Well, Lon Kruger is leaving a college of which he is so dearly loved at... again. Since he began his college head coaching career almost 30 years ago, Kruger hasn't stayed in one place for more than 6 years. This year's coaching carousel had attacked Kruger viciously, but it seemed like UNLV had escaped the coaching bug yet again.
The Las Vegas Sun reported two days ago that Kruger turned down an offer to coach at Oklahoma, among other universities. The newspaper defends themselves, saying that this offer was different then the one Kruger had previously rejected and was simply too good for Kruger to pass up.
While Kruger leaving is definitely disappointing, you can't blame the guy. The state of Nevada is struggling financially and the governor has made major cuts to academic funding, with athletics taking the biggest hit. According to Ryan Greene, who is the beat reporter for the Las Vegas Sun, the most that UNLV could have offered Kruger would have been about 1 million while Oklahoma is near Texas range with their athletic budget.
The deal is reportedly $16 million over a period of 7 years, totaling to somewhere in the range of 2.1 to 2.2 million dollars a year. There simply was no way Kruger could have made that kind of cash in Vegas, even if the budget wasn't being cut.
Another advantage of being the coach at Oklahoma compared to UNLV is that coming from the Big 12 makes it easier to get an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. Kruger also returns to the conference of which he played in when he was the point guard at Kansas State from 1971-1974.
This also helps from a recruiting aspect since Oklahoma will definitely get more TV exposure than the Rebels would due to the horrible TV contract that the Mountain West deals with. But according to Greene, Jim Livengood (UNLV Athletic Director) has been working hard to change the contracts that say that The Mountain gets first TV rights to games.
@TheBigLead That's the kicker. New AD working hard to get them better exposure, sounds like he's making decent progress. That's a huge key.
If that's true, then it will be just another pitch that the Rebels can throw at whoever they try to hire in order to replace Kruger. Speaking of Kruger, let's think about what he's done.
Lon Kruger brought the Runnin' Rebels out of the "Dark Ages." Between when Jerry Tarkanian left in 1992 and Kruger taking the team to the Sweet 16 in 2006, the team had some considerable talent move through the program, but nothing seemed to be built upon it in order to keep the program going. The likes of Isaiah Rider, Shawn Marion, and Marcus Banks all wore the scarlet and grey, yet they didn't make a big enough impact for the program to really start building again.
Kruger revitalized a fanbase who had simply lost their faith in the program and had been hurt by what happened a little over 10 years before. Until Kruger arrived, the athletic department had trouble selling over 14,000 tickets for home conference games. After Kruger brought the Runnin' Rebels a Sweet 16 berth in 2006, UNLV consistently sold over 16,000 tickets to home conference games and sold out the BYU game every season.
Kruger also reached out to the UNLV stars of the late 80's and early 90's and finally bridged a gap which hadn't been crossed in almost 15 years. You now see Jerry Tarkanian at almost every UNLV game with Larry Johnson (Both live in Las Vegas). For the first time in 20 years at an exhibition game at the beginning of the 2009-2010 season, Kruger brought together the entire cast from the National Champion team together for a 20 year anniversary ceremony before the game. In that aspect, Kruger will always be remembered at UNLV for finally rebuilding those previously torn relationships.
In terms of recruiting Kruger has done a fantastic job. When he first began as a coach in Las Vegas, he didn't have much to work with, but did the best he could with what he had. When the team starting having success, Kruger was able to feed off that in the recruiting end of things and it shows up even today.
UNLV already has a verbal commitment to the 2013 class from Nigel Williams-Goss, a sophomore at Bishop Gorman High School who is an ESPNU Top 100 Recruit and is considered to be the 8th best Shooting Guard in the nation for his class.
USC Transfer Bryce Jones, also highly touted coming out of high school, just visited UNLV this past weekend and really enjoyed it. He even went to the extent of playing a pick-up game with the rest of the team. Other than that, UNLV is also considered to be a frontrunner for 2012 #1 overall recruit Shabazz Muhammed out of Bishop Gorman. Even to the extent that according to Ryan Greene (yet again), UNLV has an 80% of signing him if Dave Rice gets hired.
Kruger has done a lot for the program, but the fact that he is leaving could also hurt very badly in the recruiting aspect of the things. Like I mentioned before, UNLV already has a commitment for the 2013 class from a 4 star prospect out of Bishop Gorman, and if the Runnin' Rebels don't make the right hires, then all of the verbal commitments and progress made with top recruits could go down the drain.
The good news? There is someone out of there who can actually do a better job in recruiting than Kruger has.
Great point by @ryanmgreene: UNLV should look at BYU asst Dave Rice. His bro is HS coach at Bishop Gorman in Vegas...3 top 100 studs [ctd]
Current BYU Assistant Dave Rice has great recruiting ties, is a former UNLV player from the mid 80's, and is known to be a great defensive coach. The best part is that his brother is the head coach at Bishop Gorman, which puts out 2 to 3 Top 100 players per season. The fact that Bishop Gorman is in Las Vegas and the athletic department wouldn't have to pay much in order for prospects from the school to visit the campus makes it even better. I'll talk more about Rice in the Coaching Candidates list.
So to sum everything up, I'm bummed Kruger is leaving, but not upset. Kruger did a lot for this program and it still has a lot of talent as well as a bright future. I'm excited for whoever takes over the reigns to the program as they won't have to start from the ground up like others have (See: Steve Fisher). The only question is who will be hired, while us UNLV fans seem to think that this job is actually very good, other coaches may have a different say-so about that.
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