You couldn't have moved Eddie Sutton with a gun. He was loving this. He is the University of Arkansas basketball coach, maybe the best at his work. His team had won its game three nights ago and now he sat at courside watching Indiana State win. They would meet later and the Indiana State fans sent up a chant, "The pigs are next... The pigs are next."
Sutton loved it. His Arkansas team is nicknamed the Razorbacks, which, to judge by facsimiles of the creatures, are wild boars with angry dispositions. The Arkansas folks call them Hogs and even wear Hog Hats with snoots that poke over their foreheads. In disparagement, the Hogs' opponents refer to Arkansas as pigs. No one ever lost a basketball game to pigs.
"Isn't the NCAA tournament great?" Sutton asked at that moment, and he was loving it, loving the cacophony of a college basketball crowd, the kaleidoscope that has bedazzled full houses from Murfreesboro, Tenn., to Provo, Utah.
Eddie Sutton is what the college game is all about. He coaches, he teaches, he wins and he does it with class. Like all teams, his reflects the personality of its coach. At 42, a college coach 10 years, he is an over-achiever, up from the plains of Kansas to become his game's coach of the year last season. This year's Arkansas team has over-achieved. Pigs aren't supposed to win 25 games.
Only two starters returned from the previous season's 32-4 team that finished third in the NCAA tournament. At best, Sutton hoped to win 17, 18 games this year while building for next season. And when Arkansas lost four of five games in mid-season, even those modest hopes seemed beyond reach.
"Early, all our young players thought they could shoot," Sutton said. "But when we lost those four games, that might have been the best thing that could have happened. It got our young players' attention. They finally realized they couldn't make half those shots -- and if we can't get a 50 percent shot, we don't take it.
"We had some three-hour practices then. I call them 'gut practices.' One day we practiced twice. Our young players finally gave themselves to the idea they had to work as a team to get anything done."
After those practices, Arkansas won its next 14 games before losing today to Indiana State, 73-71, for the championship of the NCAA's Midwest Regional here.
The concept of a team is difficult to sell to athletes who have been stars in high school. Whether consciously or not, they are reluctant to be only a satellite in a universe when they have been the center for so long. Eddie Sutton creates an ordered universe.
He has a blueprint. To build a true team, he says, a coach must be a selective recruiter. Rather than throw out a net in hopes of dragging in four or five of the biggest fish -- the Ralph Sampsons and Albert Kings of high school fame -- Sutton said, "We recruit good players, maybe not great players, who are super human beings and will play their butts off.
"I can't coach players who aren't team oriented. I don't want to worry about going on a road trip and players breaking curfew. Dean Smith, at North Carolina, recruits the same way.
"Too many coaches believe raw athletic talent is the whole answer and it isn't. That's how coaches lose jobs. Those players without character look great one night and then they look like dogs the next night."
To find the kind of player who will give up part of himself to make the team better, Sutton said, he does investigative work. He talks to school principals, counselors, coaches. He finds out, for example, if a player's class attendance is good. He refuses to be a character builder.
"That's where a lot of college coaches fool themselves, and that's ego," Sutton said. "They say, 'The high school coach didn't know how to handle the kid.' They think they'll change the kid. You don't change a kid who is 18, 19. By then he has established a set of values.
"A lot of times we've turned down raw talent to take someone with less talent and more character. I'd rather have over-achievers."
A shining illustration of the Sutton way is his guard, Sidney Moncrief, who as a high school senior in Little Rock attracted little national notice. Moncrief now is an All-America who will be a good pro.
"We didn't know he was as good as he turned out to be," said Sutton. "But we knew he was what we wanted. I want guys who love to go to the gym. Give me gym rats. I want guys who think that coming to practice is the highlight of a day.
"Sidney is the best I've ever had at coming to practice and playing like it's the national championship. It rubs off on the other players. They're embarrassed if they're standing around and here's the star diving on the floor taking charges.
"That's heart. And you can't look inside a kid and know what kind of Valentine he has. He has to show you and Sidney does."
In the last three years at Arkansas, Sutton has created teams that have won by running and by playing slowly. He has won with great talent and with invisible talent. Of 94 games in the three seasons, Arkansas has lost only 11.
Jobs seek him out. "It's flattering," he said. Someone mentioned an opening at Southern California. "I can't imagine me, a country boy from Kansas, in Los Angeles," he said. "I like Fayetteville."
And he gave a visitor a T-shirt bearing the legend, "High on the Hogs."