Oklahoma basketball coach Lon Kruger to retire

After a decade in Norman, legendary college basketball coach Lon Kruger is retiring
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Oklahoma men’s basketball coach Lon Kruger will announce his retirement in a press conference on Friday, SI Sooners has learned.

An inside source said Kruger, 68, made the decision based on a number of personal reasons, and informed the team Thursday afternoon.

The sudden and tragic death of long-time assistant Lew Hill, the hiring last week of son Kevin Kruger as head coach at UNLV, and the appeal of spending time with his grandchildren, a source said, meant "it was just time" for the coach to move on into retirement.

Later Thursday, Kruger acknowledged to SI Sooners that the past year of dealing with COVID has been tough on him and his team, but also said it was rewarding to watch them succeed through the challenges. He also said Hill's tragic passing gave him pause.

“You know what? Yeah, for sure,“ Kruger said. “It’s one of those deals where something like that happens, we’re such close friends, it jogs you a little bit. And I thought it would be just kind of a passing thing, but then it just kind of lingered. 

“And then the grandkids, shoot, the grandkids are just so much fun, you know? And then Kev getting the job. All that just kind of came together. And this team this year was just such a joy to watch make progress and compete.“

OU made it official via Twitter just after 3 p.m.

Hired ahead of the 2011-12 season, Kruger spent a decade in charge of the Sooners, guiding OU to an 195-128 overall record.

The Sooners made seven NCAA tournament appearances (and would have earned an eighth bid to the Big Dance had the pandemic not shut down last year’s tournament) including the memorable 2016 Final Four run with Buddy Hield, Isiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard and Ryan Spangler. OU also made it to the Sweet Sixteen the year prior. 

Last summer, Kruger's contract was extended to June 30, 2024, and next year he was set to make between $3.25 million and $3.4 million, according to Oklahoma Watch and USA Today

Lon Kruger - Big 12 Tournament

Lon Kruger

Kruger issued a statement after OU's official Twitter post.

“It’s been an honor to serve the University of Oklahoma as its head men’s basketball coach over the last 10 years,” Kruger said in the statement. “The people here are certainly amazing and our family is so grateful for the kindness and support expressed by Sooner Nation throughout the past decade. The leadership of Joe Castiglione and President (Joe) Harroz has established an incredible culture and standard that is better than any coach could have asked for. We have such a deep appreciation for the players, coaches and fans. There truly is ‘Only One Oklahoma” and it’s a great honor to be a Sooner for life.” 

Said Castiglione, “His track record of rebuilding programs everywhere he coached is made even more impressive when considering how he did it. He won with integrity, humility class and grace. He did it with superior leadership skills and a genuine kindness that included his constant encouragement of everyone around him.

“And that was certainly his method here the last 10 years at OU.”

”Lon's legacy at the University of Oklahoma,” said Harroz, ”will be one of unbridled excitement and deep kindness. His impact these last 10 years on our student-athletes and the larger Sooner Nation is truly remarkable. He is permanently a part of our OU family and we are incredibly grateful for the gift of his leadership with OU Athletics, and for his deep love for our university. Lon has earned a well-deserved retirement.”

Kruger’s impact on college basketball stems way past his work in Norman.

He was the first college basketball coach to take five different schools (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV and Oklahoma) to the NCAA Tournament and is the first coach to take four programs to the Sweet Sixteen or beyond.

Spanning nearly 40 years, Kruger’s head coaching career got started at Texas-Pan American and included a stint with the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA. 

Kruger saw great success at many different stops, including another Final Four appearance with the Gators in 1994. Overall, Kruger posted a record of 674-432 during his collegiate head coaching career.

Known for his guard-centric offensively philosophy, Kruger kept eyeballs on the Oklahoma program beyond Hield’s stay in Norman.

Lon Kruger/Austin Reaves - Iowa State

Lon Kruger

In 2017, Kruger landed 5-star point guard Trae Young out of Norman North High School, beating out a score of college basketball blue bloods, including the Kansas Jayhawks. Not a given that Young would be a one-and-done player for the Sooners, his star rose immediately, guiding Oklahoma to a ranking as high as No. 4 before the team fell off and was ultimately eliminated from the NCAA Tournament first round against 7-seed Rhode Island in overtime.

His legacy reaches into the coaching ranks as well.

Kruger’s son was just named the head coach at UNLV on March 21, joining the ranks of former Kruger assistants who have landed head coaching jobs. 

Steve Henson was named the head coach of the UTSA Roadrunners off of Kruger's bench ahead of the 2016-17 season. Chris Crutchfield now serves as the head coach at East Central University in Ada after coaching under Kruger, and longtime assistant Lew Hill was the head man at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley before his untimely passing earlier this season.

Lon Kruger

Lon Kruger

“Our world lost a special person with the passing of Lew Hill,” Kruger said after Hill's passing. “A terrific basketball coach and a much better husband, father and friend. Lew represented the best of all we could want in our leaders and anyone working with young people in any walk. All who knew Lew are comforted by the many wonderful and loving memories. We are heartbroken for Renee, L.J. and Ellie. Our thoughts and prayers are with Lew’s entire family.”

The Sooners will now begin another basketball head coaching search after long-time women's coach Sherri Coale also announced her retirement earlier this month.