Legendary college basketball coach Eddie Sutton, who won more than 800 games and was the first coach to take four different schools to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, died Saturday of natural causes, his family said in a statement. He was 84.
Sutton died at his home in South Tulsa, Oklahoma, and was surrounded by family, according to the statement.
Less than two months ago, Sutton was informed that he’d be a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame 2020 class. In its statement, the Sutton family said his inclusion in the Hall “was an honor and a tribute to the great players he coached and outstanding assistant coaches that worked for him.” Sutton had been a finalist on six previous occasions.
He will be posthumously inducted in August, as will Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant.
Sutton coached basketball for 50 years, at six different colleges and one high school, but he is best known for a successful run at his alma mater, Oklahoma State, and a controversial tenure at Kentucky.
He reached the Final Four three times, and during his 37 seasons coaching at the Division I level, Sutton finished a season below .500 only twice: his final season at Kentucky and during a half-season at San Francisco. He still ranks in the top 25 all time in wins with 806.
Kentucky hired Sutton from Arkansas for the 1985-86 season, and he led the Wildcats to a 32-4 record and an Elite Eight appearance. But after only four seasons, Sutton announced his resignation in the midst of an NCAA investigation into the basketball program.
In October 1988, the NCAA announced 18 charges against the basketball program following a Los Angeles Daily News report that Emery Worldwide air freight workers found $1,000 in a package allegedly sent from Wildcats assistant Dwane Casey to the father of Kentucky recruit Chris Mills.
The NCAA gave Kentucky a two-year postseason ban and prevented it from playing on live television during the 1989-90 season. Casey was put on NCAA probation for five years, and Mills was ruled ineligible.
Sutton and Casey have maintained their innocence.
“When that happened, it was a setup,” Sutton told the Kansas City Star in 2011. “Who would send money like that? And an overnight package somehow opens up? You need a crowbar to open those things.”
Sutton returned to Oklahoma State beginning in 1990, and immediately brought winning ways back to Stillwater. During his 16 seasons with the Cowboys, they reached 13 NCAA tournaments, six Sweet 16s and three Elite Eights and made Final Four appearances in 1995 and 2004.
In 2005, the school announced the court at Gallagher-Iba Arena would be named Eddie Sutton Court.
“It means a great deal,” Sutton said at the time. “It is quite an honor.”
In a tweet, Oklahoma State president Burns Hargis noted that Sutton “revived our historic basketball program and will always be revered and loved by the #CowboyFamily.”
#okstate is deeply saddened by the passing of Coach Eddie Sutton. A Hall of Fame Coach with more than 800 wins, he revived our historic basketball program and will always be revered and loved by the #CowboyFamily. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Sutton family. pic.twitter.com/gHA6NDVZoX
— Burns Hargis (@burnshargis) May 24, 2020
Sutton announced his retirement in 2006, three months after he took a leave of absence following a car accident in which he was injured and cited for driving under the influence. Sutton, who admitted he lived with alcoholism, was succeeded by his son Sean.
“People today in our country know a lot more about alcoholism, but there’s still people that don’t know what the disease is, how it affects someone as a person,” Sutton said at his retirement news conference. “It’s really slow suicide if you drink.”
Former NBA player Rex Chapman, who played under Sutton at Kentucky, called him “an unbelievable teacher of the game of basketball” in a tribute posted to Twitter.
“I was fortunate and lucky to have learned from him,” Chapman wrote.
Eddie Sutton was a fascinating and complicated person. He also was an unbelievable teacher of the game of basketball. I was fortunate and lucky to have learned from him. Grateful.
Hall. Of. Famer.
Thanks, Coach Ed.
— Rex Chapman?? (@RexChapman) May 24, 2020
Sutton played his college ball at Oklahoma State under Henry Iba, and began his coaching career as an assistant for one season after graduating. After several seasons coaching high school basketball in Tulsa, Sutton helped found the men’s basketball program at the College of Southern Idaho — then called Southern Idaho Junior College — in 1967.
Sutton moved on to Creighton for five seasons, reaching the NCAA tournament in 1974. He spent 11 seasons at Arkansas, making a Final Four appearance in 1978 and an Elite Eight appearance the following season. He made the NCAA tournament in his final nine seasons with the Razorbacks.
Sutton’s best moment at Arkansas arguably came on Feb. 12, 1984, when his unranked Razorbacks defeated Michael Jordan and the undefeated top-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels 65-64. The game was nationally televised on NBC and featured legendary broadcaster Dick Enberg calling the celebration “Pandemonium in Pine Bluff!” That game remains the only time in Arkansas basketball history that the Razorbacks defeated the AP No. 1 team.
Sutton was chosen for the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.
Sutton’s wife, Patsy, died in January 2013; they had been married 54 years. He is survived by his three sons and their families, including nine grandchildren. Scott Sutton was the head coach at Oral Roberts for 18 years and is the school’s all-time winningest basketball coach. He’s currently an assistant coach at Oklahoma State. Sean Sutton, who coached Oklahoma State for two seasons after his father stepped down, is now part of the coaching staff at Texas Tech.
ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.