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Berry Tramel


Emails on the Sutton saga

by Berry Tramel Modified: March 27, 2013 at 2:36 pm •  Published: April 5, 2008


The people have spoken. The majority of OSU fans support Mike Holder in the Sean Sutton decision. That is abundantly clear from my emails. 

Leonard writes, While it seems that some may have a personal vendetta against the AD (and he may not win a popularity contest), I wonder if this invocation of a fairness doctrine (‘more than two years’) is applicable also to the AD having an obligation to make a ‘fair’ and ‘reasoned’ judgment about the future of the program? His job description is not circumscribed by some calendar for basketball coaches. Are there not program, leadership, donor, alumni and future image issues that come into play and that might be separate from the whereabouts of the Sutton family? I just do not buy the conspiracy theory that somebody connived and plotted (like subversive spies) to do this coach in.” 

People like to believe in conspiracy theories. I think it helps them figure out their place in the world.

EdmondVet writes: “I have heard a lot of radio/TV analysts saying if you were only going to give Sean two years, why hire him in the first place? Holder didn’t hire Sean in the first place. He was handed Sean by (Harry) Birdwell. Birdwell conducted no national search for a coach and was basically appeasing Eddie Sutton by naming Sean as coach designate. Birdwell supposedly had to lock Sean up or SMU was going to hire him away. It would have done Sean some good to go to SMU and better prepare himself for Eddie’s retirement. Who knows if Holder would have hired Sean three years later?”Actually, the question is this: Doesn’t matter if the guy has been on the job for two years or 20. If you know he’s not the right man for the job, why wait 15 minutes to do something about it? 

Chris writes, “I’m not a super rich donor. I love

University. I have great tickets because I applied for them in the Paul Hansen/Leonard Hamilton era when no one wanted to attend. Some of the most enjoyable leisure times of my life have been at GIA. Although I’m profoundly sad about what has happened to Sean, my most honest feeling as a fan is one of excitement. Do I think Sean has the knowledge to be a successful D-1 head coach? Without a doubt. Do I think he possess the communication skills and personality to be a successful D-1 head coach? Sadly, no. Do I like Mike Holder?  No, not really. Do I think he is a unique talent and wildly successful in whatever he’s undertaken? Again, without a doubt. I understand why media might be leery of Holder and even Boone. But my gosh, both men have proven themselves as winners in some tough arenas. Who among the media would turn down their gifts of money and devotion to their alma maters? Again, I hurt for Sean and his family. I desperately wanted him to succeed. I came to the conclusion late in the season that it wasn’t going to happen for Sean in
Stillwater now or in the future. As a fan I’m excited about new leadership in the basketball program. Again, I’m not a Holder fan. I’m not a Pickens fan, but I’m so grateful that he gives OSU a chance for success in athletics. I think they got this one right.” 

Well said. I, too, am saddened about what happened to Sean. But just because Mike Holder is a strange bird doesn’t mean he’s wrong.


Josh wants to know if Bruce Pearl is “a legitimate candidate? Is this just a negotiation ploy? That would be a home run hire and not impossible to get. He is already second fiddle to football, he has to share the stage with Pat Summit, he’s in the same division as Kentucky and Florida, plus he’s in the same state as Vandy and
Memphis. Someone would really have to work hard to convince me that Tennessee is a better basketball job than

State. They have never been past the Sweet 16 in their history. I do not think Self is coming, nor Gillispie, but
Pearl seems like he would be attainable. Am I crazy?” 

Josh, there’s no way I can comment on your mental status with a proper evaluation. But I think it’s possible
Pearl could be interested in the job, although I think it’s more likely he’s using it as a way to get a bigger contract.

John writes, “I feel that the firing of Sean was inevitable when you take everything into consideration – player development, off court issues, fan support, perception of the program, work ethic. That combined with a boss that demands very high standards in all of those areas, this decision was a no-brainer despite what seems to be a general consensus of local media types. It is for the same reasons that I believe the outcome from all of this will put OSU on a path to success not even reached in the Sutton era. By next week the Sean issue will be a somewhat distant memory I believe.” Well, I’m a lover of optimism, but I see no way OSU can surpass the Sutton era. Duplicate it, perhaps. Supercede it, no way, although I suppose an NCAA title, which is always possible if you reach the Final Four, is possible. 

Richard writes, “Holder absolutely did the right thing in pushing Sean out the door. He had to stop the bleeding. Now he needs to hire a top quality coach. But so far, so good. By the way, Tramel, welcome back. Your articles yesterday and today have been right on the money. You are an excellent writer, but for the last few months (since Jenni’s piece on Bobby Reid) you have sounded too often like a guy who lives in
Norman when writing about OSU.”Richard, I have been telling it like it is both before, during and after the Gundy tirade. 

Dan writes, “I can tell you what a lot of the more silent OSU fans are thinking. 1. When Sean was made the head coach designate, OSU fans were told it was because Sean was already the head coach in-fact and was recruiting and coaching in place of Eddie, therefore he’d simply carry on this success. Over the past 21/2 seasons, this looks to be false. 2. When Sean was made the head coach designate, a lot of fans thought this was premature and in fact, it cut off any possibility of getting Bill Self, whom a LOT of OSU fans were wanting to get before Eddie actually retired. Eddie was likely thinking of his son’s best interest and not necessarily the school’s, as many fathers would do. 3. With Sean in charge, OSU has missed three consecutive NCAAs and done poorly in the NIT. This was with a skilled team. What would he do without the star players? 4. The comparison between Gundy and Sean is ludicrous. While people don’t like to have mediocre seasons, he went to two straight bowl games and won. This is the football equivalent of going to the NCAA’s for Sean. If Gundy had not gone to two straight bowls, there would be many fans grumbling for a change. The defense is poor, but at least his offense is fun for the fans to watch.” 

Dan, interesting take. Great points about fathers and sons. However, I would say that bowl games are not the equivalent of the NCAAs. OSU’s two bowls under Gundy have been the bottom-barrel bowls, after 6-6 seasons. Eight or nine Big 12 teams make a bowl game every year. Only four, five or six Big 12 teams make the NCAA Tournament. So I would argue that Gundy has really only made the NIT the last two years. However, the expectations for OSU football and basketball are not the same. I think Gundy can skate by  —  though not for long  —  with the NIT. A basketball coach, not so much. 

Norvell writes, “I’m a bleed-orange OSU fan. As the season progressed, I questioned if Sean was the coach for OSU but I was for giving him one more year. After seeing Holder’s press conference and thinking about the situation, I can’t argue with Holder’s decision. Consider this: 1. When Eddie was the coach, Sean was recruiting under Eddie’s name. The players were coming to play for the old master, not Sean. This made recruiting a lot easier. 2. Sean’s recruits are the freshmen and sophomores we saw on the floor this year. They will be fifth or sixth in the Big 12 next season. They just don’t have the talent. Bottom line is if Sean is such a good recruiter, where is the talent? He doesn’t have anyone coming in next year who will be a starter. 3. If he is such a good coach, why didn’t he prepare James Anderson’s offensive game for Big 12 competition. Instead, after two games, he says,
Anderson may be the best player to ever play for OSU. Once Big 12 play started
Anderson was shut down.   4. In an interview during the Christmas break, Sean said he had the players working on how to set screens, get through screens, finish plays, run plays, etc. Aren’t these things you work on in October? It was during this period Sean changed OSU’s offensive and defensive approach. Less running and open floor offense, more set plays. More attention to defense. It is clear, early on, he misjudged the team’s ability and had to make adjustments. These weren’t small adjustments. Basically he changed the offense and the defense halfway through the season. OSU is not a training ground for basketball coaches. You coach at OSU because you already know how to coach.” 

Well, I don’t think Sean changed everything at mid-season, but what Norvell said at the end was dead-on. OSU is NOT a training ground for a coach. In all this talk and all this debate, isn’t that indisputable? And isn’t that what was happening with Sean?  

Eric wrote that he generally agreed with what I wrote, but “I have to disagree, specifically, with one paragraph, starting with, ‘Forget the idea that this is some kind of Holder versus Eddie Sutton grudge match.’ You acknowledge that there’s something to it, but tell us to forget about it? Don’t you think it played a part in this? Maybe I’m taking your words too literally, but it cannot be forgotten or pushed aside. Can you deny that Pickens had something to do with it? I really think that Pickens is calling the shots at OSU. His yes men, Hargis and Holder, are running things. As much respect that I have for both of them; Hargis as a Republican and leader, Holder as a golf coach, I don’t think that either of them know a lick about basketball. Sure there might be some symptoms from Sean about why things were lackluster. I’m sure there are lazier, less organized coaches out there that are doing well. I think this is all about the Holder/Pickens grudge match with the Sutton family. Sean’s symptoms and mediocre season were an excuse to get rid of him. They were just looking for a reason. The decision was a bad one. The rift between a few individuals has been spread wide across the OSU fanbase. If nothing else, that should show you it was a bad call. Bill Self ain’t coming either. That would only add another knife to Eddie’s back. Bill has more loyalty and respect for Eddie than Holder and Pickens. Whew, it’s ugly.” 

Eric, it might be ugly, but let me toss out a few things. First off, Boone Pickens is funding OSU athletics, but he’s not calling the shots. He doesn’t know any particulars about OSU, other than final scores. He’s for whatever Holder says. Holder is running things. Now, as for the Sutton/Holder rift, how about this theory. The rift might be big, all right, and the rift is all about Sean. Maybe Holder never did believe Sean deserved the job, and Sean certainly didn’t do anything to make Holder seem wrong. And as for the fan base, way more people would have quit buying tickets if Sean had stayed. 

Jay writes, “I know the way the
Oklahoma media has been acting is like Sean being let go is going to fracture the fan base, but as one season ticket holder I just don’t see that being the case. Personally, I was up in the air about whether or not I was going to renew my tickets for next year or not if Sean was still around. Right now, with him out, I’m leaning towards renewing again for next year. The bottom line is generally coaches are given three to four years to prove if they can get the job done. The first two are to recruit their players for their system, the next two are to prove if they can handle the x’s and o’s and if they can evaluate talent. Well with Sean he jumped right in at year 3. Not his fault really. Before he was hired we were all told that he had single-handedly recruited the Eaton and Co. class and that once he would take over the transition would be seamless. Now I personally think the intention of both Eddie and Sean were for him to take over in the 2007 season after Eddie had been able to turn Eaton and the rest of them into solid basketball players and Sean would have been able to keep recruiting off of back-to-back tournament appearances and possibly a deep run in the 2006 tournament on the shoulders of Curry,  Boggan and Torre Johnson. Obviously, Eddie messed that up and thus put Sean in a situation where he really wasn’t prepared to take over. So Sean took over with players he had signed and wasn’t able to win. That’s really all a coach can ask for. Give me my players and let me show what I can do, Sean was given that and what we got was two NIT first round losses. We also got off the court discipline problems. I have no delusions of grandeur when it comes to our next hire. I don’t think we could pay Self 10 million a year to get him away from
Kansas, but I do think we can find a coach like an Anthony Grant to turn things around.” Jay, what you’re basically saying is this: You can’t give a guy the job because he’s been part of the successes of the program, then say two years isn’t enough time to overcome some of the problems of the program. It’s both ways or neither. 

by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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