STILLWATER - Only two years into his tenure, Sean Sutton resigned under pressure Tuesday as Oklahoma State's basketball coach following a 17-16 season.
Athletic director Mike Holder met with Sutton on Monday, two weeks after the Cowboys finished their season. Holder said Sutton knew the expectations for a program that reached the Final Four twice with Sutton on his father's staff.
“I think Sean was probably a victim of those expectations,” Holder said. “He was put in a tough situation. It's hard enough to follow a legend. But when that legend is your father, that's probably tough to the third power. Perhaps, in a different set of circumstances, he would have enjoyed more success.
“Life is not fair. Athletics is not fair,” he said. “At the end of the day, I feel like it's the right decision.”
Holder said he and Sutton agreed on Sutton's decision to resign. Sutton did not attend a news conference at the university Tuesday and did not return messages left by The Associated Press on his cell phone.
“It has been a great experience and I have loved every minute of my time here at OSU,” Sutton said in a statement released by the university.
Sutton played two seasons at Kentucky during the 1980s when his father was coaching the Wildcats.
Sutton was two years into a five-year contract worth $750,000 a year that he had agreed to when he was still an assistant on his father's staff. It called for him to be the head coach-designate, meaning he would take over when his father left.
Holder declined to reveal specifics of the university's buyout offer of that contract. But university spokesman Gary Shutt said after the news conference that details of the offer still are being worked out by attorneys and should be made public.
Holder said he did not speak with Eddie Sutton about the decision because “Sean's got to stand on his own two feet on this one.”
Holder said he has not contacted any other schools to ask to speak with their coaches. Two prominent coaches with connections to either Oklahoma State or the state of Oklahoma, Bill Self of Kansas and Billy Gillispie of Kentucky, have indicated they would not leave their current jobs.
“I do care deeply about my alma mater,” Self said Tuesday. “I spent 11 years of my life at OSU and everything, but nobody there has contacted me from there. If they were to ask me what they should do, I would suggest they move in a different direction.”
Gillispie, a former assistant under Self at Tulsa, coached at Oklahoma State's Big 12 Conference rival, Texas A&M, until this past season, when he went 18-13 at Kentucky. He never has signed a contract at Kentucky, instead working under a two-page memorandum of understanding that details his compensation package.
Sean Sutton's status had been a subject of speculation for much of the second half of the season, beginning when the Cowboys lost six in a row, the program's longest skid in more than two decades.
The Cowboys, who started 1-6 in Big 12 play, regrouped to win five straight games, including an upset of then-No. 4 Kansas, which has made the Final Four. But Oklahoma State lost its final two regular-season games to finish 7-9 in league play.
Oklahoma State lost 69-53 at Southern Illinois in the first round of the NIT.
Sutton was 39-29 in his two seasons, but his relationship with the program dates much further. After transferring from Kentucky, he was a guard on his father's Oklahoma State teams for two years before serving as an assistant for 13 years, including Final Four appearances in 1995 and 2004.
Four years later, both Suttons are gone.
“I think that Sean will be a successful basketball coach. I think he's a good coach. I just think this was a tough situation for him,” Holder said.
Before Eddie Sutton took over the program at his alma mater in 1990, Oklahoma State had made the NCAA tournament only once in the previous 25 years.
Sean Sutton, 39, first served as the head coach of the Cowboys for the final 10 games of the 2005-06 season when his father took a leave of absence following a drunken-driving crash on his way to the airport for a road game.
Oklahoma State went 4-6 in those games, and Sean Sutton got his chance at the helm when Eddie Sutton retired that May.
The Cowboys got off to a 15-1 start in the younger Sutton's first full season as coach, reaching as high as No. 9, but missed the NCAA tournament and lost to Marist in the first round of the NIT to complete a 22-13 season.
Guard JamesOn Curry skipped his senior season to enter the NBA draft, and a turbulent offseason followed. In a three-month span, three Oklahoma State players were arrested.