Longtime collegiate and NBA basketball coach Lon Kruger enters his seventh season with the Runnin' Rebels in 2010-11. During his time in Las Vegas, he has repositioned the UNLV program as one of the most competitive programs in the West and resurrected the program on the national scene. While doing so, he has helped to re-energize the Las Vegas community around Runnin' Rebel basketball.
In six seasons, he has compiled an overall record of 137-62 (.688). However, it is the past four seasons under Kruger that have redefined UNLV basketball. Since the beginning of the 2006-07 campaign, Kruger has led his UNLV squad to a 103-35 mark (.746) and three appearances in the NCAA Tournament. (In the previous 15 seasons, 1991-2006, UNLV had appeared in only two NCAA Tournaments.)
He has led UNLV to at least 25 wins in three of the past four seasons, 20-plus wins in four straight seasons and 100-plus wins in a four-season span, all for the first time for UNLV since 1989-93. The Runnin' Rebels were also ranked nationally for five weeks during the 2009-10 campaign, the most since the 1992-93 season.
The success of the program has also expanded off the court under Kruger's direction, who starting with the 2008-09 season took an active role in overseeing the program's marketing and community outreach efforts. UNLV's 2009-10 attendance numbers at the Thomas & Mack Center were the largest since Jerry Tarkanian's final season (1991-92) and the Runnin' Rebels climbed to No. 18 overall in attendance and No. 1 on the West Coast.
Hired at UNLV on March 15, 2004, as the 10th full-time head coach in UNLV men's basketball history, Kruger's first two Runnin' Rebel teams showed positive signs of progress under his leadership - progress that has paid off over the last four seasons.
In his third and fourth seasons at UNLV, Kruger led the Runnin' Rebels to records of 30-7 and 27-8 respectively, making back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2007. The back-to-back Big Dance showings for UNLV marked the first time that the Runnin' Rebels made repeat trips in consecutive years to the NCAA Tournament since 1990 and 1991.
Getting to the NCAA Tournament is one thing, but winning is another, and the Runnin' Rebels did that by logging three wins over the 2007 and 2008 tournament appearances - two in 2007 with the Sweet 16 appearance and one in 2008, falling to eventual national champion Kansas in the second round.
Just prior to leading the squad to back-to-back Mountain West Conference Tournament championships in 2007-08, Kruger was named the MWC Coach of the Year along with the United States Basketball Writers Association's District VIII Coach of the Year. The consecutive MWC Tournament titles for UNLV marked the first back-to-back conference tournament crowns for the program since 1990 and 1991, and was the first time in MWC history that a school repeated as the conference's tournament champion.
During the 2008-09 season, UNLV began the year 17-4 (including an eight-game winning streak and a perfect 7-0 December) before slowing down the stretch and finishing with a 21-11 mark overall. Despite not advancing to the NCAA Tournament for a third consecutive season, the 2008-09 season brought UNLV fans some of the program's biggest regular season moments in the previous 15 years. The Runnin' Rebels blew out Arizona at the Thomas & Mack Center in December, stunned Louisville at Freedom Hall on New Year's Eve on national television (56-55) and swept conference foe BYU during the regular season, including a dramatic come-from-behind victory in Provo, Utah, to snap the Cougars' dominating win streak at home vs. MWC opponents. UNLV lost in the first round of the NIT at Kentucky after a comeback (the Rebels trailed by as many as 20 points) came up short late.
The 2008-09 season cemented Kruger's growing place in history with the UNLV program. During the season, he moved into No. 2 all-time for wins by a UNLV head coach (trailing only the legendary Jerry Tarkanian). He finished that season with 112 wins at UNLV, giving him more wins as a UNLV coach than at any of the other four college programs he has coached at. His 112 wins in his first five seasons with the Runnin' Rebels surpassed the 104 wins he had in his six seasons at Florida.
UNLV returned to the NCAA Tournament last season (2009-10) after earning an at-large bid. The three Big Dance showings in four years for the Runnin' Rebels is reminiscent of the program's previous glory days when NCAA Tournament appearances were commonplace.
Same thing goes with the lofty win totals of 25 or more in three of the past four seasons. In the previous 14 years, the Runnin' Rebels highest win total was 23 games. And, of all the teams in the West, there is only one with more NCAA Tournament victories since 2007 than UNLV. But, the recent postseason success is not limited to just the NCAA Tournament for UNLV. Over the past four seasons, the Runnin' Rebels have gone 11-5 in NCAA Tournament and Mountain West Conference games combined. Those 11 victories are the most by any team in UNLV's league during that time period.
The 2009-10 season also saw a return to the rankings for the program for the first time since its Sweet 16 season of 2007. In fact, the Runnin' Rebels were ranked in the top 25 in November and December for the first time since 1992.
The Runnin' Rebels raced out to a 12-1 record to start the season and were ranked as high as No. 17 in the nation. UNLV also had success on the road in 2009-10, turning in its best road record since 1991-92 with a 9-3 mark. Overall, the team recorded four wins against teams that were ranked at the time. All this from a team that had only two seniors.
Protecting UNLV's home court at the Thomas & Mack Center is something Kruger stresses and his team has responded. Over the last four years, UNLV has recorded a 67-10 mark at home in the Thomas & Mack Center, which includes two streaks of 19-straight wins. The Runnin' Rebels are also 39-5 in their last 44 games against MWC opponents at the TMC.
A major part of succeeding at home is the environment in the arena and this is important to Kruger and his staff as they continue building the program. UNLV averaged 14,228 fans per home game last season and sold out the famed Thomas & Mack Center in February 2009 vs. BYU (18,523 fans) for the program's first home sellout since 1993.The BYU game in 2010 sold out again, then UNLV drew over 18,000 fans in its next home game against New Mexico, which marked consecutive home crowds of 18,000-plus for the first time since 1991.
Kruger, who was a finalist for the 2007-08 USBWA Henry Iba Award, which is presented to the national coach of the year, surprised many with his team's 2007-08 performance and 27-8 overall record. Not only did UNLV lose four starters off its 2007 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 team, but also the top player off the bench, who was the 2006-07 MWC Defensive Player of the Year (Joel Anthony - currently with the NBA's Miami Heat). The 2007-08 squad was also without 62 percent of the scoring, rebounding and minutes played from the previous year's team. Kruger also worked his magic with just a 10-man roster and won with a lineup that averaged 6-feet, 4.5-inches tall and whose tallest starter was only 6-foot-7-inches.
Kruger, who earned his milestone 400th collegiate career win on Feb. 9, 2007, with a 68-51 victory over Colorado State at the Thomas & Mack Center (he now has 455 career wins), led UNLV to back-to-back seasons with at least 27 wins for the first time since 1989-90 and 1990-91. In addition, UNLV won 34 conference games from 2006-08 (10 in 2005-06, 12 in 2006-07 and 12 in 2007-08), which was the program's highest three-year total since 1991-94.
Kruger's third season at UNLV was the one that catapulted the program back onto the national stage. UNLV's 2007 Sweet 16 appearance marked the program's first since 1991, and the 2006-07 squad became only the fifth team in UNLV men's basketball history to reach 30 wins in a season. The team was ranked in both major polls for the first time since 1993 and won the Mountain West Conference Tournament championship for the first time since 2000.
Finishing the season with UNLV's best record since reaching the Final Four in 1991, the team was ranked 14th in the country in the final ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll. All of this from a squad that was picked to finish sixth in the MWC by the media before the season began.
The 2007 NCAA Tournament marked UNLV's first since 2000, but the program had gone 15 years without a win in the Big Dance. That all changed when the Runnin' Rebels, the seven-seed in the Midwest Region, marched past 10th-seeded Georgia Tech and second-seeded Wisconsin in Chicago.
In 2007, Kruger became just the second coach in school history to win an NCAA Tournament game and with his 10th career trip to the Big Dance overall as a head coach, he became just the fifth man in college basketball history to take four different schools to the NCAA Tournament. He became just the fourth coach in NCAA Tournament history to take three different programs to the Sweet 16 since the field was expanded to 64 teams and became one of just three coaches to win at least one game in the tournament with four different schools.
Kruger has led 12 teams to the NCAA Tournament, has a 14-12 record in those games, and is 8-4 all-time in first-round games, including wins in five of the last six. With UNLV's second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance in 2008, Kruger became just the second head man in college basketball history to lead at least four different schools to multiple NCAA appearances.
UNLV finished tied for sixth in the country in total wins in 2006-07 and became the first team in the history of the Mountain West Conference to reach 30 victories in a season. The team also defeated four ranked teams, which was the program's most in a season since 16 years earlier. 2006-07 also marked a return of dominance by UNLV at home as it recorded a 19-1 record at the TMC, including wins in each of its last 17 games at home.
During MWC action in both 2007 and 2008, UNLV finished second in the standings with identical 12-4 league marks, and recorded two straight seasons with perfect home records (8-0) in conference play for the first time since the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons. Additionally, the 12 conference wins for UNLV were the most in a season by the Runnin' Rebels in 14 years.
Kruger took over a program at UNLV in 2004 that had gone through a period of significant instability, with nine different head coaches in the previous 13 seasons. Over that span, the program made just two NCAA Tournament appearances, both first-round exits.
During his first two years in charge of the Runnin' Rebel program, Kruger constructed a foundation for success and his teams demonstrated characteristics that Kruger-led squads have always shown: unselfishness, teamwork, toughness and a positive attitude geared toward continual improvement throughout the season. Those teams recorded overall marks of 17-14 and 17-13, respectively.
His 2004-05 team was invited to the National Invitation Tournament and advanced to the second round, while the 2005-06 squad won 10 MWC games, which equaled the UNLV record for most wins in MWC action to that point.
In July of 2007, he was honored by Las Vegas radio station ESPN 920 as its 2007 Sportsman of the Year.
Kruger has cemented his place in history as college basketball's greatest change agent after he took UNLV back to the NCAA Tournament and its run to the Sweet 16. Five times Kruger has taken over a college basketball program and five times - within at least four years each time - his programs have reigned victorious. It is arguably the most-proven track record of raising programs by one coach.
A veteran of two-plus decades as a head coach on the collegiate and professional levels, Kruger came to Las Vegas after a four-year stint in the NBA. Following 18 years as one of the nation's most successful college coaches, Kruger spent three seasons (2000-03) as the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks and then part of the 2003-04 season as an assistant with the New York Knicks.
At the collegiate level, Kruger has compiled an impressive 455-295 overall mark in 24 seasons as a head coach at Pan American (1982-86), Kansas State (1986-90), Florida (1990-96), Illinois (1996-2000) and UNLV (2004-present). Entering the 2010-11 season, Kruger has 524 career wins as a head coach (455 at the college level and 69 in the NBA).
His ability to build programs is also evident in the fact that he has led all five of the schools he has coached to 20-win seasons. Kruger, 58, has guided his teams to the postseason on 16 different occasions, with 12 appearances in the NCAA Tournament and four in the NIT. He has compiled 11 20-plus victory seasons, was a two-time SEC Coach of the Year (1992 and 1994) and led his 1993-94 Florida squad to the NCAA Final Four.
At Illinois, Kruger led the Illini to three NCAA Tournament second-round appearances in his four seasons and compiled an 81-48 mark (.628). In his first season at Illinois, Kruger guided the Illini to a 22-10 overall record and a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten Conference after the team had recorded a ninth-place finish the previous year. In his second season, Kruger took a group of players that was picked to finish seventh in the Big Ten and led the Illini to the school's first Big Ten Championship since 1984. That team posted a second-straight 20-win season with a 23-10 record.
Kruger's third Illini team returned no starters and the Big Ten's youngest and most inexperienced team faced the second-toughest schedule in the nation (Sagarin ratings). That team recorded five wins against ranked opponents and came within one game of the NCAA Tournament by falling to No. 2 Michigan State in the conference championship. Kruger's last Illinois squad finished 22-10 and again made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
During his six-year stint at Florida, Kruger transformed the Gators from a program that was not a factor in the SEC race to a team that posted a single-season school-record 29 wins and went on to postseason play four times. The year before Kruger took over the program (1989-90), Florida finished 7-21 overall and 3-15 in the SEC. In six seasons in Gainesville, Kruger twice led the Gators to the NIT and twice to the NCAA Tournament. His crowning achievement came in 1994 when he directed UF to a 29-8 mark and a trip to the NCAA Final Four.
Before his time at Florida, Kruger coached at his alma mater. In four years at Kansas State, he led the Wildcats to a school-record four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and an 81-46 (.638) record. His 1988 Wildcat squad ranks as one of the school's all-time best teams as it compiled a 25-9 mark, tying the school record for wins in a season and coming within one game of reaching the Final Four.
Early in his career Kruger established himself as one of the nation's best young coaches. He began his head coaching career in South Texas at Pan American, where he guided a major turnaround in the program. Before Kruger arrived, Pan Am had won only five games (1982) and after a first-season seven-win year, Kruger's squad posted double-digit wins in three straight seasons, including a 20-8 record in his final campaign (1985-86). Kruger also served as athletics director during his four years at Pan American.
Kruger's coaching career began as a graduate assistant coach at Pittsburg State (1976-77) in Pittsburg, Kan. He then was a graduate assistant coach at Kansas State in 1977-78, before becoming an assistant coach for the Wildcats (1978-82). When Kruger returned to his alma mater in 1986 as the school's basketball coach, the immediate success that followed was typical of that which took place when he played for the Wildcats. Kansas State was 61-22 (.735) with Kruger in uniform and combining his coaching marks at the school, Kruger was part of 142 wins, against 67 losses (.679) while part of the KSU program.
As a player, the native of Silver Lake, Kan., helped lead the Wildcats to back-to-back Big Eight Conference titles in 1972 and 1973. After being touted as the Big Eight's Sophomore of the Year in 1972, he was honored as the league's best player in 1973 and 1974. He ranks 14th on the school's career scoring list with 1,063 career points and has the fourth-best career free throw percentage (.826) in school history. As a senior, he averaged 17.6 points per game and is tied for 16th on the school's career scoring average list with a 13.3 points per game average. His best single-game scoring total was 37 points vs. Colorado as a senior.
Kruger was selected to the all-time Big Eight Team (third team) and was named "Mr. Hustle" all-time in the Big Eight. An Academic All-American as a senior, he also earned All-Big Eight academic honors three times and was the first player to capture Kansas State's coveted Porky Morgan Most Inspirational Player Award three times. On Feb. 8, 2006, Kruger was honored during a halftime ceremony at a Kansas State men's basketball game by having his No. 12 jersey retired.
Kruger was selected by the Atlanta Hawks in the ninth round of the 1974 NBA Draft. He also starred on the baseball diamond for Kansas State and was drafted by the Houston Astros in 1970 and the St. Louis Cardinals in 1974. During his Wildcat baseball career he posted his best season in 1971 when he went 4-3 as a pitcher (3-1 in Big Eight games) and had an earned run average of 3.33. He struck out 38 and walked 14 in 46 innings. An all-around athlete, Kruger even got some football notice after graduating from KSU when the Dallas Cowboys invited him to their 1974 rookie camp as a quarterback.
A prep standout at Silver Lake High School, Kruger lettered all four years in football, basketball and baseball. As a senior, he averaged 23 points per game in leading his team to the state basketball tournament, passed for 2,079 yards and 23 touchdowns in nine football games and led the baseball team to the state tournament as a pitcher/infielder. In 2006, Kruger was honored by being inducted into the Topeka and Shawnee County Sports Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural class.
Now, Kruger spreads most of his athletic talents around golf courses, as he is an avid golfer with a five handicap. Born on Aug. 19, 1952, Kruger graduated from Kansas State in 1975 with a degree in business and earned his master's degree in physical education from Pittsburg State in 1977.
He and his wife, Barbara, have two children: daughter Angie, who is a medical school graduate from the University of Florida and recently moved to Henderson to join Arthur Herpolsheimer, MD, practicing obstetrics and gynecology, and son Kevin, who graduated from Arizona State University and played at UNLV for his senior season, starting at point guard in 2006-07 for his father's squad. Kevin has played professionally since, playing for several organizations including the NBA Development League's Utah Flash and overseas as well. Angie was married to Mike Ciklin in the fall of 2008. Mike is an associate at SPB Partners in Las Vegas.
Kruger has been involved in a host of charities, especially the Coaches vs. Cancer program that is sponsored by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Over the past three years, Kruger was instrumental in starting the Coaches vs. Cancer's Las Vegas Classic, which has raised nearly $500,000 to benefit research, education and treatment programs for the Nevada Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society.
While at Florida, the Krugers were honored with consecutive Community Service Awards from the Gainesville Community Council on Alcohol & Drug Abuse, and in 1995 he was named the Gainesville (Fla.) Volunteer of the Year. From 1991-93, the couple served as co-chairpersons of Alachua County's Red Ribbon Campaign, a week-long program aimed at increasing awareness and promoting a drug-free environment for the community.
During the Krugers' stay in Atlanta, Barbara was also heavily involved in charity work, especially "My House," a transitional home for children 1-3 years old.
Now in Las Vegas, she is on the board of directors for Safe Nest, a domestic violence shelter, is a member of the Las Vegas Paradise Sertoma Club, which provides educational scholarships for the deaf and she is also a sustaining member of the Junior League. Additionally, she is involved with PEO Sisterhood and the Krugers spend time helping the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth.
Coach Kruger is involved with many causes in Las Vegas and assists, among others, the NCI and the ACS, the Clark County School District, Southern Nevada Health District with childhood obesity, the City of Las Vegas recreation and youth sports, the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Nevada and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.
In 2008, Kruger released his first book, The Xs & Os of Success: A Playbook for Leaders in Business & Life. The book, which highlights the parallels between coaching a sports team and leading others in non-sports settings, consists of 40, five-minute lessons conducive to leadership, life and teamwork. It uses sports as a way to tell the story and a way to make things tangible. All proceeds earned by Kruger from the book are being donated to the Clark County School District's School-Community Partnership.