By LARRY VAUGHT
After playing three years for coach Joe Hall, Roger Harden wasn’t sure what to expect after Hall resigned and Eddie Sutton took over for his senior year.
“Coach Hall was from Kentucky and had so many deep relationships in the state. He was very popular,” Harden, a former Indiana Mr. Basketball, said. “But when I think of Eddie Sutton, that was a coach I played my butt off for because I loved him and so did my teammates.”
Sutton recently passed at age 84 with over 800 career wins. He resigned at Kentucky in 1989 with a 90-40 record in four years after the program was hit with a series of NCAA allegations.
“He believed in Kentucky and loved coaching at Kentucky,” Harden said. “We would go out across the state for those preseason Blue-White Games and he loved them. He believed in recruiting Kentucky kids and keeping them involved in the program.
“We all just loved him. He was a great coach before he got to Kentucky and was great at Kentucky until that last year. Then with what he did at Oklahoma State, nobody can doubt his coaching prowess. I am thrilled he got into the Hall of Fame before his death.”
Harden knew Sutton had an alcohol addiction problem at Kentucky and likely cause different stereotypes about the coach after the program got hit with the NCAA allegations.
“But he was a good man, a church-going man. He loved his wife and family,” Harden said. “He loved his players, too. He was the only coach I ever had who cried with us after a tough loss. Sometimes when you have to leave like he did your character gets re-written on your way out the door. It was a good move for him and the university to part ways at that time. But never doubt that he was a great coach and if he had stayed at UK, there’s no doubt he would have won a national title at UK.”
Harden talked to several players on the 1985-86 team that went 32-4 and lost in the Elite Eight to LSU, a team the Cats had already beat three times that season.
“We all got choked up just talking about him again,” Harden said. “He believed in his players. When he had to discipline or correct you, he was very, very kind. He might say three great things about you and point out what you had done wrong.”