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Sutton replaces Evans as San Francisco's coach for rest of season

12/27/2007 - San Francisco Dons

Eddie Sutton is going to get another shot at his 800th victory.

San Francisco announced on Wednesday that Jessie Evans is stepping down as basketball coach and 71-year-old Sutton is taking over the Dons on an interim basis.

"Coach Jessie Evans has requested a leave of absence for the remainder of the basketball season," USF athletic director Debra Gore-Mann said in a statement. "I have approved his request. Eddie Sutton has agreed to serve as interim head coach, effective immediately and for the remainder of the 2007-08 season. I [or someone from the USF athletic administrative staff] will be traveling with the team as much as possible for the immediate future to lend my support to the student-athletes and to assist interim coach Sutton in any way I can."

Sutton's first game will be Friday night at Weber State.

"I love the game of basketball," Sutton said. "There's nobody that coached or it played it that loved it as much as I do. I missed coaching youngsters. I missed that. I want to gain, getting back on the court and having the opportunity to teach. That will be very pleasing to me."

Going for No. 800 is pleasing too.

"It's very important," Sutton said. "I
had a chance earlier this year to take a Division I job and didn't
think I wanted to do it. From a selfish standpoint, it is something
I'm excited about. ...

"It was a goal I had for myself. I don't think nationally
anybody's going to look at it and say, 'Now you won 800 versus
798.' There's just not that much difference."

Gore-Mann told ESPN.com prior to a news conference Wednesday that Evans requested a leave of absence Wednesday morning. She said that the decision to take the season-long leave was solely Evans' decision. But that contradicts what multiple sources told ESPN.com -- that Evans was issued an ultimatum earlier in the day that he had to resign or would be fired.

Gore-Mann said she wouldn't discuss the particulars of why Evans took the leave and didn't know if Evans would be the coach next season. Gore-Mann did confirm that Sutton was at the Long Beach State-San Francisco game last week in Long Beach, but that the school didn't set up Sutton's appearance.

Gore-Mann said she had a short window to "bring in coach Sutton.''

Sutton retired as Oklahoma State's coach after the 2005-06
season. He has 798 victories in 36 seasons as a Division I coach at
Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State.

When his victories at Tulsa Central High School and the College
of Southern Idaho are included, Sutton won exactly 1,000 games
before retiring from coaching in May 2006.

His retirement came about three months after a drunken driving
accident caused him to miss the Cowboys' final 10 games of the
2005-06 season. Sutton pleaded no contest to misdemeanor aggravated
drunken driving and two other charges following the February 2006
car accident.

"I've thought about that and I would say it probably does
[enter into this decision]. I certainly didn't want to end my
coaching career the way it ended here," Sutton said, speaking from
an athletic office at Oklahoma State.

Sutton reached the Final Four with Arkansas in 1978 and with
Oklahoma State in 1995 and 2004. He ranks fifth on the all-time
list for victories among Division I coaches, trailing Texas Tech's
Bob Knight (896), Dean Smith (North Carolina, 879), Adolph Rupp
(Kentucky, 876) and Jim Phelan (Mt. St. Mary's, Md., 830).

Gore-Mann told ESPN.com earlier Wednesday that Sutton told her he didn't want the full-time job.

"I'm physically in good health," Sutton said, adding that his drinking problem is a thing of the past. "I feel very strong."

"As a recovering alcoholic you have to work on that every
day," he added. "I still attend meetings."

Gore-Mann said she "took Coach Sutton at his word."

Gore-Mann wouldn't discuss Sutton's salary.

The coach said he's never been on the San Francisco campus, so "This is the toughest challenge I've ever had."

Gore-Mann added that she is working toward bringing in former South Florida coach Robert McCullum as an assistant for Sutton.

Sutton has two sons who are Division I coaches: Sean, who
succeeded him at Oklahoma State, and Scott, who is at Oral Roberts.

"He's thought long about it over the last four or five days,"
Sean Sutton said. "He's excited about it. He misses the
interaction on a daily basis with the players. He still has a lot
of competitive fire in him. ... And obviously, he's two wins shy of
winning 800 games. There's only been three or four other coaches
that have ever accomplished that goal. It would put him in an elite
group of coaches. I'm excited for him because I think he's happy."

Scott Sutton, whose team beat Sean's 74-59 on Dec. 20, said he
was "happy for my father that he has decided to return to
coaching. Hopefully he'll be able to gain his 800th victory and cap
a great career."

The AD tried to clear up why she said she didn't know that Evans would be leaving until Wednesday morning yet Sutton said he talked to her a few days earlier about the possibility of the job becoming available.

"When I was talking to coach Sutton before it was more long term, not short term,'' Gore-Mann said.

As for whether or not Sutton could be a long-term solution, she said, "I would always consider him, but it would be what he would be ready to commit to."

Former Purdue coach Gene Keady, who interviewed for the San Francisco job twice while he was still the head coach of the Boilermakers, said Wednesday he hasn't talked to Sutton about the job. Keady interviewed at the time with Bill Hogan, the former USF athletic director who is now at Seattle University.

"I know he misses coaching but I don't know why he'd want to do that," Keady told ESPN.com. "He doesn't like losing, and just wait until he tries to buy a house."

Evans, who had been under careful watch by Gore-Mann over the
past year, was in his fourth season at USF (4-8). He was hired from
Louisiana-Lafayette in April 2004 to replace fired coach Phil
Mathews.

This month, the NCAA suspended Dons senior forward
Vince Polakovic for 24 games stemming from his participation with a
German national team in 2004.

The school said at the time that several members from the German
national team received stipends deemed by the NCAA ``above actual
and necessary expenses.'' San Francisco contended that Polakovic
wasn't among those players who received payments and said it would
appeal the suspension.

When asked if the suspension and Evans' departure had a
connection, Gore-Mann said, "No, they do not."

Evans coached on Lute Olson's staff at Arizona from 1988-97 and
also worked as an assistant at Minnesota, Texas, Wyoming, and San
Diego State before joining the Arizona staff. He helped lead the
Wildcats to a 25-9 record and a national title in his ninth and
final season with Arizona.

Sutton changes the complexion of San Francisco basketball.

"What a life changing experience for the USF players to be coached by an all-time great," Kansas coach Bill Self said. "While not an ideal time to be hired, Coach Sutton is going to excite and energize that entire campus and community. In addition, the staff accompanying him will by season end, have this team headed in the right direction."

Information from ESPN.com senior writer Andy Katz, ESPN Radio's Doug Gottlieb and The Associated Press was used in this report.