TULSA, Okla. -- At 6 a.m. Friday, Eddie Sutton got word that Oklahoma State women's basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna had died in an airplane crash, and the familiar grief returned.
"It brings back a flood of bad memories," Sutton said.
Memories of that snowy night nearly 11 years ago when a small plane carrying 10 members of the Cowboys' men's basketball program, including two players, crashed into a Colorado field. There were no survivors.
"It's why I tell my three sons that when they wake up every day be thankful for what they have," Sutton said.
That bit of advice comes from a deep well of coaching wisdom. In 36 years as a major college coach, Sutton's teams won 804 games. He was the first coach to take four different teams to the NCAA Tournament, one of few to guide two different programs to a Final Four.
Sutton's players who've turned professional and assistants who've become coaches, including Kansas' Bill Self, are too numerous to list, and for all of these achievements, Sutton was honored Sunday night, along with seven others, with induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame at the Midland Theatre.
But most compelling about the basketball career of Eddie Sutton are the events that have created perhaps the fullest life of anybody who has ever taken a courtside seat.
He turned losing programs into winners, and battled alcohol and pain-killer addictions.
His teams went to the three Final Fours, and one received the hammer of NCAA probation, which forced Sutton to depart in disgrace.
He's one of eight coaches with at least 800 major-college career victories, and the only one who had to notify families of loved ones who perished in an airplane crash.
"I don't know anybody in coaching who has experienced everything Coach Sutton has," said Nebraska coach Doc Sadler, who saw his first Sutton-coached game as a ninth-grader and became his team manager and assistant coach at Arkansas. "I don't know if anybody else could have lived through everything he has."
A career that covers stops at Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma State and San Francisco and nearly took him to Duke and Kansas State started early enough that Sutton helped integrate a program. A future United States president became one of his biggest fans, and he calls his greatest stroke of fortune his wife of 53 years, Patsy.
This narrative of triumph and tragedy, of heartache and second chances, sounds like something pulled from a Johnny Cash album. As Sutton, 75, looked back over his life in basketball from his office in Tulsa, the bottom-line thought is a simple one.
"I've been blessed," he said.
Jump off at the exit ramp at any point in Sutton's timeline, and there's something fascinating to see.
Like most of the state, University of Arkansas law professor Bill Clinton was swept up in the fever pitch that was the Razorbacks' run the Final Four in 1978. The team was led by The Triplets -- Marvin Delph, Sidney Moncrief and Ron Brewer -- and coached by Sutton.
The Clintons and Suttons remained friends through Bill's rise in state politics. Sutton's three young children, Steve, Scott and Sean passed out campaign flyers in their Fayetteville neighborhood.
Clinton was elected at age 32, becoming the nation's youngest governor, and with the state holding elections every two years, Clinton believed re-election would be a breeze.
"The polls showed Bill ahead, and he came over to dinner about a week before the election with some campaign people," Sutton said. "They said it was going to be walk. I told them I'd been in athletics long enough to know strange things can happen."
On Election Day, Clinton became the youngest ex-governor.
But Clinton forged ahead, and when he was running for president in 1992, he put a call into his friend, now at Oklahoma State.
"It was the final weeks of the campaign, and I told him not to go into a delay game, to put on a full-court press," Sutton said. "And the next thing you know I started hearing that in his speeches."
When the Clintons moved into the White House, the Suttons were frequent guests. Eddie and Patsy took four visits, and Eddie reminded his old friend, "Don't forget, there was a time when more people knew me than you."
Sutton got sweet-talked into his first college coaching job in 1966. The president of the College of Southern Idaho formerly had worked at Cameron, Okla., where KU's Ted Owens had coached, and Owens recommended Sutton, then the coach at Tulsa Central High.
I'll be in Tulsa and will take just 30 minutes, James Taylor said. He took four hours and at the end gave Sutton enough gas money for Patsy and he to drive to Twin Falls "for a vacation if nothing else," Sutton remembered.
Sutton stopped at a service station outside of the town and asked for the whereabouts of the college, and the attendant looked at him funny while directing him to a building in town. There was a law office, and at the end of a corridor there was Taylor's office. After some pleasant chatting, Sutton asked to see the college.
"I forgot to tell you," Taylor told the Suttons. "It's not built yet."
He then flipped over a blueprint of the campus.
Sutton said yes, anyway, and the college shared a high school building with classes in session from 4-10 p.m., and basketball practice ending at 1 a.m.
But it worked. Sutton had brought two black players with him from Tulsa -- the school's first and doubling Twin Falls' population of minorities, Sutton recalled -- and went 84-14 in the first three years of the program's existence. Southern Idaho claims the highest historical winning percentage of all junior college basketball teams.
"And I had the worst record of anybody," Sutton said.
A Twin Falls doctor and a Creighton alum steered Sutton toward his first Division I job and he turned the Blue Jays into a winner. In his fifth season at Omaha, Sutton got Creighton to the NCAA Tournament and lost to Kansas by one point in a regional semifinal at Tulsa in 1974.
By then, Sutton was a hot commodity. Duke athletic director Carl James, who would become the Big Eight commissioner, attended the game and persuaded Sutton to interview in Durham, N.C.
But Sutton was concerned that not all of the competition in the ACC shared Duke's rigid academic requirements and told James no before an offer was made. Another school had inquired, and Arkansas was prepared to go whole hog into basketball.
"Fans had been asking me to build an all-sports program," said Frank Broyles, the former Arkansas football coach who added the role of athletic director in 1974. "I was determined basketball would make a profit."
Sutton proved Broyles right. In 11 years at Arkansas, Sutton's teams went 260-75, went to the NCAA Tournament nine straight years, and finished below second in the Southwestern Conference once. He also began collecting longtime friends.
James Dickey became a Razorbacks assistant and went on to coaching jobs at Texas Tech and now at Houston.
"He's had a tremendous influence on me," he said, "personally and professionally."
Kentucky was a mistake, both sides have said.
Sutton and the man at Arkansas who hired him, Frank Broyles, weren't getting along, and the idea of taking over a storied program like Kentucky appealed to Sutton on a couple of levels. He emphasized that point with the regrettable line, "I'd crawl to Lexington."
A native of Bucklin, Kan., Sutton developed a deep appreciation for the game's roots. He had been recruited by basketball coaching legends in the Midwest -- Iba, Kansas' Phog Allen, Wichita State's Ralph Miller and Kansas State's Tex Winter. Now Sutton had a chance to coach a program made famous by another small-town Kansas native, Adolph Rupp.
But after a 32-4 record in his first season, 1985-86, nothing was easy for Sutton in the bluegrass state. The Lexington Herald-Leader had just won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting a play-for-pay scandal under previous coach Joe B. Hall, but the NCAA couldn't get players to confess, so Kentucky wasn't penalized.
The hammer would soon drop in 1989. A package from the Kentucky basketball office addressed to Claude Mills, father of California recruit Chris Mills, was found to have contained $1,000 in cash. The money was discovered when the package from Emery, an overnight delivery service, came open at the company's facility in Los Angeles.
The NCAA determined Wildcats assistant Dwane Casey sent the money and suspended him for five years. Sutton was forced to resign. To this day, he says he's innocent.
"When that happened, it was a set-up," Sutton said. "Who would send money like that? And an overnight package somehow opens up? You need a crowbar to open those things."
Kentucky was banned from postseason play and the NCAA Tournament and docked scholarships. Sutton was out. Rick Pitino was in.
"Knowing what I know now," Sutton said, "I wouldn't have gone to Kentucky."
With 15 students in Sutton's graduating class and 60 in the top four grades, students did everything at Bucklin High. You played sports and were part of the glee club, acted in plays, marched in a band. You played football, basketball and ran track during the school year and played baseball in the summer.
It wasn't until Sutton got to Oklahoma State, where he graduated in 1958, that he took his first drink, and it was never a big part of his life until he coached at Kentucky. In 1987, in his second year coaching the Wildcats, Sutton entered the Betty Ford Clinic.
Sutton said he was sober for nearly 20 years, but two years of chronic back pain contributed to a relapse in 2006 while he was coaching at Oklahoma State. Late in the season, he crashed his Dodge Durango into a tree and was charged with aggravated DUI. Sutton turned the reins over to his son, Sean.
Sean Sutton took two Oklahoma State teams to the NIT, but was fired after 2008 season, and had suffered from back problems and headaches. He started taking pain killers and got hooked.
In February 2010, Sean was arrested after picking up a shipment under another person's name that included about 40 pills, including the anti-anxiety drug clonazepam and two forms of Adderall.
But in August, the case against Sean Sutton was dismissed. Today, he's an assistant coach to his brother, Scott, at Oral Roberts, and like his father has become an active speaker against alcohol and drugs.
"They're horrible diseases," Eddie Sutton said. "I've learned there are very few families that aren't affected in some away, or know somebody who is affected by addiction.
"But I'm so proud of Sean. He's spoken some 40 times about his experience. He's helped kids. He's worked hard at this."
In 1990, Sutton was on his way to the airport in Denver where the Final Four was played that year, believing he was on his way to Manhattan to be introduced as Kansas State's next coach.
Former coach Jack Hartman and Mr. K-State himself Ernie Barrett had worked it out. Sutton was getting back in the game after the Kentucky scandal, and he was thrilled about the prospect of coaching Kansas State.
"But I got a call on the way to the airport saying they were going in a different direction," Sutton said. "I was disappointed. But they made a good hire, and I recommended him to the Jesuits a few years later."
That was Dana Altman, the former Kansas State assistant, who got the job and who landed at Creighton four years later with a plug from Sutton.
But the unexpected happened. Oklahoma State coach Leonard Hamilton shocked his school by leaving for Miami, Fla. The Cowboys asked Sutton to come home and coach his alma mater. Until he died in 1993, Sutton's old coach, the legendary Henry Iba, would watch practice from the stands.
"I couldn't believe my luck," Sutton said.
Nor the talent on the roster he inherited. The group was led by powerful forward Byron Houston. To a stable of talented guards, the Cowboys added Sean Sutton, who had transferred from Kentucky. In Eddie Sutton's first year, the Cowboys tied Kansas for the Big Eight championship and the Pokes reached the Sweet 16 in each of his first two years. Not since the Iba years had the Cowboys enjoyed this kind of success.
The great teams and players kept coming: Bryant "Big Country" Reeves, Randy Rutherford and the 1995 Final Four team. Tony Allen, the Graham brothers, John Lucas III and the Final Four team of 2004.
In its history, Oklahoma State has produced two championship eras, the Iba years of the 1940s and 1950s that included two NCAA championships and two more Final Fours, with Sutton contributing on the back end as a player on the 1958 NCAA Tournament team.
And the 16 years of Coach Sutton, with 13 NCAA appearances, two Final Fours, three conference tournament and two league titles.
Sutton wears the lapel pin with the number "10" and orange ribbon every day.
On that horrific night of Jan. 27, 2001, the plane carrying Sutton had arrived at the Stillwater airport before another carrying 10 members of the team's traveling party, which shouldn't have been the case. Sutton's plane departed later from the airport in Jefferson County, Colo.
But the King Air 200 with two players, two pilots, three media members and three administrators had crashed shortly after takeoff, before Sutton's plane had left the ground.
When the news was confirmed, Sutton went into his office to make the telephone calls. This is how nine of the crash victims' families learned of their loss. The 10th was delivered by Sutton in person.
Nothing else that's happened in Sutton's basketball life compares to that night.
"They were wonderful people, every one of them," said Sutton, looking away, his voice trailing off. "Every one."
Three days later, another Oklahoma State plane crashed. When Budke arrived in Stillwater, he attended Sutton's practices and took notes. They were friends, a couple of Kansas natives.
"We used to joke that we were just a couple of old sodbusters from Kansas," Sutton said. "Losing him, this is just devastating. I'll be thinking about him."
Which makes last weekend one that defined Sutton's life, a joyful occasion with sadness never far away, as Johnny Cash might have written.