Mr 800: Eddie Sutton's Season Past the Brink

February 1st, 2008


If the San Francisco Dons lose the rest of their games this season they will become historically significant.  If they win one more game, their coach believes that he will become more historically significant.  This is why it is in the best interest of the San Francisco Dons to not win another game this season.  If they continue to lose they will captivate the sports world by highlighting the grotesque vanity of pursuing statistical milestones at all costs.  If they win, they will be nothing more than an anomaly on the statistical scroll of a hall of fame coach. 


In sports, retirement is an art that is debated annually.  Whether it is Lance Armstrong leaving on top, Shaq struggling with the inevitable, Favre’s indecision, or Jordan’s flip-flopping, the way in which an athlete ends their career is integral to the legacy they leave behind.  Eddie Sutton lost his chance to walk away from college basketball with dignity when he was pulled over for drunk driving last season.  His long tenure as Oklahoma State’s coach was likely cut a season or two short and he was forced to go through the Don Imus public charade necessary for “forgiveness.”  Sutton had gone through this all before when he was fired from Kentucky, with rumors of drug and alcohol abuse.  But he was younger then; he had time to redirect the arc of his coaching career.


After a seemingly innocuous start to San Francisco’s season, the Dons’ coach, Jessie Evans, was forced into a leave of absence. The curmudgeon Eddie Sutton was roused from retirement and placed on the sideline to coach the remainder of the season.  The obvious reason for this unneeded resurrection, is to push his win total from 798 to 800, where he will remain the fifth most winningest coach in college basketball history.


The difference between 798 and 800 seems to appease nothing more than vanity.  Perhaps Sutton watched Bernie Mac’s “Mr. 3,000” while in rehab and decided that “Mr. 800” may produce lucrative promotional opportunities.  I can just picture his mastiff face in front of the neon “Mr. 800” sign.  However, Sutton has denied that 800 wins is the reason he accepted the short termed position. 


“The thing I missed about coaching is the practice sessions, watching kids mature and grow,” Sutton was quoted as saying about his new team. 


Apparently he only wants to watch the Dons mature and grow for a couple of months.  Living out of a hotel room in San Francisco, Sutton has made it clear that as soon as the season is done he has no interest in remaining. 


During San Francisco’s game with Gonzaga on ESPN’s Big Monday, the announcers expressed amazement that Sutton was at the pre-game practice, and that he had actually stood up and pointed out what the players were doing wrong.  Yes, the announcers in an unnecessary amount of words, expressed their amazement that Sutton had been seen coaching his team.  Sutton was then shown in the locker room watching Oklahoma State’s game.  While his players continued warm-ups on the court, Sutton displayed more interest in Oklahoma’s game than he would in the course of his own.


One would assume that Sutton might approach this awkward situation by displaying some amount of humbleness and gratitude to the players.  After all, he has arguably wasted a year of their eligibility for his own gain.  Sutton has repaid the players by routinely referring to them as “the worst team I have ever coached.” 


Even if this is a true statement, it seems unnecessarily harsh.  Sutton has brushed it off as mere honesty; a statement hard to believe when paired with the obvious lies about his motivations for being there.  Some may claim that he is attempting reverse psychology, but this is granting Sutton a level of effort that he has simply not shown. 


After eight games Sutton’s presence on the bench has led to a record of one and seven.  With nine remaining games, the Dons losing the rest of the season may not require a concerted effort on their part.  Players are not often so clearly in control of a coach’s legacy.  The Dons should seize this opportunity to send their “coach” off the way he deserves, the way that every player who has ever had to endure a coach who was in it for all the wrong reasons has dreamed of doing. 


Since getting his 799th win, sports news organizations began writing articles in anticipation of number 800.  For the first time, the Dons’ highlights are being shown on Sports Center.  With each successive loss these highlights increase in awkwardness.  As the season reaches its end, this awkwardness will likely work its way into a crescendo that will eclipse the excitement of any league championship.  I can just imagine the talking heads of PTI and Around the Horn psychoanalyzing Sutton and the over/under on his sobriety. 


In watching the final throws of Sutton’s career sports fans are being treated to a combination of the most pondered questions in sports: what weight should be placed on statistics, and when should an athlete retire?  Sutton’s return and subsequent failure to reach 800 would be the barometer in which the selfish pursuit of statistics is gauged.  If the Dons can do what Sutton has been unable to, put aside their own ego, they will become a sports story far more compelling than a coach with 800 wins instead of 798.