The school that reached the pinnacle of college basketball with Bill Russell, savored success with Bill Cartwright and endured infamy with Quintin Dailey now offers the Eddie Sutton show.
Hurry or you'll miss it, this limited run that made its home debut Saturday to mixed reviews. Where the current spotlight takes the University of San Francisco's once-proud program remains an open question.
When they introduced the legendary Sutton at Memorial Gym on a rainy afternoon, there was a healthy round of applause, with an audible undercurrent of boos. Not everyone is on the bandwagon.
The announced 1,381 spectators who turned out Saturday for Sutton's first home game as USF's coach represented a small bump in attendance from the 1,213 average from the first five home games. But there was a buzz in the building as USF rallied from a 15-point halftime deficit to force overtime before losing to Holy Cross 67-63.
The defeat dropped the Dons to 4-11 and kept Sutton, 71, stuck at 798 career coaching victories, two shy of the 800 mark that helped prompt him to take this job after former coach Jessie Evans took an unexplained leave of absence Dec. 26.
"I told our guys at halftime if I were a season-ticket holder I'd tear up my tickets and go home," said Sutton, who announced Thursday he would not stay past this season. "I pointed out some things they needed to do ... I thought they displayed some courage."
Taking over a losing team in midseason might qualify as courageous, too. The Dons remain a work in progress, with Sutton -- the former head coach at Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State -- using the semester break to teach fundamentals and instill discipline.
"The challenge is unbelievable when you haven't been part of the program," Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard said. "To come in blind like he's come in, that's a tremendous challenge."
Sutton still gets his new players mixed up, confusing guards Danny Cavic and Manny Quezada in a recent practice, but said he remains focused on improving his team.
"They've got to learn to be disciplined and carry out assignments," said Sutton, 0-3 with the Dons. "I want to get these guys where they're smart basketball players and they know how the game should be played so at the end of the season, when the next coach comes in, they'll have a ballclub that will be pretty good."
The Dons, certainly, are adjusting to Sutton's attention to detail, discipline, work ethic and toughness.
"I've had a lot of mixed emotions," said Cavic, a senior. "Shocking. I didn't expect to hear the news about coach Evans. Maybe even more shocking about coach Sutton.
"I didn't think he'd come back to coach. I'm happy he did. He's teaching us a lot of things. He's preparing us for the future, on and off the court."
Sophomore center Dior Lowhorn, the Dons' leading scorer and rebounder, said Sutton is much like Bob Knight, whom he played for as a freshman at Texas Tech.
"One gets his point across in a more hostile way, and one is more laid back," Lowhorn said.
"They both want what's best for the team."
The past is always present at Memorial Gym. At one end are the retired numbers -- Phil Smith, 20; Mike Farmer, 17; Cartwright, 24; K.C. Jones, 4; Russell, 6; and coaches Phil Woolpert and Pete Newell. On another wall hang the NCAA Championship banners from 1955 and 1956.
Farmer, who helped the Dons win the 1956 title, sits four rows behind the baseline, taking it all in. He also has mixed feelings about Sutton's emergence.
"I think the pros probably outweigh the cons," he said. "I think he'll instill something in them that they really need, and that's a little more discipline.
"He will get the best out of these kids. The only thing that bothers me on the negative side is how is this going to affect recruiting for next year?"
Jim Brovelli, USF coach from 1985 to 1995, also said Sutton's short run has pros and cons.
"You have a Hall of Fame coach; obviously it creates a lot of interest," he said. "But on the other hand you know there's going to be a new coach at the end of the year, so where does that put your recruiting?"
Sausalito's David Salyer, a season-ticket holder the past three seasons, said he was disappointed to hear Sutton won't return next season.
"I basically came today to boo him," he said.
Sutton's past has many highs and lows. He has taken teams to three Final Fours but was forced out at Kentucky after 17 NCAA violations that included recruiting and academic misdeeds and resigned from Oklahoma State after the 2005-06 season because of a drunken driving accident.
Despite the troubles, USF athletic director Debra Gore-Mann said she saw a man of character.
"It's quite interesting the way he owned it," Gore-Mann said of Sutton's drinking past, noting he works for two non-profit groups focusing on the education of addiction, drugs, alcohol and gambling.
"He's painfully honest . I do believe if he was drinking he'd right away say, 'I'm still drinking.' "
Russell led USF to national championships in 1955 and 1956. Cartwright, the 6-foot-11 center, arrived with Winford Boynes and James Hardy in 1975 and carried the Dons to three NCAA Tournament bids, one trip to the National Invitation Tournament and a No. 1 ranking.
But then came Dailey, who in 1982 pleaded guilty to assaulting a USF nursing student, which helped then-university president Rev. John LoSchiavo decide to discontinue the basketball program for three seasons.
Gore-Mann said she wants the Dons, who have compiled a .500 record over the past four West Coast Conference seasons, back in the upper half of the league within a few years. Finding the right coach to replace Sutton will be crucial.
"It just seems like we need someone who really understands the history of USF, the culture of the city, the student body we have, it's so diverse," Farmer said. "Someone who really understands that it's a whole package deal, and can recruit the type of kid that would play well here.
"That's just usually a real hard-working pounder-type kid we don't seem to be able to get anymore."