There was blood on the saddle

I just got around to thinking about the Sean Sutton forced resignation from Oklahoma State University.  I wrote about the possibility that OSU might be interested in luring Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie away to Stillwater, but up until now, I haven't really had the time to examine the events that lead to that possibility.

It is interesting how deep Kentucky's roots are in the OSU situation, given the fact that Eddie Sutton went there after presiding over the debacle that became the Kentucky program back in 1988-89.  There are more than one Kentucky - related assistants who worked for Eddie Sutton at OSU.  With Sean Sutton's dismissal, it seems as if the program, and in particular the fabulously wealthy T. Boone Pickens, have decided  to put the Sutton chapter in OSU history permanently to rest.

I remember Sean Sutton at Kentucky.  He was the original Saul Smith (man, what is up with all this alliteration in these guy's names?), and just as maligned and derided in his day as the son of former Kentucky coach Tubby Smith was later.  Sean played for just two years at Kentucky before transferring to Oklahoma State when his father took the head coaching job there.  Two years ago, after his father was involved in a drunk-driving accident that led him to take a leave of absence from OSU and eventually to retire, Sean was left in charge of the Cowboys by agreement with the elder Sutton.  OSU kept Sean on as head coach, signing him to a 5-year deal.

Shortly after, it appears that T. Boone Pickens decided to diversify his holdings.  Harry Birdwell was forced to resign as AD in 2005, and at that point, Pickens tied the hiring of current AD and former OSU golf coach Mike Holder to a $165 million dollar donation to the school.  If you say, "Well, that could be a coincidence," I offer this:

When Pickens gave the OSU athletic department $165 million in January 2006, I asked him if he would have made that staggering donation if Holder hadn't been named AD.

"Probably not," Pickens said.

So it looks to me like the billionaire has bought himself a college athletics program  lock, stock and barrel.  And it looks as if Holder's jealousy of the Sutton family and Pickens' personal desire to put his own stamp on the program had more to do with Sean Sutton being without a job right now than anything else.  And as to Holder's qualifications?  One Oklahoma writer put it this way:

When you think about it, Holder has done two things over his lifetime that have placed him in charge of Cowboy athletics. He built maybe the best golf program in the nation and inspired the trust and confidence of T. Boone Pickens, the man dead set on turning the Stillwater campus into some sort of athletic Disneyland, whether or not the school can produce strong enough programs or a large enough fan following to turn it into a competitive success.

I bring all this up because Sean Sutton, even more so than his father, was a Wildcat.  He was a young player when he was here, and always a hard worker.  Eddie Sutton is often reviled for his careless stewardship of our program, and I can sympathize with that but despite his failure at Kentucky, there is no doubt Eddie Sutton landed on his feet. That is laudable, but it is hard to forgive him for his abject malfeasance at UK.  Sean is another matter.  The worst that can be said about him is that many UK fans disliked him for the same reasons they disliked Saul Smith later.

Together, father and son resurrected the moribund OSU program, but what we have learned from this affair is that loyalty is a one-way street when you allow a big chunk of your school to be purchased by a wealthy man and used as his own personal fiefdom.  Pickens is Mark Cuban in a Cowboy hat, the only real difference being that he can't formerly acknowledge the ownership of his property like Cuban can with the Mavericks.

I was also surprised, and somewhat gratified, at the amount of anger in Oklahoma at the rude dismissal of Sutton.  Holder is now considered by most in Oklahoma to be exactly what he was hired to be -- the landlord for T. Boone Pickens' property.  One of the perks of being a landlord like that is that you get to indulge your baser emotions, and most people believe that's exactly what Holder did.  Pickens was fine with it -- he had no connections to Sutton, and in fact wanted to fire Eddie Sutton right after the automobile accident that lead to his retirement.  Apparently, the sins of the father have been visited on the son.

It's against the backdrop of this somewhat sordid affair that we find our friend Mr. Pickens supposedly looking at hiring either Kansas' Bill Self, Kentucky's Billy Gillispie, or some other big-time coach.  Pay no attention to the alleged athletic director -- he looks to me for all the world like an empty suit.  I have come to the conclusion that I hope nobody takes the job, but if the money is right, somebody will.  All I can say is that whoever does take that job does not work for Oklahoma State, he works for T. Boone Pickens.  Better do your homework before you say yes, Coach of the Future, because as all these events have demonstrated, that athletic department at Oklahoma State is a wholly-owned subsidiary of B.P. Capital Management.


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