Seemingly out of nowhere, Oral Roberts University has parted ways with venerated basketball coach Scott Sutton.
The school on Monday issued a press release just before 5 p.m., saying it had “released” the coach who for 18 seasons has guided the Golden Eagles to more victories than anyone in program history.
In the last 13 seasons, Sutton, 46, led ORU to seven postseason tournament appearances, including three consecutive NCAA Tournament trips from 2005-08.
But the departure of original staffers Corey Williams, Tom Hankins, Conley Phipps II in recent years diminished ORU’s recruiting efforts and the team’s overall success, and Sutton’s teams fell to 14-17 last season and 8-22 this season.
Sutton could not be reached for comment Monday, but he did issue a statement.
“For the last 22 years, I’ve been honored to be a part of Oral Roberts University,” Sutton said. “My 18 years as head coach will always be some of my fondest memories. While I’m proud of our wins, conference championships, and postseason tournament appearances, what I’ll cherish the most are the relationships we built and the impact we made on the hundreds of players who came through our program over the years. While today’s events have been difficult, I choose to focus on the many successful years we enjoyed at ORU.”
Sutton hired his older brother, Sean Sutton, in 2010, after Sean was fired from his job as head coach at Oklahoma State following an arrest for and revelation of substance abuse problems.
Sean Sutton was added to the coaching staff in 2011, and sources said there has been friction ever since.
Williams, like the Suttons a former Oklahoma State player under Eddie Sutton, was a dynamic recruiter but left for Florida State in 2007, at the end of ORU’s NCAA run.
It was the departure of Hankins and Phipps after Sean Sutton’s arrival that heralded the start of trouble. Hankins (now head coach at Division II Central Oklahoma) left for an assistant post at Southern Illinois in 2012, and Phipps left to take over Sapulpa High School in 2014.
“We appreciate Scott’s outstanding record, his loyalty and his long-term service to the University,” ORU athletic director Mike Carter said in the press release. “He will forever be a part of our great history. We love Scott and his family and wish him the very best.”
Sutton nearly got the Nebraska job in 2012, and at his zenith in 2007 was a candidate for the Creighton job and turned down the Wichita State job.
“After careful thought and several conversations with my family, I have decided that it is in my best interests to withdraw from the search at Wichita State,” Sutton said in ‘07.
“I love it here. This is my home. My family and I love ORU, and we love Tulsa. President (Richard) Roberts, Mike Carter and everyone else at the university make this a wonderful place to work. We’ve accomplished a lot in the last several seasons, and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.”
Carter’s deep personal ties to Eddie Sutton and the Sutton family led many to believe Scott Sutton would never be fired as long as Carter was the AD. That, however, was not the case.
KJRH-TV’s Cayden McFarland reported on Twitter that Sutton could have saved his job by cutting his brother loose, but declined. Tulsa World writer Ben Johnson reported that ORU players were told they weren’t allowed to comment on the situation for 48 hours. Multiple sources confirmed those reports.
Johnson, citing an unnamed source, also reported that current ORU president Billy Wilson did not offer an extension of the previous agreement with Sean Sutton, and that Scott Sutton was given the option of parting ways with his brother to keep his job, but refused.
Former Eddie Sutton point guard and Fox Sports analyst Doug Gottlieb reported that Sutton learned he had been fired on Twitter, and said the school met with his players before calling him first.
It’s another bad day for an athletic department that has struggled to maintain relevance on the local sports scene following the 2007 resignation of president Richard Roberts and a financial scandal that included several lawsuits (Roberts’ DUI arrest happened in 2012) and ended with the widespread restructuring of university administration.
Although Sutton’s teams had slipped in the last two seasons — the 2015-16 squad’s 14-17 record was his first losing record since his second season in 2001 — it was widely expected the Golden Eagles would bounce back with last year’s hiring of AAU coaching star Rodney Perry. Instead, Perry has been named interim head coach, according to the press release.
“We are grateful that we have such a quality young coach to assume the (reins) at this time,” Carter said. “We are excited about the future of this program.”
After his playing days at OSU ended, Sutton was hired by Bill Self prior to the 1995-96 season as an administrative assistant. Sutton’s duties that year included color analysis for the ORU radio team. He joined Barry Hinson’s staff in 1997 and was hired as head coach on April 30, 1999.
Ken Trickey won 214 games in two different stints at ORU, but Sutton passed him in February 2011 as the program’s all-time winningest coach. ORU has made five NCAA Tournament appearances, and Sutton, with three, is the only coach to lead them there more than once.
Sutton’s teams won 20 games or more seven times in his tenure, including tying the program’s Division I record with 27 wins in 2011-12. The Golden Eagles were 196-100 in conference play during Sutton’s time. He was three-time Summit League coach of the year (2002, 2008, 2012) and was named NABC District 12 coach of the year (2005).
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.