Back in December K-State played West Virginia and the big conversation was whether or not Bob Huggins should have been cheered or booed. There were plenty of great points on both sides. Those who cheered pointed out that Huggins gave the Cats the jump start they needed to be a top 25 type program again. Those who booed pointed out that he’s not generally thought of as someone of high character, and that after being given his second chance at K-State he left after only 1 season in the Little Apple. All the hype was there for the match-up, and when it came time the cheers far out numbered the boos, even if I didn’t agree with it at the time1. But Huggins isn’t the only former coach we’ll be facing this season.
There’s no need to point out that I’m referring to Lon Kruger. Every K-State fan should know that not only is his number 12 hanging in the rafters as a player, but that he spent 4 years at Kansas State as the head coach who followed the legend, Jack Hartman. I, like many who will read this, wasn’t around for Kruger’s time at K-State2, so it’s time for just a bit of a refresher.
Lon Kruger was a true home state Kansan. He grew up just down the road from Manhattan in Silver Lake, Kansas and went on to a great career at K-State including 3 letters, 2 Big 8 player of the year awards, and 1,063 points. There’s a reason that his number 12 hangs in the rafters in the Octagon. But as good as he was as a player, his numbers as a coach are even more impressive.
Kruger spent 4 seasons at Kansas State as the head coach and is still the only coach to take the Wildcats to 4 straight NCAA tournaments3, including an Elite 8 run in 19884. He also was the first coach at K-State to lead the team to a 20 win season in his first year5.
So sure, Lon left after 4 years to head to Florida. And sure, Lon, after stops at Illinois, the Atlanta Hawks6, and UNLV he came back his home conference7, to face off against his alma mater. But there hasn’t been any serious questioning as to whether or not we should cheer Lon on Saturday when his Oklahoma Sooners come to the Little Apple. Boo his team all you want, but when they announce, “Coaching for the Oklahoma Sooners, Lon Kruger,” even if just for this first trip back, let’s make certain we blow the roof off of the place.
Welcome back, Coach.
- Ok, let’s face it… I still don’t agree with it. [↩]
- As many readers know, I grew up in Iowa and moved to Kansas while I was in high school. Before about 1993 I had no clue that Kansas State ever existed, so I didn’t grow up watching Kruger play or coach, but I love sports history, and I love K-State, so I appreciate him just as though I had [↩]
- Frank is looking at getting K-State to their 3rd straight this year, and appears to be on pace to match Lon in this feat [↩]
- Also a feat that Frank has matched… 20 years later [↩]
- You guessed it, Frank did too. [↩]
- The only stop in his coaching career where he was not successful. [↩]
- Which of course, is now the Big 12, but contains only 2 more teams than the Big 8 that he left [↩]