Oklahoma State University officials announced today that head basketball coach Eddie Sutton, who is recovering from injuries suffered in a Friday automobile accident, has asked to take a medical leave of absence for the remainder of the season.
"Coach Sutton has been dealing with constant back and hip problems the last couple of seasons and after last Friday's accident he feels this is the best decision for his health and for the team," said OSU System CEO and President David Schmidly.
ESPN is reporting that Stillwater, Okla., police cited Sutton with driving under the influence after the traffic accident but did not jail him on a complaint because of a lack of physical evidence, the city's police chief said Monday.
Police are awaiting the results of blood tests that will confirm whether the 69-year-old was driving under the influence at the time of the accident, Stillwater Chief Norman McNickle said. It could take six to eight weeks to receive the test results.
In a released statement by Oklahoma State, Sutton admitted his pain and recent injuries have only added to the stress of OSU's struggles this season.
"It has been an extremely difficult season," Sutton said. "With my deteriorating physical condition and other issues, I have been under a tremendous amount of stress. I told Dr. Schmidly I was close to making this decision after the trip to Kansas State because the pain in my back was making it very difficult to coach. After Friday's events, I know it is best to go on medical leave the remainder of the season to address my future health.
"It is very difficult to step away from the team," continued Sutton, whose son and head-coach designate, Sean Sutton, will lead the team the remainder of the season. "But I know they are in great hands. The season has not gone as we wished, but we have a talented and fine group of young men and I look for them to finish the season strong. I won't be on the bench, but I'll be with them."
Kansas University coach Bill Self said he was saddened when he learned of his mentor's decision.
"It's very unfortunate. The biggest thing is he gets to feeling better," said Self, whose Jayhawks face the Cowboys at 8 p.m. tonight in Stillwater. "No one wants somebody with a Hall of Fame career to miss a game.
"I knew last night he probably would not be there. I talked to their staff, but I haven't talked to coach."
Self said tonight's game definitely won't have the same feel, and that he is forever thankful for the lessons Sutton taught him.
"I would say in all areas he's influenced me," Self said. "From game management to pregame, we still do drills very similar, if not identical, to what we did at Oklahoma State.
"I've stolen a lot from coach Brown (Larry Brown), Ham (Leonard Hamilton), and coach Sutton. He's impacted me a lot. He's stood for class."
Schmidly, and OSU vice president for athletics Mike Holder, and Sutton said no decision has been made regarding the coach's plans for next season.
"Coach Sutton will continue to heal and that is something we will discuss at the appropriate time," Holder said.
"We all want what's best for Coach Sutton and wish him a speedy recovery. His dedication to college basketball and Oklahoma State University is unquestioned and his tireless effort on behalf of the institution is sincerely appreciated."
Under Oklahoma law, driving under the influence can include a range of substances, including prescription painkillers or alcohol.
According to a report in The Oklahoman, witnesses reported smelling a "slight fruity odor" on the coach's breath and seeing a bottle of hydrocodone, a narcotic pain reliever related to codeine, in his SUV. McNickle wouldn't discuss whether alcohol or medication was a contributing factor to the accident.
"I can't say anything more," McNickle told The Oklahoman.
Sutton was not given a field sobriety test at the time of the accident because he needed medical treatment, McNickle said. Before issuing a DUI citation "officers have to have reasonable suspicion to believe the person was under the influence at the time," the chief said, declining to discuss those suspicions because they are part of an ongoing investigation.
Sutton was traveling to the Stillwater airport to fly with his team to College Station, Texas, when the accident occurred Friday. According to a police report, Sutton's sport utility vehicle went left of the centerline on a Stillwater street, corrected and then struck another SUV from behind at a speed of about 60 mph.
Sutton was hospitalized overnight for a head injury and released Saturday. The occupant of the other SUV received minor injuries and was released at the scene, officers said.
The police department has filed complaints against Sutton for speeding and traveling left of center, the chief said.
Witnesses told police that shortly before the accident, Sutton was unsteady on his feet and struck his head after falling in the parking lot of Gallagher-Iba Arena before entering his vehicle, according to a statement released Saturday by Stillwater police.
Sutton, who resigned in 1989 from a Kentucky program placed on four years' probation by the NCAA, arrived at his alma mater in 1990 with a chance to rebuild the Cowboys' program. At his introductory news conference he said he recognized three years earlier that he had a problem with alcohol and said, "I've dealt with it." He received treatment at the Betty Ford Center.
At Oklahoma State he added to his already impressive record with 15 straight seasons of at least 17 wins. He has taken the Cowboys to the NCAA Tournament's Final Four twice -- in 1995 and 2004.
He entered this season -- his 16th at Oklahoma State and 36th overall -- with a chance to reach 800 wins. If he fell short of the mark, Sutton said he'd have to consider after the season whether to retire or return.
With six regular-season games remaining, Sutton ends the season six wins short at 794. The Cowboys are 13-11 (3-7 Big 12 Conference), and the coach recently criticized his team's mental and physical toughness, calling it the "softest team in 16 years that I have ever coached."
Assistant coach James Dickey, who took Sutton's place on the Big 12 coaches conference call on Monday morning, said Sutton addressed his players twice by phone Sunday to tell them of his plans.
"I'm sure they were disappointed," Dickey said. "As you can imagine, the players listened intently. But they all wished him the best, told him they loved him. He told them he loved them, to stay on the books and play hard and do their best to beat the Jayhawks tonight."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.