Sooners Introduce Kruger As New Head Coach

NORMAN, Okla. -- The rumors and speculation are officially over, as the Sooner program has finally landed its 14th head coach, Lon Kruger from UNLV.

"This is an exciting day," Kruger said. "I have appreciated the Oklahoma program for many years and always felt it had all of the components necessary to compete at the highest level."

The biggest of those, Kruger said, is the leadership.

"At this point, its greatest resource is leadership," Kruger said. "President Boren and Joe Castiglione are recognized nationally for the growth and expansion of the university and athletics program. No matter where you look on this campus, you see talented people.

"It's the kind of environment that breeds success. I look forward to being part of it and to embracing the former players and coaches. We will be very aggressive in reaching out to them."

Just as Kruger views the leadership as perhaps the most enticing thing about OU, the leaders, Boren and Castiglione, view him as the guy that can best lead this program going forward.

"Lon Kruger is the best choice for the University of Oklahoma," Boren said. "He has outstanding coaching ability and a commitment to the highest ethical standards. He will provide strong leadership to our program. In addition, he and his wife, Barbara, have a long record of service to the larger community. They will be tremendous additions to our campus and the state of Oklahoma."

Castiglione, who ended his 18-day heading coaching search, had similar comments.

"Lon Kruger wins with class," Castiglione said. "And in the coaching realm, I don't know if the praise gets any higher. His background, ranging from regular trips to the NCAA Tournament to his time in the NBA, is among the most unique and complete in college basketball.

"He has demonstrated the ability to manage a program across the board, and the results speak for themselves. We have placed our program in the hands of a true professional and one of the most respected coaches in the country."

Even Dr. John Bell, Chairman of the OU Board of Regents, echoed all those same sentiments.

"I can't think of anyone better to take our program where we think it can go," Bell said. "He cares about his student-athletes and he runs a program the right way. He combines a record of success with outstanding character."

As can be expected from all this praise, it took a lot to sway him away from his former job.

"The people and especially our players at UNLV mean a great deal to me," Kruger said. "This was a difficult decision for me because of our team and the people of Las Vegas. I was privileged to be associated with them."

It's something Castiglione mentioned as a challenge in the search.

"Lon has great respect for his players, the leadership and the fans at UNLV," Castiglione said. "He had a good situation there and was happy. We were persistent in presenting a position that might hold some appeal for him."

And it just happened to work out.

Now, it's about Kruger familiarizing Sooner Nation with his style of play.

"We want to dictate on both ends of the court," Kruger said. "We will attack on offense and look to score in transition and play with great toughness on defense. Naturally, we'll have to match our style to our personnel, but our basic principles will always be the same."

Kruger was always able to get that to work for him at UNLV, where he just completed his seventh season and compiled a 161-71 overall record.

That included NCAA Tournament runs in four of the past five years for a program that had only experienced a pair of tourney appearances in the previous 15 years before that.

And he'll be expected to similarly revamp the program at OU, a program he's always known and respected.

"Oklahoma was always a challenge," Kruger said. "They had great tradition and they played with the pride that came with tradition. The players and coaches who have been associated with the Sooner program for so many years are some of the most successful in our game. In the college basketball world, Oklahoma's program enjoys a very good reputation."

One he can completely restore if he does the job right.

In addition to UNLV, Kruger has also served previous coaching stints at Texas-Pan American, his alma mater Kansas State, Florida and Illinois, as well as three years professionally for the Atlanta Hawks.

He's compiled a 479-304 career record at those five college schools and made the NCAA Tournament 13 times in 25 seasons and the postseason a total of 17 times with his four NIT appearances.

Kruger took the Florida Gators to the Final Four back in 1994.

Stay tuned for Sooners Illustrated's complete coverage of Kruger's first press conference in the coming days.

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