Eddie Sutton will forever be known as the man who put Arkansas basketball “on the map.”
In his 11 years at Arkansas, he accomplished a lot of things, most notably leading the Hogs to five SWC championships and a Final Four appearance in 1978. While those feats are elite, they do not stand out from the program’s other great coaches. For instance, Arkansas had already been to a Final Four in the 1940s and would be led to three more in the 1990s by Nolan Richardson.
And it wouldn’t surprise many observers if Eric Musselman leads Arkansas to another Final Four in the coming years.
But Sutton did accomplish one thing at Arkansas that no other Hog coach will likely ever match: lead the nation in home winning percentage in a stretch of more than a decade.
From 1974 to 1985, Sutton’s Hogs won 93.8% of their games at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville. That’s better than other top “blue blood” programs like Kentucky, North Carolina and UCLA.
Here are the college basketball teams with the best home winning percentages from 1974-85:
TEAM ARENA PCT.
1. Arkansas, Barnhill Arena .938
2. Kentucky, Memorial Coliseum/Rupp Arena .907
3. North Carolina, Carmichael Auditorium .907
4. UNLV, Las Vegas CC/Thomas & Mack Center .901
5. UCLA, Pauley Pavilion .885
6. Louisville, Freedom Hall .882
7. Indiana, Assembly Hall .854
8. Georgetown, McDonough Gymnasium/Capital Centre .841
9. Houston, Hofheinz Pavilion .839
10. Kansas, Allen Fieldhouse .815
11. NC State, Reynolds Coliseum .795
12. Duke, Cameron Indoor Stadium .713
-Research done by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
This stat is more impressive when considering that Eddie Sutton’s successor Nolan Richardson, who would win a national championship in 1994, had a home .845 win percentage (201-37 [78-15 at Barnhill and 123-22 at Bud Walton Arena]). That is behind some in the same time frame, including Kansas (.919), Duke (.901) and Kentucky (.897), according to WholeHogSports.com’s Matt Jones.
And the stat is even more impressive when considering what kind of environment Sutton walked into when he took the job in 1974.
At that time, the best one-word description of Arkansas’ arena in a solidly football state would have been “podunk.”
“There were 5,000 seats and many went unused each game,” Jones wrote in the Democrat-Gazette. “In order to get to that capacity, portable bleachers from the football stadium next door were placed on the south end of the arena in front of a sawdust workout area for the football team. A dirt track encircled the floor.”
“In-season basketball practice was conducted while offseason football conditioning was occurring just feet away. During basketball games, two arena workers would sweep sawdust off the floor that had been circulated by the heating unit.”
“You almost needed to wear a mask to keep from choking because there was so much dust in the air,” Sutton, who died May 23, 2020, said in 1993. “And when you walked into Barnhill at 7 o’clock of a game night, you could shoot a gun into the stands and not hit anybody.”
How Eddie Sutton turned such a ghost town into one of the nation’s most molten sports scenes will play a big role in the worldwide debut tonight of “Eddie,” a documentary about Sutton’s life that will air on ESPN at 8 p.m.:
Besides Eddie Sutton’s success at Arkansas, the movie will also delve into his time at other programs — as well as the alcoholism which many think kept him out of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame until this past spring.
Sutton’s son, Sean Sutton, sheds some light on this in an ESPN.com interview:
Jim Robken and the Hogwild Band
Today’s Razorback fans are amazed at how savvy Eric Musselman has proven in promoting his program through social media (even raising the ire of fellow SEC coaches).
Sutton proved equally adept at promotion in his own time. One of his master strokes was enlisting the help of Hog fans through the magic of Jim Robken.
“In his early days at Arkansas, Sutton observed “show-me-something” fans that waited for big moments to make noise,” Jones wrote.
“Sutton wanted a crowd that understood momentum and their place in helping to create or sustain it. He needed to teach them which moments were important, but couldn’t while he was coaching a game.”
“The next best thing would be teach someone else, and let that person teach the crowd. He identified the perfect candidate: a graduate assistant in the music department whose responsibility was to lead a pep band for home basketball games.”
And what a job he did.
One of the biggest reasons for Barnhill’s intimidation factor was the frenzy into which Hogwild Band director Jim Robken regularly whipped crowd crowds. During Robken’s 13-year run as band leader from 1978 to 1991, Arkansas won 88.7 percent of its home games.
Robken could often be seen running around the crowd, personally inciting them to get hype, not unlike the shirt-waving shenanigans for which Musselman was known in Nevada.
The entire Hogwild band experience, coupled with the elite product on the court, often gave Hog fans chills:
See him in action at 4:45 below:
“I got back up to the top and the whole place was just…awesome. You could only have this in Barnhill because of the intimacy, where the sound was physical, where you felt the crowd, the cheering.-Jim Robken, via HawgBeat.com
You couldn’t talk to each other because it was that loud. There’s nothing like it. What a thrill. It’s primal, you know?”
Adding even more fuel to the fire was the legendary voice of broadcaster Paul Eels, considered by most Hog fans to be the greatest Razorback play-by-play analyst of modern times:
The Only Game Featuring Eddie Sutton, Nolan Richardson and Eric Musselman
The below published in October, 2019
Eddie Sutton’s still around.
Sure, he doesn’t get around like he used to. Confined to a wheelchair, Sutton can’t exude the same energy and passion of the man who, in the late 1970s, coached the famed “Triplets” and built Arkansas basketball into a national powerhouse with Barnhill Arena as its base. (Without the foundation that Sutton laid, Nolan Richardson likely wouldn’t have won the national title in 1994.)
Here are some shots of Coach Sutton, in his Razorback prime:
Though Sutton has slowed down considerably, the 83-year-old living legend still lives. And on Saturday he joined Nolan Richardson and 4,600 Hog fans in Barnhill Arena to see a promising new era of Razorback basketball tip off.
The final score of the Hogs’ annual red-white game — one side beating the other side by a score of 62-54 — didn’t matter as much as the many ways current players and staff connected to the rich tradition of the program through the presence of its two greatest coaches.
On a basic level, there was the fact the two sides were named in the coaches’ honor — a “Team Eddie” and a “Team Nolan.” “I liked it a lot,” said sophomore Reggie Chaney, who finished with a game-high 19 points. “It was tradition in there. That’s why I played so hard — just giving back to those guys.”
Then ⏩ Now pic.twitter.com/H2kq25AXbm— Arkansas Razorbacks Basketball (@RazorbackMBB) October 5, 2019
New coach Eric Musselman already reminds many older fans of the way Eddie Sutton came onto the scene in 1974. He exudes the same level of passion, and like Sutton has long crisscrossed the world in the name of basketball.
Whereas Sutton arrived in Fayetteville as a 38-year-old who had spent his whole career in college basketball, Musselman arrived this past spring as a 54-year-old who has spent decades at all levels of professional basketball, as well as Division I college basketball. He is unquestionably the most experienced first-year coach in the history of Razorback basketball, football or baseball.
Musselman knows the importance of the past. He said he and his players appreciated the opportunity to do a photo shoot with Sutton and Richardson after the game. “On Monday, we’re going to dive into the history of both coaches and what they did for this program. It’s really cool. I’m new to the area, but understand the significance of what both men did for this state and for the university.”
Barnhill Arena was home to a “throwback” themed Saturday, with fans wearing all kinds of late 1970s’ through 1990s-style gear in an homage to the arena’s past.
The on-campus arena was opened as the basketball program’s home in the 1970s in an era when sawdust still covered part of its floor. It officially closed its doors as one of the most feared basketball facilities in the nation on March 3, 1993.
When it comes to shooting, nobody does it better than sophomore Isaiah Joe, who grew in Fort Smith. While at Northside High, he often received tips from Ron Brewer, one of Eddie Sutton’s greatest three players (along with Marvin Delph and Sidney Moncrief) from the late 1970s.
Red-White rewind pic.twitter.com/hAL2u0Jwxx— Arkansas Razorbacks Basketball (@RazorbackMBB) October 6, 2019
Delph was a phenomenal long-range shooter, a scorer whose name would be all over the three-point record book had the shot then existed. Joe has already established himself as Delph’s shooting equal, if not superior.
Last year, Joe scored 31 points in the Red-White game but on Saturday he showed off his ability to make plays for others, tallying a game-high five assists.
He was 4 for 8 on threes in the first half, yet only 0 of 5 in the second half. “You’re going to have those off-shooting days,” he said afterward. “But I think fatigue started to set in, you know, you’ve got to learn how to overcome that. But I mean overall it was just a bad second half. In my mind I’m going to make the next shot, so I’m going to keep shooting.”
RED (White 2nd half)
Connor Vanover 15 pts – 7 reb
Jimmy Whitt Jr. 16 pts – 6 reb
Isaiah Joe 12 pts – 2 reb (5 assists)
Adrio Bailey 8 pts – 7 reb
JD Notae 6 pts – 2 reb
Emeka Obukwelu 4 pts – 0 reb
Ethan Henderson 3 pts – 5 reb
WHITE (Red 2nd Half)
Reggie Chaney 19 pts – 3 reb
Jeantal Cylla 11 pts – 5 reb
Desi Sills 10 pts – 1 reb
Mason Jones 10 pts – 3 reb
Jalen Harris 2 pts – 0 reb
Abayomi Iyiola 2 pts – 5 reb
Ty Stevens 0 pts – 1 reb
*Photos via the 1984 fan book “A Tribute to Eddie Sutton.”
More retro Barnhill Arena photos
Every generation, we are told, mankind gets quicker, stronger and faster. Maybe that’s true, for the part. But even within this general trend there will always be glorious outliers — reminders that no matter how many great athletes don the Razorback uniform, none will ever be able to quite replicate what Little Rock native Sidney Moncrief could do.
With such a small team this year, Musselman sure could use a Moncrief-type player. Then again, any coach, in any era, could say the same. At 6’4″, Moncrief averaged almost 8.5 rebounds a game while shooting 60% for his college career.
Below are more good times courtesy of the 1984 fan book “A Tribute to Eddie Sutton.”
Just look at Sidney Moncrief and Ron Brewer in the middle of this picture. Sutton, third from right, isn’t too bad himself.
More good times with Sidney Moncrief, and Joe Kleine as well
It’s never a bad idea to wear a Santa hat…
Nor to meet the president…
Or a Miss America
Ron Brewer, one of Isaiah Joe’s mentors, taking down the nets.