UNLV has confirmed that head basketball coach Lon Kruger has resigned to accept the same position at the University of Oklahoma. Both the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Oklahoman newspapers reported earlier Friday that Kruger agreed to take the Sooners’ head coaching job after multiple meetings with UO officials this week in Houston, the site of the Final Four. Reporter Barry Tramel of the Oklahoman told KXNT that Kruger met Friday with UO President David Boren. Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Matt Youmans reports Kruger’s deal with Oklahoma is for seven years at an estimated $2.2 million a year, nearly double what he makes at UNLV.
Kruger returned to Las Vegas Friday afternoon and met with his team later in the evening to break the news to them. Youmans said many of the players were “disappointed.”
In a statement released late Friday night, Kruger said: “Our hope is that the Las Vegas community appreciates the time we spent here half as much as we enjoyed being a part of it. This is a special place and this is a special program. It was a difficult decision to make, especially because of the great group of young men currently assembled in this program as well as those who have committed to us. They have a chance to accomplish some really impressive things in years to come and we will be rooting for them.” He continued, “Barb and I can’t thank Las Vegas and all those involved with UNLV enough for the opportunity.” Kruger also praised University President Neal Smatresk and Athletic Director Jim Livengood, and said the future of UNLV basketball is “bright, very bright.”
In statements of their own, both Smatresk and Livengood offered praise for Kruger. Smatresk called Kruger “one of the finest people I know,” while Livengood referred to the coach as “a strong leader” whose accomplishments here “will benefit UNLV and this community for years to come.”
As for Kruger’s successor, Youmans told KXNT that Livengood has already begun reaching out to potential candidates, and a hiring could come within a “couple of days.” The top candidates are expected to be BYU assistant Dave Rice, who played on the Runnin’ Rebels’ 1990 NCAA championship team; and Reggie Theus, who starred for the Runnin’ Rebels back in the 1970s before an NBA stint and an acting career. Theus was a head coach at New Mexico State and for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, and is currently an assistant with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Kruger, 58, has spent the past seven seasons at UNLV, leading the Runnin’ Rebels to four NCAA Tournament appearances and one Sweet Sixteen (in 2007.) His 161 wins at UNLV are second only to legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian. Prior to his arrival at UNLV, he coached in college at Illinois, Florida, Kansas State and Texas Pan-American, and in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks.
KXNT’s Over and Under Show will have the latest details and extensive coverage of the Lon Kruger departure on Sunday at 10 a.m. Tune in to share your thoughts on Coach Kruger’s decision and what is next for UNLV.