Mike Sutton announces retirement as Golden Eagle head coach

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – After nine seasons at the helm and 149 career victories, Mike Sutton has announced his retirement as head men’s basketball coach at Tennessee Tech University.

Sutton announced at a press conference Wednesday morning in Eblen Center that he is stepping down. He will remain at the university as an Instructor in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies.

Steve Payne, who has worked as Sutton’s associate head coach all nine years at Tech, was introduced as the new head coach for the Golden Eagles.

“It has been a wonderful journey,” Sutton said of his 37-year coaching career. “When I started in coaching, I had no idea what direction I would go. Coaching basketball has allowed me to meet so many wonderful people, including my wife Karen, and my best friends in the coaching fraternity along the way.”

Sutton was stricken in 2005 with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a life-threatening condition that he has worked tirelessly to overcome. During the past season, Sutton missed two of the team’s road trips at the advice of his health advisors.

“I was concerned that my health issues might be more limiting and possibly a distraction to our team’s dynamics. Lengthy discussions with our children led us to the conclusion that retirement is the best option for us,” Sutton said.

“We’ve been successful, and I want to make sure that I do what’s appropriate,” Sutton added. “My top concern is my players and my staff, and I didn’t want to start something that I couldn’t finish.”

The retirement is effective April 30, when he will begin his new position in Interdisciplinary Studies.

"We're extremely excited to have Mike Sutton joining our team in the School of Interdisciplinary Studies,” said Susan Elkins, Vice President of Extended Programs and Regional Development and Dean of the School of Interdisciplinary Studies. “He has worked very closely with us over the past several years.  We've found that he is much more than a basketball coach....  He's a teacher first, and his top priority is student success!"

Currently the second-longest tenured coach in the Ohio Valley Conference, Sutton came to Tech in 2002 after serving as an assistant coach at the University of Kentucky. In his first year, he led Tech to third place in the OVC regular season and the championship game at the OVC Tournament, finishing the year with a 20-12 record.

With only the fourth 20-win mark in the program’s history, he became the most successful first-year men’s basketball head coach in the school record book.

In 2004-05, Sutton was named OVC Coach of the Year after his Golden Eagles captured the OVC regular season championship and posted an 18-11 overall mark.

Following the team’s 19-12 record in 2005-06 while he recovered from GBS, Sutton was presented with the Most Courageous Award by the United State Basketball Writer’s Association. He was also the recipient of the 2006 Kaia Jergenson Courage Award from the Nashville Sports Council.

“I’ve learned that having a physical disability doesn’t prevent someone from doing things,” he said. “Limitations don’t limit what you can achieve.”

This past season, Sutton directed Tech to a 20-13 overall record and a fourth-place finish in the OVC regular season race. The Golden Eagles reached the championship game of the OVC Tournament, and went on to the College Insiders Tournament, the fifth post-season appearance in the team’s history.

“There’s a lot that we can learn from Mike Sutton, especially about overcoming obstacles,” said TTU Director of Athletics Mark Wilson. “Mike has been a successful coach during his tenure at Tennessee Tech. He has embraced our philosophy of the student-athlete experience relative to academic success, athletic competition and the development of the total person.

“Mike Sutton has helped to develop young men that we can be extremely proud of,” Wilson said.

The 149 victories give Sutton the second-most wins by any men’s basketball coach at Tech and he can claim two of the program’s five 20-win seasons.

In addition to his on-court success that includes one OVC regular season championship, Sutton has also seen his teams produce high academic success.

The Golden Eagles have twice won the OVC Academic Award in men’s basketball and every player Sutton’s staff signed that finished his career at Tennessee Tech except one has earned his degree. In May, all three of the team’s current seniors will graduate.

“Our recruiting emphasis all along has been to recruit the right kind of people,” Sutton said.

During his nine seasons, several Golden Eagles have gone on to successful careers in professional basketball including overseas in European leagues. One season, Tech had an OVC-best seven former Golden Eagles playing in Europe.

Sutton’s list of players includes one OVC Player of the Year winner, one OVC Newcomer of the Year, 13 all-OVC selections and three all-Newcomer team picks. This past year, junior Kevin Murphy became the latest Tech player to receive first-team all-OVC honors and three Golden Eagles -- Murphy, Zac Swansey and Jud Dillard – were all named to the OVC All-Tournament team.

“Mike has been an excellent ambassador for athletics and the university, and has always put the best interest of the program before himself,” Wilson said.

“We want to thank him for his loyalty and dedicated service to Golden Eagle basketball. We’re excited that he’s going to be a part of the university faculty, and that he and Karen will continue to be a part of our community,” Wilson said.