Lon Kruger took over an Oklahoma program in 2011 that had just limped through two losing seasons, and he arrived just as it was placed on probation. He faced a tall task and worked wonders with it by guiding the Sooners to a 20-win season and NCAA Tournament appearance in his second year. Now, after 10 mostly successful seasons on the job, he is retiring.
The good news for Oklahoma fans is that the program is in better shape than when Kruger took over, and there are some intriguing candidates out there who may be interested. Oklahoma is a football-first type of school, but it has enough resources and history to attract a quality candidate. After all, the past four head coaches at OU -- Kruger, Jeff Capel, Kelvin Sampson and Billy Tubbs -- have all been to at least an Elite Eight, and three of them have made Final Four appearances.
Winning in the Big 12 is no cakewalk, especially with Baylor now established as a consistent national power alongside Kansas. But even with the Bears and in-state rival Oklahoma State experiencing success, there is reason to believe the right coach can win early and often at OU.
Here is a quick list of names to ponder as the Sooners search for their next coach.
Paul Mills, Oral Roberts coach
OK sure, Mills is a hot name because he's guided No. 15 seed Oral Roberts to the Sweet 16. That, in and of itself, probably makes him a name to watch now that a high-major job in the same state is open. But what makes Mills truly a viable candidate at Oklahoma is the 14 seasons of Big 12 experience he would bring to the job. Mills was on staff at Baylor under Scott Drew from 2003 to 2017. He knows the league and has shown the ability to run his own program. Oklahoma could do worse.
Grant McCasland, North Texas coach
Speaking of Drew disciples who are doing well since striking out on their own, McCasland is another former Baylor assistant thriving as a head coach. He just led North Texas to its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory and has successfully turned the Mean Green into a respectable program during four seasons on the job. He was on the Baylor staff from 2011 to 2016 and also played in the Big 12 from 1995 to 1999 as a point guard for the Bears.
Craig Smith, Utah State coach
Smith has done a phenomenal job rebuilding a Utah State program that missed the NCAA Tournament in seven straight seasons prior to his arrival. As a Minnesota native and former Nebraska assistant, Smith had the Big Ten experience and geographical ties to potentially get a sniff at the Minnesota job. But that went to Ben Johnson, and if Smith is interested in making a move, Oklahoma seems like a natural progression. Including four seasons as South Dakota's coach, the 48-year-old boasts a career record of 225-107.
Carlin Hartman, Oklahoma assistant coach
In this transfer-heavy era, continuity could enter into the equation during Oklahoma's search. If so, Hartman would be a solid option. The veteran Division I assistant has spent the past five seasons on Kruger's staff following stints at Rice and Columbia, among others. The former Tulane star is regarded for his recruiting and development of post players.
Kyle Keller, Stephen F. Austin coach
The longtime Oklahoma State, Kansas and Texas A&M assistant is now 104-46 as a coach after wrapping up his fifth season with Stephen F. Austin. He led the Lumberjacks to a 28-3 mark last season and had a good squad this year, too. Unfortunately, SFA was ineligible for the postseason due to NCAA violations that were more of a departmental issue than anything related specifically to Keller's program.
Kellen Sampson, Houston assistant coach
Sampson played at Oklahoma during his father's highly successful run as the program's coach, and was also a part of Jeff Capel's first team. He then served as a graduate assistant under Capel and has since rejoined his father as an assistant at Houston. Though lacking head coaching experience, Sampson is a familiar face within the Oklahoma program who is likely destined to be a head coach at some point.
Quannas White, Houston assistant coach
White is another name in the same vein as Kellen Sampson. He's a Houston assistant who was a key player under Kelvin Sampson at Oklahoma during runs to the Elite Eight and Final Four.
Mark Turgeon, Maryland coach
This may seem like a stretch at first glance, but there are indications Turgeon may be growing weary of Maryland. If he's looking for a return to his geographic roots, Oklahoma would make sense. Turgeon is from Kansas and played for the Jayhawks in the 1980s before spending five seasons on staff with the program. He then made a name for himself in the coaching profession at Wichita State, which is less than three hours from the OU campus.