Mike Sutton has proven to be one of the best head coaches in the Ohio Valley Conference both on and off the court. As he begins his eighth season as head coach at Tennessee Tech, he will continue to prove the success he has brought to the program.
Sutton is the second longest tenured coach in the OVC, but his path has been as long as any. Stricken with the crippling Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) in April 2005 – just months after capturing the OVC championship and OVC Coach of the Year honors – Sutton spent much of that summer paralyzed and clinging to life. But his determination to overcome his circumstances and return to coaching prevailed, as Sutton returned to the sidelines during the 2005-06 season, and led Tech to back-to-back 19 win campaigns.
From the pre-season to the post-season, Sutton is focused on one thing — the success and well-being of his student-athletes and his program.
He has compiled an 114-100 overall record in seven years.
Sutton came to Tennessee Tech after serving as an assistant coach at the University of Kentucky, and he quickly proved that he could lead a team to success. In his first season, he guided the 2003-04 Golden Eagles to a 20-12 overall record and a third place finish in the Ohio Valley Conference regular season before falling in the league’s championship game, one step short of reaching the NCAA Tournament field.
Sutton became the most successful first-year coach in Golden Eagle history. The team’s 20 wins marked the second-most wins in a season, his 13-3 OVC record was the best league mark by a first-year Tech coach, and his .625 winning percentage was also the best of any first-year Golden Eagle mentor.
In 2004-05, the Golden Eagles rolled to the OVC regular season title, an 18-11 overall record and 12-4 league worksheet, and Sutton was named the OVC Coach of the Year.
Following the team’s 19-12 performance in 2005-06, Sutton was presented with the Most Courageous Award by the United States Basketball Writers’ Association.
Among all coaches who have directed the Golden Eagle program more than one year, Sutton ranks third for average wins per season at 16.3.
Sutton has proven he can lead his team off the court as well as on the court. His Golden Eagles won the OVC Academic Achievement Award in back-to-back seasons in 2006-07 and 2007-08, and had three players on the OVC Commissioners Honor Roll in 2008-09. Tech has put more players on that list than any other school over the past three years, and guard Riley Hunley was the only men’s basketball player in the OVC to win the OVC Medal of Honor by posting a perfect 4.0 GPA in 2008-09.
Excelling in the classroom has translated to earning degree’s for Sutton’s student-athletes. By December, all of the student-athlete’s Sutton has brought to Tech who have completed their eligibility will also have earned a degree.
In addition to his duties as head coach and running the program at Tennessee Tech, Sutton serves as a voting member of the Regional Advisory Committee for the 2010 Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. The Advisory Committee helps the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee select at-large teams for the NCAA tournament.
With 35 years of coaching experience, Sutton has formulated his system to fit the needs of the players and the program. His ability to adjust in-game combined with his dedication to preparation make Sutton a motivational leader.
“I have a lot of variety in my coaching background and I think that variety lends itself towards producing a comfort level at this job,” Sutton said. “I want to be supportive of every program at Tennessee Tech University and I want the coaches to know they can count on me if they need me. We have to remember that we’re in this together, serving the students, and I want to do my part.”
Sutton began coaching as an assistant at his high school alma mater, D.H. Conley High School, while attending East Carolina University. After spending the 1978-79 season as an assistant coach at Lees-McRae (N.C.) Junior College, he was hired by Tubby Smith as an assistant for the 1979-80 season at Hoke County High School in Raeford, N.C. Before the season began, Smith left for an assistant coaching position at Virginia Commonwealth University, leaving Sutton behind but only temporarily. The next year, the two were reunited as assistants at VCU, helping the Rams advance to the 1981 NCAA Tournament.
Sutton then left the college ranks and became head coach at Meadowbrook High School in Richmond, Va., taking over a downtrodden program that had tallied a 1-19 record the previous season. He turned the program around during his 13-year career from 1981-94, leading the team to the Class AAA State Championship in his final season. His coaching efforts earned him The Associated Press Coach of the Year award for 1993-94. He compiled a 176-122 record at Meadowbrook before rejoining Smith at Tulsa. Including Kentucky, he has had five coaching stops with Smith.
While coaching the Wildcats, Sutton’s duties included on-floor coaching and off-campus recruiting. He helped lead Kentucky to three Southeastern Conference regular season championships and three SEC tournament titles. The team played in the NCAA tournament all five seasons he was with the Wildcats, claiming the national title in 1998 with a 35-4 overall record.
“In Mike Sutton, you will find a man who invokes an image of integrity, class and enthusiasm,” said University of Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, Sutton’s friend and former boss at Kentucky. “Mike’s work ethic, character and desire to be successful will all serve him well, and he understands that academics must be the first priority of the students. He is a true “team player” and he will bring an up-tempo style of play in a well-coached system that will be fun to watch. His teams will be disciplined, on and off the court.”
Sutton was named, as Tech’s 11th men’s basketball head coach in April 2002.
“We are very excited about Mike Sutton heading up our men’s basketball program,” said Tech president Bob Bell upon the hiring of the energetic new coach. “Throughout his entire career he has not only been a successful coach, but has proven that he is also committed to outstanding academics.”
Sutton appreciates the pace of life at Tennessee Tech.
“One of the things that impresses me the most is the team and family atmosphere at the school,” Sutton said. “Every one is very supportive of the program and shows a genuine interest in the players.
“The young men in the program are a great group and I really enjoy coaching them,” Sutton added. “I am really impressed by their attitude and the way they are respected by the people associated with the athletic department and the school.
“Tennessee Tech students, staff, alumni, fans and the Cookeville community can look forward to exciting times in the future as the Golden Eagle basketball team continues to build on the Tennessee Tech tradition.”
He received his bachelor’s degree in Health and Physical Education from East Carolina University in 1978, and his master’s degree in Health and Physical Education from Appalachian State University in 1979.
Born March 21, 1956, in Farmville, N.C., Mike and his wife, Karen, have two married children — Kelly Kern of Fort Mill, S.C. and Scott Hughes of St. Petersburg, Fla. The Suttons have four grandchildren — Grace Sutton Kern (8), Georgia Katherine Kern (5) and Evelyn Riley Hughes (4).Their newest granddaughter Audrey Elizabeth “Libby” Kern was born Feb. 2, 2009.