Feb. 28, 2006
Editor’s note: Longtime Oklahoma State University Head Basketball Coach Eddie Sutton — with whom Clemson Athletic Director Terry Don Phillips worked with during his tenure at the school –recently was involved in an auto accident. Sutton, who is on a medical leave of absence, has acknowledged that he has an alcohol problem and plans to enter a treatment center. Sutton has apologized for his mistake and the harm he has caused his family, his team, the University and its fans. OSU System CEO and President David Schmidly have said the OSU family is behind Coach Sutton and will support him and his family in the days and weeks ahead. (Sutton is just five wins short of 800 and has taken three different programs to the Final Four.)
I’ve had the very good fortune to work with Eddie Sutton for quite a while. He was a true gentleman. He is a tremendous ambassador. I have been with him through some tough times, particularly during the OSU plane crash tragedy.
Throughout those times, I came to know Eddie as a wonderful human being. In all the years I was with Eddie, I never saw him involved with alcohol in any shape, form or fashion. I never was suspicious of any alcohol issue. In my years of working with him, he was a strong leader with great character.
When we first had a vacancy and were looking for a basketball coach at Clemson University, the person I went to visit with first was Eddie Sutton. He was the person I went to for advice and counsel in seeking out a coach to build our basketball program for the long term.
I talked with him about head coaches and people he thought were outstanding. I also visited with Sean Sutton, his son who has been designated to succeed Eddie at Oklahoma State.
In conversations with Eddie, I learned a great deal about outstanding coaches who had done great jobs in very difficult situations. Eddie believed Oliver Purnell was a coach we needed to take a hard look at. So, I have tremendous respect for Eddie Sutton.
I was aware that prior to coming to Oklahoma State, Eddie had gone successfully into alcohol rehab. Presently, I know that he has been injured, after falling upon avoiding a car while taking a walk. He has been on medication for a period of time prior to this accident occurrence.
Sometimes people are able to get over alcohol abuse by working through rehab. Coach Sutton is probably a great example because he is a very good man and has worked to get alcohol out of his life.
As strong and tough as he is, however, it has been a lifelong struggle for him. It affects even the strongest. Once something like this takes hold of you, it is difficult to shake or beat. And upon failing to do so, there are unfortunate and sometimes tragic consequences. The bottom line is that it speaks to the struggles that many individuals have with alcohol. It can become a lifelong illness.
This is one of the reasons there is a significant move on college campuses — particularly at Clemson University with our student-athletes on alcohol and drug issues. Hopefully, through education and awareness, our people will understand that there are consequences to alcohol and drug use/abuse.
Personal growth and development is an area of emphasis with our programs at Vickery Hall. For example, all freshmen student athletes are required to attend one 50-minute session per week for approximately 16 weeks during their first semester at Clemson. The freshman year is targeted because it is a crucial time for student athletes to obtain success in all areas as they move forward in their University life.
We need to do everything we can through these educational measures to underscore what alcohol and drug abuse can lead to. When people are young, they tend to believe they can do certain things involving alcohol or drugs and walk by it in the future. They say to themselves: “I’ll be just fine”.
Coach Sutton’s situation shows this isn’t necessarily true. This is a case involving a really good person who has helped a lot of people and a great coach who is 69 years old and it has come back on him. The lesson to be learned is that while students are young, they need look into the future and see that these things happen to good people, people who are outstanding in their profession.
Despite their frequent feelings to the contrary, young people are not invincible. They need to know it can happen to them. It is our responsibility to do all we can to stress that point.
In Solid Orange,Terry Don Phillips
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April 19, 2019