LAS VEGAS (AP) - Lon Kruger is taking on another rebuilding project, this time at Oklahoma.
The 58-year-old who most recently turned around a sagging program at UNLV told the Las Vegas Review-Journal on Friday that he had accepted a seven-year contract that would double his salary to about $2.2 million annually to become the Sooners’ new head coach.
“I would be lying if I didn’t say money was a consideration. But it was not only money. It was the challenge and the opportunity,” Kruger told the newspaper. “It was very enticing. I’ve never planned to leave any job.”
Oklahoma has not announced plans to introduce a coach to replace the fired Jeff Capel.
Kruger was 161-71 in seven seasons in charge of the Runnin’ Rebels, taking them to the NCAA tournament four of the past five years. UNLV won the national title in 1990 and lost in the championship game the following year, but had been back to the NCAAs only twice in 12 years before Kruger’s arrival.
“It has been a very enjoyable seven years, and really it’s very difficult to move on,” Kruger told the Review-Journal. “The players, and the relationships at UNLV and with the people in Las Vegas, it made the decision very difficult.”
In fact, Kruger said he turned down Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione repeatedly before finally accepting an offer during a meeting with Castiglione and university President David Boren in Dallas on Friday.
“I really said ‘no’ all week,” Kruger said. “I said ‘no’ and I said ‘no,’ and finally it did go that way.”
Kruger will inherit a program coming off its first back-to-back losing seasons since 1967 and is under investigation by the NCAA after former player Keith “Tiny” Gallon said he took money from a Florida financial adviser to pay for his high-school transcripts and enroll at Oklahoma.
It’s hardly the first time Kruger has been asked to get a program headed in the right direction.
He took his alma mater, Kansas State, to four straight NCAA tournaments for the first time in school history from 1987 to 1990, then took a faltering Florida program to the Final Four in 1994. His next stop was Illinois, where he led the Fighting Illini to their first Big Ten title in 14 years, before a four-year stint as the coach of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks.
He leaves a UNLV program that will have four starters back from a team that went to the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons.