Currently in his 33rd season as a collegiate head coach, Lon Kruger has built his career on the foundation of hard work, humility, integrity and service. From becoming the first Division I coach to guide five different schools to the NCAA Tournament to his dedicated work with Coaches vs. Cancer, Kruger has established a reputation as a genuine leader, winning coach and community champion.
Kruger is in his eighth campaign as head coach at Oklahoma. After inheriting a program that went 27-36 (.429) in the two seasons prior to his arrival, Kruger has coached the Sooners to a 140-91 (.606) record in his seven years in Norman and has reached the NCAA Tournament in five of the past six seasons.
One of Kruger’s signature accomplishments has been the rebuilding stamp he’s put on college basketball programs throughout his career. He was the first Division I coach to take five different schools to the NCAA Tournament and is the only coach to win an NCAA Tournament game with five programs. In 2015, he became the first and only coach since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 to take four programs to the Sweet 16 or beyond. He is one of only three head coaches to ever lead four schools to multiple NCAA Tournament wins.
With a career record of 619-395 (.611), Kruger boasts the 10th-most career wins among active coaches and is the 33rd head coach to win 600 Division I games in the history of college basketball. Kruger owns a 20-18 record in NCAA Tournament games and has compiled 16 20-plus-win seasons, including nine in his last 13 years.
Oklahoma wasn’t the first rapid turnaround under Kruger. When Kruger took over the Florida job in 1990, the Gators were coming off of a 7-21 season. Four years into the role, Kruger guided UF to the 1994 Final Four. Kruger is one of just two head coaches (also Rick Pitino with Kentucky and Louisville) to inherit two teams coming off a sub-.500 year and take both to the Final Four within the first five seasons as head coach.
A staple of the NCAA postseason, Kruger has taken five different schools to the Big Dance. His collegiate teams have made postseason appearances in 22 of the last 29 years. He has guided teams to 18 NCAA Tournaments, five Sweet 16s and two Final Fours.
As hard as Kruger works to achieve excellence on the hardwood, he is just as committed to his role as a community leader in the fight against cancer. Kruger is in his first year as council chair of Coaches vs. Cancer, a nationwide program partnering with the American Cancer Society and the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Kruger has been a member of the Coaches vs. Cancer Council since 2007 and has been a longtime supporter of the American Cancer Society.
Kruger’s accolades both on and off the court have earned him multiple recognitions over recent years. In 2017, Kruger was honored with the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Metropolitan Award for long and outstanding service to men’s college basketball.
Before the start of the 2018-19 campaign, the John R. Wooden Award selected him as the 2019 recipient of its Legends of Coaching Award. Created in 1999, the Legends of Coaching honor recognizes college coaches who exemplify Coach Wooden’s high standard of coaching success and personal integrity. The honorees are selected based on character, success on the court, graduation rate of student-athletes in their basketball program, coaching philosophy and identification with the goals of the John R. Wooden Award.
Kruger rebuilt the Sooners upon his arrival in Norman. His 111 wins in the first five seasons are the second most through the first five seasons of coaching at OU (Billy Tubbs went 115-49 from 1980-85). He was the first coach in OU history to win six NCAA tournament games within his first five seasons. Following the 2013-14 season, he was voted the AP Big 12 Coach of the Year.
Under Kruger, Sooner players have earned First-Team All-Big 12 selections on four occasions and racked up 20 Academic All-Big 12 honors. Buddy Hield, who played four seasons for Kruger (2012-16), was named the winner of the 2016 Wooden Award, Naismith Trophy and the Oscar Robertson Trophy as the national player of the year (first consensus player of the year for OU since Blake Griffin in 2009). Hield was named Big 12 Player of the Year in both 2015 and 2016 (second player in conference history to win the award twice) and exited OU as the Big 12’s all-time leading scorer.
This past season, Kruger mentored Trae Young – the first player in college basketball history to lead the country in both points and assists. Oklahoma’s 11th Consensus All-America First Team selection, Young set program, conference and NCAA records throughout his lone season with the Sooners.
Four Sooners have been drafted into the NBA during Kruger’s tenure, including two in the top six. Young was taken as the fifth overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft while Hield was selected as the sixth overall choice 2016. Isaiah Cousins (2016) and Romero Osby (2013) were chosen in the second round of their respective drafts.
Kruger, 66, began his head coaching career in the 1982-83 season at Texas-Pan American, where he compiled a four-year mark of 52-59, including a 20-8 record in the final season.
From there he left for his alma mater of Kansas State where he was 81-46 (.638) in four seasons. Each of his K-State squads qualified for the NCAA Tournament, and the 1988 team was one of the best in the school’s history with 24 wins and a trip to the Elite Eight.
Kruger then moved to Florida where he led the Gators to a 104-80 (.565) mark with an appearance in the 1994 Final Four. After six years at UF, he went to Illinois for a four-year run. His teams were 81-48 (.628) with three NCAA Tournament appearances.
A four-year stint in the NBA – three as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks (69-122) and one as a New York Knicks assistant – followed before he returned to the college ranks at UNLV in 2004.
Kruger compiled a stout 161-71 (.694) record in his seven years at UNLV. He coached the Runnin’ Rebels to the NCAA Tournament four of his last five seasons after the program appeared in only two of the previous 15 tournaments, and also helped achieve UNLV’s first national ranking since 1992-93. Over his final five seasons in Las Vegas, Kruger’s teams posted a .743 winning percentage (127-44) and averaged 25.4 victories. His 2006-07 squad won 30 games and advanced to the Sweet 16.
As a player, Kruger helped lead Kansas State to back-to-back Big Eight Conference titles in 1972 and 1973. After being touted as the Big Eight Sophomore of the Year in 1972, he was honored as the league’s player of the year in 1973 and 1974.