Coach Eddie Sutton

The Day He Gave Me the Elvis Smirk

The leaves fluttered carelessly to the ground as he noticed a slight change of the winds accustomed to swirling through the Ozark foothills. The young football player, exhausted from completing another punishing off season workout, called fourth quarter, ascended the familiar forty-eight steps leading steeply from his locker, in a glorified tin building called Barnhill Fieldhouse. He proceeded across Razorback Road, up thirty-six more vertical and challenging steps to his dorm, Wilson Sharp. 

The basketball players completed their drills long before he finished. Their basketball team was not good. Oh, they had some excellent athletes, even though he schooled most of them in pool daily, taking their monthly laundry check of $18 and smack talking them into oblivion. Their team just needed something extra.

Who was this guy who just pulled up to Wilson Sharp? Was he a new football coach? Someone’s parent? Driving a cool, red, and white Monte Carlo, this must be someone who knows anything Red is Regal on this campus. Stepping out of the car, his stylish black Demi boots declared distinction. But the hair! Jet black. And are those? Why yes, they are! Sideburns that would make Elvis cry. His smile even slightly slid to the side. Even this was Elvis like. As if he owned the place, he confidently strolled into the cafeteria, full of guys who oozed confidence. 

It was Eddie Sutton.

From that day forward, Razorback Basketball was never the same. Basketball practices lasted much longer than the football workouts. He taught defense first, then offense. The players ran. And ran. And ran. Coach Sutton taught these young athletes to be tough and to believe in themselves. And you know what? The players did just that, even though their muscles were killing them from the grueling practices they described as demanding. If one observed closely, they might detect a slight swagger in their walk. They started winning games. Heck, they even started beating me in pool and winning some of their laundry money back, and yes, I heard their smack talk as they collected their jack.

Soon, basketball games became fun to watch. The seats filled early. A ticket to the games became a challenge to get. When obtained, it was a sure fire “yes” answer for, say a young single sophomore, looking for a coed date. The stakes at the pool table quickly changed from laundry money to basketball tickets. 

A group of “mature” football players decided the team needed a male cheering squad. We dressed as obnoxious as we acted. Part of the required wardrobe was a hat. We became known as “The Mad Hatters.” Since the games back then were seated as first come, first serve, these jocks would just stay in Barnhill after practice so they could land all the seats behind the opposing team’s bench. This group made so much noise, the opposing team had to move their chairs to the center of the court for timeouts just so they could hear. Coach Sutton loved it.

My favorite memory of Coach Sutton is when he gave me the Elvis smirk. Let me explain. One of his star players kept parking in my assigned parking space. I will not name the star player, but he was one of the famed triplets and was a first round pick of the Portland Trailblazers. Me? Well, let us just say I did not get drafted by any professional team and was just proud to be hanging on as a team player.

But I had worked hard to earn that parking spot! I was not gonna relinquish this well-deserved perk. I let it slide twice before I asked my coach to step in. He said he would go to Coach Sutton and take care of the problem. A few days passed and guess what. He parked in the spot again! One more time I asked the coach for help. A few days later, the same star player took my spot.

I think you might know where this is heading. It was time to take matters into my own hands.

That night, an exceedingly rare and strange barometric pressure change occurred in the air directly over my parking spot. This barometric change caused the air of all four of the star basketball players tires to be released. The result? Four flat tires.

The next day I prepared myself for one of two things to happen. First, fisticuffs would fly. And I was okay with that. I mean, come on! It is a parking spot. That is worth fighting for, right? The second thing? I thought I might run the bleachers of Razorback Stadium until next year.

In the cafeteria, I did my best to be cool. I mean, it was not my fault the barometric pressure did its thing over my parking spot. I kept reminding myself it was my parking spot and he should not be there. Words of my mom kept ringing over and over in my mind; “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Trying to not make eye contact with Coach Sutton was like not looking at a car accident. My eyes just would not stop looking at him. Guilty cloud signs loomed over my head with lightning arrows spelling out the words G-U-I-L-T-Y crashing into my oversized hair.

As I was leaving the cafeteria, Coach Sutton started leaving also.

“Here we go,” I thought to myself, as visions of me running bleachers all night, tongue hanging out to the ground, played vividly in my mind.

Coach looked me square in the eyes. His grin, slow to develop, began with an ever-slight twinkle in his eye, before it slid slightly to the left of his face, ala Elvis style. And then it happened. He winked at me! Coach Sutton just winked at me! As he walked off, the future Hall of Fame coach just game me his okay with the way I handled the situation. In fact, I believe he was kinda proud of my action.

Many stories have been told of Coach Sutton’s greatness as a coach. They are well deserved. He was a brilliant coach. The great fans of the state of Arkansas embraced him.

I heard Coach Sutton had some demons that haunted his past. I guess we all have ghosts of the past we try to shake sometimes in our lives. Even Hall of Fame Coaches have their personal struggles. For me, I say he was a brilliant coach with an even greater heart; thank goodness or I might still be running bleachers.

R.I.P. Coach Sutton. You ole Hound Dog you!

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