcohol, he said.

"The pain at times literally has been unbearable," he said. "Last Friday, the pain was so bad that I took a lot of pain pills, but that didn't seem to work, so I succumbed to temptation and went and bought a bottle."

Sutton was cited for driving under the influence, speeding and crossing the center line following a crash Friday night on his way to the Stillwater airport, where the team gathered before flying to a game at Texas A&M.

Witnesses told police they saw Sutton fall at Gallagher-Iba Arena before getting into his Dodge Durango. Crash witnesses reported seeing Sutton swerving before he collided with another driver's sport utility vehicle.

Sutton was hospitalized overnight and has been resting at home since Saturday afternoon.

Police are awaiting results of a blood test to determine whether Sutton was driving under the influence. Those test results could be available by this Friday.

Sutton coached at Creighton, Arkansas and Kentucky before becoming taking over at his alma mater prior to the 1990-91 season. He's fifth on the NCAA Division I career coaching wins list with 794. He trails only Dean Smith (879), Adolph Rupp (876), Bob Knight (867) and Jim Phelan (830).


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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