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Kansas State launched Lon Kruger's coaching career

by Michael Baldwin Modified: July 11, 2011 at 10:33 pm •  Published: July 11, 2011

The Broncs were 52-59 under Kruger. His final year was the only winning season of his budding career.

“He was a K-State guy that played for coach (Jack) Hartman, who highly recommended him,” Travis said. “It couldn't have turned out any better. He was a great person. His teams played hard. He was as competitive a coach as I've ever been around. He had a really good run.”

Kruger's run — 81 wins in four seasons — paled compared to Hartman's 294 wins, the most in K-State history.

But at the end of Hartman's career, the program slipped to 12-16, 14-15, 14-14 and 16-14 his final four seasons.

“Lon wasn't that far removed from being the two-time Big Eight Player of the Year,” said Mark Dobbins, a sophomore when Kruger was hired. “He was young. He really brought the buzz back.

“Nothing against Jack Hartman, he was a great coach. But Lon was a breath of fresh air. He energized things. He brought some youthful enthusiasm. He brought in some good coaches and some really good players like Mitch Richmond. He's a great coach. Look at what he's accomplished.”

It started at his alma mater at age 34.

“It was special, no question,” Kruger said. “You can't replicate the feelings you have about your alma mater. I was very young at the time. I didn't fully appreciate it because I hadn't been a lot of other places.”

Nearly three decades later, Kruger has been a lot of different places. His seven years at UNLV is the longest stint of his career. He spent six years at Florida, four at Illinois and four at K-State. He coached briefly in the NBA.

“Anytime you work at your alma mater it can be a bitter-sweet venture,” said Mitch Holthus, K-State's play-by-play voice during the Kruger era. “Some thought he might stay and build a career there because of all the equity he put in that place as a player and a coach.”

Kruger could have left two years earlier when Texas pursued him after the Elite Eight season. The timing seemed right with Richmond leaving for the NBA, where he was named Rookie of the Year.

To squash rumors, Kruger called Dobbins and Henson into his office. He promised the duo he would stay two more years.

“That meant a lot to us,” Dobbins said. “I was going to be a senior, Steve a junior. I thought he was leaving. There are some people who had hard feelings when he left K-State, but I don't. He kept his word and stayed through our senior years.”

K-State fans, though, were crushed when Kruger left for Florida.

“The opportunity to experience a lot of different things, the challenge of something different, always has been intriguing to me,” Kruger said. “It wasn't a plan we had. As your career unfolds that's what has happened. We've enjoyed it. We've been very fortunate to meet good people at every stop.

“But looking back, coaching at your alma mater was very special.”

by Michael Baldwin
Redhawks, Barons, MLB, NFL Reporter
Mike Baldwin has been a sports reporter for The Oklahoman since 1982. Mike graduated from Okmulgee High School in 1974 and attended Oklahoma Christian University, graduating with a journalism degree in 1978. Mike's first job was sports editor...
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