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Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger retires after 35-year career

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Oklahoma at Gonzaga

Mar 22, 2021; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lon Kruger reacts after a play against the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the first half in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger announced his retirement Thursday, ending a 35-year Division I college head coaching career that included taking five schools to the NCAA Tournament - with two of them reaching the Final Four - and more than 650 career wins.

The 68-year-old Kruger led Florida to the national semifinals in 1994 and Oklahoma to the same spot in 2016. He is the only coach to lead five programs to NCAA Tournament wins -- Oklahoma, Kansas State, Florida, Illinois and UNLV.

At 674-432, his win totals were 10th among active Division I coaches and 27th overall at the time of his retirement.

Kansas coach Bill Self was glad Kruger got to go out on his own terms.

“I have enjoyed competing against him at his different stops, but primarily at the University of Oklahoma where his teams were always classy and difficult to prepare for,” Self said. “I know personally the respect he commands in our industry and I’m sure his former players, assistant coaches and everyone affiliated in his programs over time would attest to the way he went about his business.”

He led the Sooners to a 195-128 record in 10 years and reached seven of the past eight NCAA tournaments. In his final season at Oklahoma, the Sooners went 16-11 and ended with a loss to top-seeded Gonzaga in the second round on Monday.

Along the way, he built a reputation for fixing struggling programs.

“His track record of successfully rebuilding programs everywhere he coached is made even more impressive when considering how he did it,” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said. “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.”

Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton Tweeted about Kruger reaching out the day after Boynton was promoted to head coach back in 2017.

“I received a call from ?(at)LonKruger?. He wished me well & asked that I call if I ever needed any help/advice. We competed a few times a yr, but I respected him as much as anyone in the game. Enjoy retirement. (hash)Salute”

Among his many accomplishments, Kruger was voted the AP Big 12 Coach of the Year in 2014. He was the 2019 recipient of the John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching Award and honored in 2017 with the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Metropolitan Award for long and outstanding service to men’s college basketball. He also coached at Texas Pan American.

Kruger coached first-round draft picks Buddy Hield and Trae Young. Hield was named Big 12 Player of the Year in both 2015 and 2016 and left Oklahoma as the Big 12’s all-time leading scorer. Young was the first player in college basketball history to lead the country in both points and assists.

“The tremendous success he enjoyed on the court over the last four decades, the meaningful mentorship role he served with players and staff, his dedication to trying to improve the lives of others -- it’s a career he should certainly be proud of and that people should really take the time to study and appreciate,” Castiglione said.

He led his alma mater, Kansas State, to the Elite Eight in 1988. Kansas State’s Twitter account congratulated him and called him a “A Wildcat for life.”

Kruger also spent four years coaching in the NBA -- three as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks and one as a New York Knicks assistant.

Just last week, longtime Oklahoma women’s basketball Sherri Coale also announced her retirement.