LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Eddie Sutton resigned under pressure as Kentucky basketball coach Sunday, still professing his innocence of alleged NCAA rules violations nearly a year after a package to a recruit burst open and revealed cash.
University President David Roselle indicated at a news conference Sunday night he was prepared to move to oust Sutton had he not quit.
Sutton leaves one of the most prestigious jobs in coaching following the Wildcats' first losing season in 62 years. Kentucky, owners of five NCAA titles, has more basketball victories than any school in history with 1,466.
'After much thought and consideration and consultation with my family and a lot of praying, I have decided I'm going to resign from the University of Kentucky,' Sutton said on a live national television hookup on CBS from its affiliate, WKYT-TV in Lexington. 'And I do it for one reason, the love I have for the University of Kentucky, for the Kentucky basketball program and the poeople of the Commonwealth.'
The NCAA and university launched investigations into the program following the package incident, and Kentucky faces 18 formal NCAA charges ranging from recruiting violations, to academic fraud and lack of proper instituional control over the program.
Sutton said he was innocent of any wrongdoing at the university but said his resignation would help prevent innocent people from being hurt and help the program emerge from the shadow it has been under since a package from assistant coach Dwane Casey to the father of now-freshman Chris Mills broke open in a Los Angeles shipping center to reveal $1,000 in cash.
Sutton said he also assumed his entire coaching staff would submit their resignations.
Roselle told a news conference he had accepted Sutton's resignation because it was best for the program.
'Circumstances sometimes create a need for a change that is in the best interest of the institution,' Roselle said. 'This is very much the case with Coach Sutton's situation at UK.'
Roselle said if Sutton had not resigned, he was prepared to present a report on the management and recruitment problems at Kentucky at a meeting Tuesday of the University of Kentucky Athletic Association.
Roselle said Vanderbilt Coach C.M. Newton, who will become Kentucky's Athletic Director on April 1, will immediately begin searching for a replacement. Roselle said he did not expect the search to be completed until following the NCAA Tournament.
'C.M. will move with dispatch to employ a coach who can restore the tradition of Kentucky basketball,' Roselle said. 'I am confident that we will be announcing a new coach of whom all Kentucky fans will be proud. We now have the opportunity to begin rebuildinbg our basketball program, a fresh start for University of Kentucky basketball.'
For several weeks Sutton had remained steadfast in his refusal to resign, despite the naming of him in at least two potential allegations raised in the university's response to the NCAA.
Sutton met with Roselle Wednesday to plead his case, but Roselle remained unconvinced, sources have told United Press International. Roselle felt that like Athletic Director Cliff Hagan, who was forced to resign last year, Sutton bore ultimate responsibility for the integrity of the program, the sources said.
Roselle confirmed Sunday he had indicated to Sutton his feelings. When asked whther he had asked Sutton to resign, Roselle responded, 'the indication was clear what was good for the program.'
Sutton, who came to Kentucky in 1985 from Arkansas, compiled the first losing record, 13-18, since the 1926-27 season. He leaves with a 90-40 record.
Besides the turmoil of the investigation, shortly after the probe began Sutton was beset with the defection to the pros of star Rex Chapman. His sole returning starter, Eric Manuel, voluntarily sidelined himself after questions arose about his college entrance exam. Manual has subsequently been charged by the NCAA with academic fraud.
Both Sutton and Roselle denied reports that Sutton had offered to fire his entire staff in exchange for Sutton keeping the post, although Roselle said there was discussion of the assistant coaches.
Sutton said he would remain in Lexington, polish his golf game, fish and spend time with his family as well as meet with those supporters who have written him letters. He said he hoped to remain in the collegiate coaching ranks.
'I hope there is some college president or athletic director out there who will give me another chance,' Sutton said.