STILLWATER, Okla. — Randy Rutherford paid a visit to Eddie Sutton during the day Saturday, hours before the legendary basketball coach passed away at the age of 84.
It was a day full of reminiscing for Rutherford, who played for Sutton at Oklahoma State University from 1992-95. Sutton stories carried into Sunday as everyone who is part of the Cowboys basketball family celebrated the life of a man who had mentored so many.
As Rutherford told more stories Sunday afternoon, he noted that none had been about basketball.
“Basketball was about 10 percent of what he was teaching us,” Rutherford said. “He was teaching us about life and how to treat people and how to carry yourself, be accountable and responsible and have integrity.”
Sutton died Saturday night at his Tulsa home with his family at his side, less than two months after he learned he had been elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Sutton won 806 games in a career that spanned parts of five decade, from 1969-2008. He was the first coach to take four different programs to the NCAA Tournament, and he led three teams to the Final Four — including two at OSU.
His impact on basketball players was mighty. Yet basketball was a fraction of Sutton’s coaching equation — just like his three D’s of basketball: discipline, dedication and defense.
“Coach Sutton did a great job of mentoring a lot of men,” Rutherford said. “He changed a lot of lives. When he talked about the Cowboy family, he meant that. Everything we did, he made it for us to have an experience.
“We go to New York, we gotta see this and do this. There was always an educational moment for us to have those experiences, because he knew a lot of us would never have those opportunities. The things we did, he made sure no opportunity was missed. And none of that is basketball.”
Many of his former players call Sutton a second father. Yet for many of the men who came through the OSU program, Sutton was a first father.
“I always looked at him as a father-figure,” Rutherford said. “You were required to be your best version of yourself at all times...
“A lot of us young men who didn’t have fathers in their lives, we needed that. A lot of us go through life with people saying things and then they never come through. When Coach said something, it happened. When he said he was gonna do something, it happened.”
Doug Gottlieb’s social media post late Saturday night spoke to the deep and lasting impact Sutton had on the former Cowboys point guard.
“Dear Coach, thank you,” Gottlieb wrote.
He went on to share their meaningful moments together, but those first four words said the most about their relationship: Two men who connected in Stillwater while overcoming the battles of their basketball pasts.
“You told us that life was hard, but if we could make it through your practices, we could achieve anything,” Gottlieb wrote. “You were right.”
When Sutton arrived at Oklahoma State in 1990, Ron Arthur was a manager for the team. Arthur was in a transitional period as he saw the goals for his future changing. Originally a political science major, Arthur was moving toward education, and with that, coaching.
“Any of the managers who wanted to be a coach, he let us work with coaches,” said Arthur, the Shawnee (Oklahoma) High School boys coach who has been in the profession since he left OSU in 1993. “You’re right there alongside Rob Evans, Bill Self, Paul Graham, all those guys. “You’re helping them break down film. You’re in their office when they’re talking to recruits. Or you’re helping them type up scouting reports. Those things helped you develop into a coach. You start thinking like a coach.”
Just like his players and assistant coaches, the managers and other peripheral workers who made the program run were an equal part of the Cowboys' basketball family.
“What he meant to all of us was so impactful,” Arthur said. “The leadership that he showed and the camaraderie that was created under his leadership is something that we’re all indebted to. I have lifelong friends because of those days back in Stillwater...
“When people talk about the Cowboy family, that’s probably an understatement to how strong a bond it actually is, and that’s because of Coach Sutton.”