Sutton’s family said in a statement he died of natural causes at home in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, area, surrounded by his three sons and their families. Wife Patsy died in 2013.
“Dad and Mom treated their players like family and always shared the belief that his teachings went beyond the basketball court,” the family wrote. “He cherished the time he spent at every school and appreciated the support of their loyal fans. He believed the deserved so much credit in the success of his programs.”
Elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on April 3, Sutton was 806-328 in 37 seasons as a Division I head coach — not counting vacated victories or forfeited games — and made it to 25 NCAA Tournaments.
Sutton had a decorated career with controversy mixed in. Sutton led Final Four squads at Arkansas in 1978 and Oklahoma State in 1995 and 2004. He took Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State to the NCAA Tournament. He was Associated Press Coach of the Year in 1978 at Arkansas and in 1986 at Kentucky.
He fell short as a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame six times before finally being selected. He had said he believed that a scandal that ended his stint at Kentucky was likely the culprit for his lengthy wait. The NCAA announced 18 allegations against the program in 1988, and he resigned in 1989.
His retirement at Oklahoma State in 2006 came roughly three months after he took a medical leave following a traffic accident that resulted in charges of aggravated DUI, speeding and driving on the wrong side of the road. He pleaded no contest to the charges, received a one-year deferred sentence and was ordered to pay a fine.
Through it all, he remained wildly popular at Oklahoma State, often attending games while confined to a wheelchair. He would receive loud cheers as the camera panned to him and Aloe Blacc’s “The Man” played over the sound system.
Sutton was born in Bucklin, Kansas, in 1936. He played at Oklahoma State under Hall of Fame coach Henry Iba, then stayed there to begin his coaching career as an assistant coach under Iba in 1958.
Sutton got his first Division I head coaching job at Creighton. He led the Bluejays to an 82-50 mark in five seasons from 1969 to 1974.
He took over at Arkansas in 1975, and the Razorbacks went 17-9 and 19-9 before beginning a nine-year stretch of 20-win seasons. He finished his run in Fayetteville nine straight trips to the NCAA basketball tournament. His 1978 Final Four squad featured versatile stars Sidney Moncrief, Marvin Delph and Ron Brewer.
Sutton moved on and replaced Joe B. Hall at Kentucky in 1985. While there, he compiled a 90-40 record, including two Southeastern Conference titles. But he slumped at the end, and his program endured NCAA scrutiny.
He led Oklahoma State from 1991 to 2006. The Cowboys reached the Sweet Sixteen his first two seasons as head coach. In 1995, Bryant Reeves and Randy Rutherford led the Cowboys to the 1995 NCAA Final Four. The Cowboys made it back to the Final Four in 2004, with Tony Allen and Joey Graham leading the way.
Sutton’s final coaching stint came in 2007-08 as interim coach at San Francisco, where he earned his 800th win.