Wednesday, April 02, 2008
Stillwater, Oklahoma has become the epicenter of controversy in the last 36 hours. Oklahoma State fired Sean Sutton as head men’s basketball coach after just two years, with a total record of 39-29.
There are two camps involved in this mess. Sean Sutton is the son of legendary retired OSU coach Eddie Sutton. Upon taking OSU to the Final Four in 2004, Eddie Sutton asked OSU to name Sean as head coach-designate and his replacement. The elder Sutton threatened to resign if the Cowboys did not follow through with that request. OSU shortly thereafter named Sean Sutton the heir apparent to his father. Sean actually assumed those duties in the middle of the 2006 season, after his father drove drunk and rammed his Dodge Durango into the side of another driver's car, resulting in a DUI and a repeat trip to rehab.
Enter T. Boone Pickens. The corporate raider and OSU alum gave the largest donation in the history of the university to the athletic department in 2005. Pickens pledged $165 million dollars to renovate the football stadium and build new facilities for other sports. In the time period following, the athletic director and university president resigned. $165 million buys a lot of influence. Pickens had his friend, OSU golf coach Mike Holder installed as athletic director. Holder runs the day-to-day operations of the athletic department, but Pickens retains the final word over hiring and firing decisions. Pickens is a fan of football coach Mike Gundy, who has had a barely above average three-year tenure as coach of the Cowboys, but recently had his contract extended.
It is said that the Suttons and their camp never got along with the Pickens gang. With such a large donation, Pickens demands a lot of control. The Suttons stood in the way. As the OSU basketball team plunged into mediocrity, the natives in Stillwater were restless, as was an oilman in Dallas by the last name of Pickens. To make a long story short, Sean Sutton became a millionaire as a result of the buyout of the last three years of his contract.
On one hand, Eddie Sutton set both his alma mater and his son up for failure by pushing Sean into the head coaching chair. It is really hard to follow a legend, and it is impossible when you are the son of said legend. Sean would probably now love to trade places with his brother Scott, a successful head coach for nine years at Oral Roberts. I’m sure the Suttons would like to have some do-overs. Nonetheless, they have reason to be hacked off at their alma mater.
On the other hand, T. Boone Pickens really does own a Big 12 athletic department. Money talks, and big money screams. Watch an OSU football game, and you’ll find T. Boone Pickens on the sidelines in a loud orange sweater, if he’s not yukking it up with the broadcasters in the booth. He makes Jerry Jones look low-profile. Tom Hicks would love to have this kind of control at the University of Texas. Pickens wanted his man as basketball coach. Now, he’ll have his chance.
OSU needed to take some risks if they wanted to compete on the level of rivals Oklahoma and Texas. Control of their athletic department by a megalomaniac is the price they are paying to compete in big-time Division I athletics.