Tributes to Eddie Sutton and a Timeline that Clarifies His Monumental Role in Oklahoma State Success

Robert Allen

STILLWATER -- The Oklahoma State Cowboys community and and the basketball world woke up Sunday morning, May 24, 2020, and for the first time many were discovering that one of the most beloved individuals in school and athletic history had passed away. Former Oklahoma A&M and Oklahoma State player and ultra successful basketball head coach Eddie Sutton had died at the age of 84 of natural causes. Coach Sutton was surrounded by family and had spent time being visited by former players and close friends in the few days leading up to his passing on late Saturday, May 23, 2020. 

The reaction to his passing on social media was massive, heartfelt, and significant matching what Sutton was to the people he had touched, the game he loved, and the school that he came home to and had such a significant impact on. 

Now, on Saturday night, right after I had first heard that Coach Sutton passed away I wrote a kind of hodge-podge tribute story combining Coach Sutton's personality, his impact of people, on and off the court, and his impact on Oklahoma State. 

Think about it? As we stand here today Oklahoma State athletics is significant and strong in all of these sports; football, men's golf, wrestling, men's and women's tennis, baseball, softball, soccer, cross country, and track and field.

Back when Coach Sutton arrived back home at Oklahoma State, football was on probation and so was wrestling. Baseball was in the middle of the Decade of Dynasty with Gary Ward as head coach. Golf was strong as it had always been under Labron Harris and Mike Holder. Tennis was solid, but played on the intramural courts. Basketball had one NCAA tournament appearance and just seven winning seasons in the previous 25 years. 

Eddie Sutton immediately put Oklahoma State athletics back in the national spotlight. It would be the momentum for later, athletic director Terry Don Phillips to start the vision. Mike Holder would pick up that vision and lobby alum and mega-billionaire and business tycoon T. Boone Pickens to back the vision and dream. There is no doubt that Oklahoma State would not be where it is athletically without Pickens and the vision of Phillips and Holder. However, I strongly feel the vision would not have carried without that Sutton-fueled momentum. 

A Timeline to Oklahoma State Athletics Today Featuring the Influence of Eddie Sutton

Jan. 7, 1989 - Jan. 1993 - Oklahoma State football is placed on one of the most crippling NCAA probation outside of the SMU death penalty.

Jan. 1989 - Jan. 5, 1996 - Oklahoma State wrestling, a flagship program in the athletic department goes on NCAA probation.

April 11, 1990 - His former high school coach and patriarch of the Oklahoma A&M athletic program for many years Henry Iba, introduces his former player Eddie Sutton as head basketball coach.

March 14, 1991 - Sutton leads Oklahoma State in his first season as coach to the NCAA Sweet 16 as the Cowboys beat New Mexico and North Carolina State in College Park, Md. before losing to Temple in overtime in East Rutherford, N.J. Sutton would lead the Cowboys to 13 NCAA Tournament appearances, including his first four seasons as coach, and two Final Fours. 

Oct. 11, 1994 - Oklahoma State hires Terry Don Phillips as the new athletic director. Phillips, a former Arkansas football player and, most recently, associate athletic director, is well aware of Sutton and his influence and popularity. 

March 26, 1995 - After winning the Big Eight Tournament, Sutton leads his Oklahoma State team to four straight wins in the NCAA including UMass on this day to put the Cowboys in Seattle and the Final Four against UCLA.

Coach Sutton this year at the ceremony to honor the Final Four team of 1995. USA Today Sports Images - Rob Ferguson

April 25, 1998 - Fueled by the success of Sutton and the Cowboys in basketball, Terry Don Phillips, rightfully, decides to double the size of Gallagher-Iba Arena and turn the facility into an athletics center with highly modernized offices and facilities. His goal is to stimulate and build football up, but this was the way it had to go and continue seizing the popularity of Sutton and basketball.

"This will put us on a more level playing field for recruiting and purposes, and put us in a position to consistently get quality student- athletes that can compete at the Big 12 level," Phillips said of the project.

April 5, 2000 - Cowgirls Softball Stadium opens as the new home of Cowgirls softball. The stadium was primarily financed by moving a home game with Nebraska from Stillwater to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. 

Gallagher-Iba Arena, the House Mr. Iba built and Eddie Sutton renovated. USA Today Sports Images - Rob Ferguson

Dec. 19, 2000 - Oklahoma State plays the first game in the fully completed and expanded Gallagher-Iba Arena as they beat Arkansas-Little Rock 70-60. The arena capacity goes from 6,381 to 13, 611. 

Jan. 27, 2001 - Not long after opening up the new version of Gallagher-Iba, the building goes through gut wrenching sadness as 10 members of the basketball program and travel party die in a plane crash in the snow outside of Denver, Colo. on the way home from a road game at Colorado. On Jan. 31, Sutton and others would eulogize the 10 men lost in the crash. Sutton contacted every family and attended every service. 

March 6, 2003 - T. Boone Pickens announces a gift of $70-million to the Next Level Campaign at Oklahoma State with $20-million promised to football and the football stadium.

April 8, 2003 - Terry Don Phillips leaves Oklahoma State to become athletic director at Clemson where he would go on to eventually hire Dabo Swinney as head football coach. Harry Birdwell would become athletic director.

March 6, 2004 - Sutton and the Cowboys win the Big 12 Tournament.

April 3, 2004 - The Cowboys lose a heart breaker to Georgia Tech in the NCAA Final Four in San Antonio. 

May 25, 2004 - It is announced that Sean Sutton is officially the head coach in waiting at Oklahoma State.

Coach Sutton's signature marks Eddie Sutton Court.USA Today Sports Images - Rob Ferguson

January 15, 2005 - The court at Gallagher-Iba Arena is renamed Eddie Sutton Court.

September 3, 2005 - Mike Gundy coaches his first game as head football coach for Oklahoma State and the stadium opens the new South side of the facility. The Cowboys edge Montana State 15-10. 

September 16, 2005 - Mike Holder is hired as athletic director at Oklahoma State.

February 10, 2006 - Eddie Sutton is involved in a two car accident traveling from the athletic facility to the Stillwater airport to depart for a road game. 

February 15, 2006 - Sutton takes a leave of absence after alcohol is discovered to be the cause of the car wreck. Sutton seeks treatment for his alcohol addiction. 

May 19. 2006 - Eddie Sutton retires and turns the coaching duties over to his son Sean.

January 10, 2006 - T. Boone Pickens announces a $165-million gift to Oklahoma State, most of it to athletics.

Sept. 2, 2006 - Oklahoma State opens the new North side of what will now become Boone Pickens Stadium as the Cowboys defeat Missouri State 52-10. 

September 5, 2009 - Oklahoma State defeats Georgia 24-10 in the newly completed Boone Pickens Stadium as the West End Zone is completed.

Now the stadium has even added a jumbo jumbotron video board. Pat Kinnison - Pokes Report chief photographer

Since that date Oklahoma State has added new facilities in track and field, tennis, soccer, and baseball. The athletic department, primarily with football using it, shares the Sherman Smith Indoor Training Center. So much of this was built on the generosity of Boone Pickens, the vision of Terry Don Phillips and Mike Holder, but absolutely the momentum built by the basketball success of Eddie Sutton.