John E. Hoover: Bill Self blazes his own coaching path
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Wednesday, March 06, 2013
3/06/13 at 7:47 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blog
Really, who's better at giving college basketball coaching advice than Eddie Sutton?
Good thing Bill Self never listens.
"That's exactly right," Sutton says with a laugh. "That's what I've thought many times."
Twice in the past 20 years, Sutton advised his young protégé to beware the pitfalls of a particular job opening, and twice Self cut his own path to greatness.
It was 20 years ago this Friday that Self, an Okmulgee native, Edmond product and Oklahoma State alumnus, got his first head coaching gig.
New ORU president Richard Roberts called Self at 11:15 on a Sunday night, March 8, 1993, and Self was introduced as the Titans' new coach the next day. A month later, continuing its reboot from 20 years as a maverick and two years in the NAIA, the school changed its nickname to Golden Eagles, and things at 81st and Lewis have been rolling ever since.
So has Self, whose career record has climbed to 502-162.
"Time does fly," Self told the Tulsa World in a phone interview Tuesday. "And it flies faster when times are good, and we've had some good times."
After Ken Trickey was let go following a 5-22 season, Oral Roberts opened up a national search for its next basketball coach.
It came down to Self (then an Oklahoma State assistant under Sutton) and Northeastern A&M head coach Lonnie Spencer (an ORU alum). Self got the job because of his recruiting acumen (he landed Fred Burley and Randy Rutherford and was instrumental in getting Bryant Reeves to OSU), then went 6-21 in 1993-94 and 10-17 in 1994-95.
"I will tell you, those first two years we spent at ORU," he said, "it felt like six years."
Self hasn't had anything remotely close to a losing record ever since, winning at least 21 games 16 times in 18 seasons and breaking new ground at ORU, Tulsa, Illinois and, for the past 10 seasons, at Kansas.
"It's been fun," Self said. "But it's been a learning experience, and every step of the way has really prepared us for the next step. It's been really cool for Cindy and me to be a part of it. It's been a fun journey for us."
Oral Roberts nearly hired Spencer in 1992, but after much prayer and personal deliberation about his good friend and confidant Trickey, Roberts let Trickey coach another season.
If Roberts had hired Spencer that year, where would Self be today?
Or, if Self had gotten that first head coaching job he so desperately wanted at Oklahoma City University before the Chiefs hired Darrel Johnson in 1990? Or if Self had been hired by Missouri instead of Quin Snyder in 1999? Or by Wichita State instead of Mark Turgeon in 2000?
"Garth Brooks is right: Some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers," Self said. "I think that happens in everybody's life. Sometimes what we think we want or what we think is best isn't always the case. It happens that way in our profession all the time."
Self is just as glad he didn't take Sutton's career advice 20 years ago.
"I said, 'Bill, I don't think that (ORU) is an easy job. That's pretty difficult,' " Sutton told the World on Tuesday. " 'I'm not telling you to take it or not take it. But there will probably be other opportunities if you stay.' But he took it and just did a marvelous job."
A decade later, Self had another opportunity that Sutton figured he might be best served to steer clear of.
"When he got ready to go to Kansas, I said, 'Bill, you can't even come close to what Roy Williams has accomplished up there,' " Sutton said. " 'The only thing you can do that he didn't get done is win a national title. Other than that, there's no way.' "
Of course, all Self has done in Lawrence is win 84 percent of his games, eight (soon to be nine) consecutive conference titles and the 2007-08 national championship.
Self recalls another bit of advice he got from Sutton before he took the reins at ORU.
"We were in the NCAA Tournament at Oklahoma State," Self said. "He said, 'Bill, you can go over there and work, but I want you be with the team and not actually start until our season is over at Oklahoma State.' I said, 'Coach, thanks. That's great.' He said, 'Yeah, you need to enjoy the NCAA Tournament because it's gonna be a long time before you play in one again.' "
It was three years until Self had ORU at 21-7 and in the National Invitation Tournament, and two years after that before he guided Tulsa to a 23-10 record and to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
"We lost 18 games in a row at the beginning," Self remembers from that 1993-94 season at ORU. "But then that same core group of guys won 31 of our last 38 and had some success against the big boys. It was so much fun to be a part of that."
Said Sutton, "I always knew Bill would be a very, very good head coach. He just had some wonderful qualities. He's a good recruiter, had good rapport with players, good work habits. And he was very, very good on his feet, speaking-wise. I knew he would be a head coach.
"What he's done at Kansas, I just am so happy for him."
Original Print Headline: Self blazes his own coaching path
Self's top five
Friday marks 20 years since native Oklahoman Bill Self got his first head coaching job in college basketball. Self recounts his top five moments from the first two decades of a hall-of-fame career:
1. 2007-08: Kansas goes 37-3 and wins the national championship.
2. 1999-2000: Tulsa goes 32-3 and makes it to the Elite Eight.
3. 2000-2002: Illinois wins back-to-back Big Ten championships.
4. 2011-12: Kansas rebuilds its roster, goes 32-7 and gets to the NCAA Tournament championship game.
5. 1996-97: Oral Roberts, after years of mediocrity, goes 21-7 and makes the NIT.
"I don't know if I've had a team max out their potential any better than my last team at Oral Roberts or my last team at Tulsa." - Bill Self