Oklahoma basketball coach Lon Kruger is retiring after 35 years of coaching, the university announced on Thursday. Kruger, 68, saw his Sooners' season end on Monday when they fell 87-71 to No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament.
CBS Sports' Matt Norlander reports that Kruger's decision was impacted by his son, Kevin Kruger, becoming coach at UNLV and the death of his former assistant Lew Hill in February. Kruger is ready to move on, embrace life after coaching and watch his son embark on his coaching career.
In 10 seasons under Kruger's guidance, Oklahoma went 195-128 and made seven NCAA Tournament appearances, two Sweet 16s and one memorable Final Four run in 2016.
"It's been an honor to serve the University of Oklahoma as its head men's basketball coach over the last 10 years. The people here are certainly amazing and our family is so grateful for the kindness and support expressed by Sooner Nation throughout the past decade," Kruger said in a statement. "The leadership of Joe Castiglione and president Harroz has established an incredible culture and standard that is better than any coach could have asked for. We have such a deep appreciation for the players, coaches and fans. There truly is 'Only One Oklahoma' and it's a great honor to be a Sooner for life."
A former guard who played for Kansas State in the late 1970s, Kruger kickstarted his coaching career shortly after his playing career ended by taking an assistant coaching job at Pittsburg State, a Division II school in Kansas, in 1976. He quickly found an assistant job on Jack Hartman's staff at his alma mater when K-State hired him away after one season. He coached the Wildcats as an assistant until 1982. Then came the head coaching opportunities.
In 1982, Kruger took his first head coaching job at Texas Pan-American, now known as Texas-Rio Grande Valley. But after turning the program in Year One from a 7-21 team to a 20-8 team by Year Four, Kansas State again came calling. In 1986, he was tabbed as Hartman's successor.
"It's anything but easy to sum up the career achievements and impact of Lon Kruger the basketball coach and person in just a handful of sentences. The tremendous success he enjoyed on the court over the last four decades, the meaningful mentorship role he served with players and staff, his dedication to trying to improve the lives of others -- it's a career he should certainly be proud of and that everyone should really take the time to study and appreciate," athletic director Joe Castiglione said.
This was part of Kruger's career and calling: he was well-traveled but always found success. He took Florida to a Final Four in 1994. He won a Big Ten regular-season championship with Illinois several years later, then spent time in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks before heading west to UNLV. And then he finished his career in Oklahoma. Between the various stops and the overwhelming successes, he became one of only three coaches to take five different schools to the NCAA Tournament.