Coaching changes won't weaken Bedlam Series
Bedlam now has a brand-new beginning in Oklahoma.
It shouldn't matter, though. The Oklahoma State-Oklahoma rivalry, dubbed the Bedlam Series, is bigger than one man, one coach, one player, one athletic director, one booster -- or any one person.
With Eddie Sutton's retirement announcement Friday after 16 years at Oklahoma State coming less than two months after Kelvin Sampson left Indiana for Oklahoma after a dozen years, the in-state rivalry takes on a fresh look with first-year head coaches Sean Sutton and Jeff Capel. That shouldn't take any of the edge off the showdowns, though.
Sutton, 37, has a very good idea what this rivalry is about after having played in it and coached in it the past 13 seasons. Capel, 31, will have to pick up quickly on the subject, although he is well-versed in another storied college basketball rivalry after having played for Duke against North Carolina for four years.
"[The Bedlam Series] doesn't have the tradition of North Carolina-Duke or Kentucky-Louisville, but both programs have been at such a high level the past 12-15 years that it is one of the best five or seven rivalries in the country," Sean Sutton said early Friday.
Sutton actually already has been a head coach in one Bedlam game, having taken over for his father in February after Eddie Sutton's leave of absence after an alcohol-related car crash. The game was a classic, won by Oklahoma 67-66 when Terrell Everett made two free throws with six-tenths of a second left after drawing a blocking call on OSU's Byron Eaton -- one that caused Sean Sutton to spin in disbelief.
Oklahoma leads the all-time series 121-87 (74-26 in Norman), but it's deadlocked 10-10 since the Big 12 was formed in 1996-97. The Cowboys actually were 19-14 in the series in the Eddie Sutton era (not including the game Sean coached) and had won five of eight before that game.
"It doesn't take long for you to sense the importance of the game for the people, for the students at both schools," Sean Sutton said. "I always enjoy watching a freshman who isn't from Oklahoma see the importance of the game. Once you get into it, it just thins your blood.
"It's going to be different for sure with both [former coaches] gone," he said. "It was when Billy Tubbs went to TCU. But the rivalry is bigger than any player or coach. And it will continue to be. I love being a part of it as an assistant and coach. I know Jeff will embrace the rivalry and it won't take him long to figure out the importance."
Sampson said Friday that he has counseled Capel on the nuances of the Oklahoma job but said there isn't much he can do to tell him about Bedlam.
"It's more charged than anything I've been a part of," Sampson said. "There are so [many] territorial feelings toward each school. OU fans think OU is the greatest, and when it comes to basketball OSU could point to saying that, 'We're better than you.' Not every school has a rivalry, but they do. Over the years, OU was better because of OSU."
The idea that the rivalry will change without the elder Sutton and Sampson isn't believed outside the rivalry, either.
"It won't be diminished, even though you're losing two Hall of Fame-type coaches," said Texas A&M head coach Billy Gillispie, who was once Bill Self's assistant at nearby Tulsa. "The dislike that both schools have for each other is the overriding factor in this rivalry. We were at Tulsa, and we watched it closely. They don't like each other. You could see the intensity of the game on TV. Even though there won't be two great coaches on the sidelines, the two great young ones won't miss a beat."
Once Sampson abruptly left OU for IU in late March, it was anticipated -- at least in the state of Oklahoma -- that both programs would have new faces in charge this fall. During Eddie Sutton's news conference Friday, he said his initial plan was to coach two games next season to get to 800 wins, then retire, but he said that wouldn't have been fair to Sean and would have put undue pressure on him.
How did Eddie prep his son to take over the program?
"I was as prepared as anyone on his staff after being an assistant and playing for him," Sean said. "He never hires assistants that he doesn't think will have the ability to be a head coach. He teaches you all the aspects of being a head coach. I've been around this since I was 5 years old and worked closely with him for the past 12 years.
"There is going to be a lot of pressure, but there always is at this level, and nobody wants to see this program go down," Sean Sutton said. "I played here, coached here, and I understand the tradition and what it means to the people here. Oklahoma State is accustomed to winning and competing for a championship and the Final Four."
And, as always, the expectation is to beat Oklahoma.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.