When Lon Kruger came to Oklahoma, he helped re-ignite the Sooners. The result has been three-straight trips to the NCAA Tournament after Oklahoma had back-to-back losing seasons before Kruger took over prior to the 2011-12 season.
He’s become the first coach in NCAA history to leads five different teams to the NCAA Tournament. Four made it to the Sweet 16, another NCAA Division I record.
But he hasn’t done it alone.
Kruger brought assistant Lew Hill and Steven Henson to Oklahoma with him from UNLV. Oklahoma added former Oral Roberts assistant Chris Crutchfield. The quartet has been at the head of the Sooners’ resurgence.
Kruger is a household name for all Oklahoma fans, but Sooners Illustrated caught up with his three assistants to find out a little more about them.
What has been most rewarding part of you career in coaching?
There are so many things, but first is the fact of being able to teach young people. Being able to have them for four years, you can watch them start off as freshmen and watch them evolve and grow as young men and mature and get their degree – just watching them kind of conquer their dreams so to say because you know the alternative. You’ve been in environments where guys don’t get the opportunities, and you see what happened to them. That’s the most gratifying thing. You see young people get a degree and have a better lifestyle.
What made you want to come to OU in the first place?
I’ve been to a lot of places. You’ve seen my resume. I’ve been to Division 2, JuCo, low major, mid-major and now high major. When you take the route that I’ve taken to get to this point, it’s a no-brainer when you get offered a job like this. It’s the peak of your career, pretty much. It’s been a blessing to be here and just be with coach Kruger. It’s not even the level but more so the school and the people that you work with.
Is the long journey what makes coaching at Oklahoma so enjoyable for you?
That helps you appreciate where you’re at because of where you’ve been or what you’ve been through. Some guys start off at this level or they played at this level. They don’t know anything different. That’s the rewarding part. I’ve been on commercial flights when you connect to go to a game or get your stuff in the airport on the way back and have to stay in the airport because you can’t afford to go get a room for the night. I’ve been in those situations. I didn’t always charter to game. I’ve been on buses and vans to games.
And you had to drive?In junior college, yeah. You had to drive the vans. I’ve been so to speak to the bottom. This would be the top of the profession. It makes you appreciate it.
What do you like to do away from the court?
I just play golf. I’ve been playing for a while. I never had a chance to really play a lot because the job takes you to different places. I play golf; spend time with my family.
Coach Kruger is pretty good golfer, but do you have a good story about him?
I’ve told this story before. It might have been our first or second year here. We’re coming back from lunch as a staff, and there’s a college student walking down Jenkins. He’s carrying bags like he’s been to the grocery store. He had a 12-pack of soda or something, and the bag tore. You could see all the sodas fall out, and they’re rolling down the sidewalk. One might have sprayed into his face. (Coach Kruger) turns into the building and drops us off in front of the practice facility. We’re like, ‘What are you doing coach? Why are you not parking?’ He goes, ‘I’m going to go back and help that kid out. I saw that kid dropped some stuff.’ We’re barely here one year. We all get out the car and ask, ‘Coach, do you want us to go with you?’ ‘No, no, I got it.’ That showed me what kind of man I was working for right there. . . . That shows you the humility, the compassion he has for people. Just being able to lose yourself and go help a stranger you didn’t even know – take time out of your day to do that. Most guys wouldn’t do that. That opened a whole door and I knew more about Lon Kruger than I ever knew. . . . That’s who he is. That’s him. He hasn’t been any different.
If you could give out a superlative to a player, which would you give and why?
Buddy – Most competitive, most talkative. Isaiah would probably be best dancer, best showman. Ryan would probably be most secure, best fisherman.
What superlative would the players give you?
That’s hard to say. Some people think I dress good. Best dressed on this hallway. Now, they are gonna beg to differ down there. I’ll leave it at that.
How do you define your role with the program?
We all do the same thing: Coach, teacher, recruiter, motivator, mentor, counselor. We do all of it. We do it all to the point that you have to be all of that in this day and time with the kids. If you’re not, the kids will lose it. Even though we have so much support staff, they’re coming to you for everything. That’s just the relationship you have with them. I take that very, very seriously, because you’re molding and shaping young people. They need to hear you say, ‘I’m proud of you.’ They need to hear you say, ‘I love you.’ It’s amazing. When I grew up, you didn’t need to hear that because you were secure enough and you grew up in a certain environment. These kids now grow up differently. They don’t get that. You have to give it to them. If you don’t, you’re not helping hem at all. We’re on their butts a lot about certain things they do when their on the court. You’re pushing them. You’re motivating them. You’re yelling at them. At the end of the day when they come here and sit down, they look at you and you say, ‘You did a great job.’ ‘I did?’ ‘Yeah.’ You have to tell them that. If you do that every day and don’t come back and re-enforce that then you’re digging a hole with them. I’ve learned this being around coach (Kruger): He’s just so positive. He’s the only guy I know that can get on your butt and make you feel good. The players understand that. We don’t curse. We very seldom yell at them. We talk to them like men. Every now and then we get on them, but everything we’re doing is uplifting. It’s encouraging. I haven’t always been that way. I’ve learned in the last four years how to do it that way.
What would you say is your focus in recruiting?
We all recruit nationally. We kind of break up certain areas. I have Dallas and Central Texas. Lew does Houston. I’ll do the southeastern part of the country, a little in the Midwest. Steve has the Midwest. I have some kids in St. Louis and Minneapolis. Steve has the whole state of Kansas. We haven’t really broken up the states. I’m from Kentucky originally, so I’ll dibble-dabble in Kentucky. Lew pretty much does all the East Coast. . . . We’ve done it that way since we’ve been here. It’s not on paper. We just kind of just worked it out between us. A lot of people don’t do it that way. . . . We all kind of have our people around the country that we constantly stay in contact with.
Do you guys break it down by position at all?
We do. Me and Lew do the guards and Steve does the bigs. That’s how we’ve done it since we’ve been here.
What is one things fans wouldn’t know about you?
I played football in college.
Were you any good?
Yeah, I was OK. I played Division 2. You could do both back then. You could do football and basketball. I actually was a GA for football for a year at Nebraska-Omaha, where I played. I transitioned before it got too crazy. Trust me. That’s the best decision I ever made. I had just gotten married. We would get to the office at 6 in the morning. We wouldn’t leave until 10 – all day.