In his 18th year as a head coach and his fourth at Illinois, Lon Kruger knows the taste of success. Everywhere he has coached, he has won. And in March of 1996 he brought his winning ways to the University of Illinois where he immediately found success. In 1996-97, Kruger guided the Illini to a 22-10 record, the second round of the NCAA Tournament and fourth place in the Big Ten after the team had recorded a ninth place finish the year before.
Moving on to year two at Illinois, Kruger solidified himself as one of the greats in collegiate coaching. In masterful fashion, he took a group of players that were picked to finish seventh in the Big Ten, and led them to the school’s first Big Ten Championship since 1984. En route, the Illini downed three top 25 teams and logged their second-straight 20-win season with a 23-10 record. Kruger and the Illini closed out the year with a return trip to the Big Dance. Illinois advanced to the second round and forged a comeback against Maryland in the second round that fell just six points shy of advancing to the Sweet 16.
After the euphoria of a championship season in 1998 Kruger faced a squad with no returning starters and the seven seniors lost from the year before. He placed the Big Ten’s youngest and most inexperienced team on the floor to face the rigors of a schedule ranked second toughest in the nation (Sagarin ratings). While the end result was a 14-18 record, it is a record that included five wins against ranked opponents and the growth of a team that fought through a losing record and came within one game of the NCAA Tournament. He taught his players to never give up and as a result the last place Illini swept through the Big Ten Tournament downing three-straight ranked opponents before falling to No. 2 Michigan State in the title game.
Kruger was named the 14th basketball coach at the University of Illinois March 21, 1996, and in three seasons he’s compiled a 59-38 record and a 27-23 slate in Big Ten games.
Illinois is not the only place that this gifted coach has brought his winning ways. On a national scale, Kruger has led four Division I programs to 20-win seasons and is one of only a handful of active Division I head coaches who have taken three different teams to the NCAA Tournament.
He is a proven winner, which is evidenced in every program he has directed in the last 17 years. During his six-year stint at Florida, Kruger transformed the Gators from a team that was not a factor in the SEC race to a team that posted a school record 29 wins and went 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 at Florida, Kruger twice led the Gators to the NIT and twice to the NCAA Tournament. His crowning achievement came in 1994 when he directed the Gators to a school-record 29-8 mark and a NCAA Final Four appearance. Kruger earned Southeastern Conference Coach-of-the-Year honors in 1992 and 1994.
Early in his career he established himself as one of the nation’s best young coaches in America . He began his head coaching journey in south Texas at Pan American, where he guided a major turn around in the program. Before Kruger arrived, Pan Am had won only five games in 1992. After a first-season, seven-win year, Kruger’s Broncs posted double-digit wins in three-straight seasons, including a 20-8 record in his final season, 1985-86.
Then his alma mater came calling. When Jack Hartman, longtime Kansas State head coach, retired there was only one man who could come in and take over the program and that was Lon Kruger. Returning to his home, Kruger carried success with him. In four years at K-State, Kruger led the Wildcats to a school-record, four-consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and an 81-46 record.
His 1988 Wildcat squad ranks as one of the school’s all-time best teams. It compiled a 25-9 slate, tying the school record for wins in a season, while coming within one game of reaching the Final Four.
A 1975 graduate of Kansas State, Kruger began his coaching career as an assistant at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kan., in 1976-77. He returned to K-State as a graduate assistant coach for the 1977-78 campaign and was promoted to full-time status in 1978. Kruger continued in that role through the 1981-82 season before embarking on his head coaching career.
LON KRUGER THE PLAYER
When Kruger returned to his alma mater in 1986 as the school’s 17th 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 with Kruger in uniform. Combining with his coaching marks at the school, Kruger was part of 142 wins, against 67 losses while part of the KSU program.
As a player, Kruger led the Wildcats to back-to-back Big Eight Conference crowns 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 finished his Wildcat career with 1,063 points, the 14th best total in K-State history. He also had the fourth-best career free throw percentage (.826) in school history. As a senior he averaged 17.6 points per game and currently stands 13th on the school’s career scoring average list with a 13.3 points per game average. 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. He was the first player to capture K-State’s coveted Porky Morgan Most Inspirational Player Award three times.
Kruger received a B.S. in business from Kansas State in 1975 and a M.S. in physical education from Pittsburg State (Kan.) in 1977.
LON KRUGER THE ALL-AROUND ATHLETE
Also a baseball letterwinner at KSU, Kruger enjoyed one season of post-college minor league baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization in St. Petersburg, Fla. He was drafted out of high school by the Houston Astros and then played second base, third base and pitcher during his Wildcat career.
His best season was in 1971 when he posted a 4-3 record (3-1 in Big Eight games) and 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 Kansas State when the Dallas Cowboys invited him to their 1972 rookie camp as a quarterback.
A prep standout at Silver Lake High School (located 40 miles east of Manhattan), 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 scored 23 touchdowns in nine football games, and led the baseball team to the state tournament as a pitcher-infielder.
Even now, he can sometimes be found in a pick-up game on the court and an avid golfer, he cards around a four handicap.
LON KRUGER IN THE COMMUNITY
The legacies left by some athletes and coaches are based only by what they accomplished in the sporting arena. Lon Kruger is defined by much more than what he has accomplished as a player and coach. He places the highest of priorities on his family and devotes time to a number of community service activities.
Since coming to Illinois, Kruger has involved himself in a number of activities that benefit the Urbana-Champaign area. He is actively involved with the Coaches vs. Cancer program, sponsored by the National Association of Basketball Coaches, and in 1999, he teamed with Illini head women’s coach Theresa Grentz and together their Three-Point Attack program finished second in the nation with a dollar figure of over $76,000.
Last year he served as a witness for U of I students who signed their drivers licenses to become organ donors, as part of an event sponsored by an Illinois fraternity during National Organ and Tissue Donation Week.
Kruger has been a frequent public spokesman for various nonprofit organizations and in April, 1995, he was named the Gainesville area’s Volunteer-of-the-Year. The Krugers were honored with consecutive Community Service Awards from the Gainesville (Fla.) Community Council on Alcohol & Drug Abuse for their efforts. From 1991-93, he and his wife Barbara 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. Kruger carried that involvement to the Champaign-Urbana area, and he and Fighting Illini players serve as honorary chairpersons for the Champaign-Urbana Red Ribbon Campaign.
Kruger is married to the former Barbara Miles. They are the parents of a daughter, Angie, and a son, Kevin.
PROFESSIONAL SPORTS EXPERIENCE
Overall Record/Conf. Finish Postseason Play
Pan American University 1982-83 7-21 (.250) 1983-84 13-14 (.481) 1984-85 12-16 (.429) 1985-86 20-8 (.714) 4 Years 52-59 (.468)
Kansas State University 1986-87 20-11 (.645) 4th NCAA (1-1) 1987-88 25-9 (.735) 2nd NCAA (3-1) 1988-89 19-11 (.633) 3rd NCAA (0-1) 1989-90 17-15 (.531) 4th NCAA (0-1) 4 Years 81-46 (.638)
University of Florida 1990-91 11-17 (.392)/6th 1991-92 19-14 (.575) 2nd, East NIT (3-2) 1992-93 16-12 (.571) 3rd, East NIT (0-1) 1993-94 29-8 (.784) T1st, East NCAA Final Four (4-1) 1994-95 17-13 (.567) 3rd, East NCAA (0-1) 1995-96 12-16 (.429) 5th, East 6 Years 104-80 (.565)
University of Illinois 1996-97 22-10 (.688) T4th NCAA (1-1) 1997-98 23-10 (.697) T1st NCAA (1-1) 1998-99 14-18 (.438) 11th 3 Years 59-38 (.608)
17-Year Coaching Record: 296-223 (.570)
"It was a great experience coaching with Lon at the World Championships. He has a tremendous knowledge of the game and our chemistry was extremely good. Coming from the pro game I had a lot to learn about zone offense and defense, and Lon showed me the way. I’ve always respected him, but now I’ll always be a fan and follow his teams.
–Rudy Tomjanovich, Houston Rockets head coach
"He’s certainly one of the brightest guys of his age in college coaching. I think that’s universally accepted."
-Billy Packer, CBS
"He was a great player himself so he knows what it takes to be successful. He’s also great at helping you stay focused on the books. I had a great career on the court and got a degree at the same time. Coach Kruger has to get a lot of credit for that."
–Mitch Richmond, 1988 Kansas State All-American and 1995 NBA All-Star Game MVP
Illinois’ Lon Kruger is Big Ten Coach of the Decade.
- Loren Tate (News-Gazette) March 1998
"He’s (Lon Kruger) a team-oriented coach who cares a lot about his players on and off the court. When you have a coach like that who shows he’s caring, you want to give your best for him."
–Craig Brown, 1994 UF Senior Captain
"Without a doubt, Lon is one of the best tacticians in the game. I love Lon. He does everything above board. He has a program Illinois fans can be proud of."
-Mike Krzyzewski, Duke head coach
"His teams are very fundamental. They play tremendous defense. They’re well-coached. He’s an unbelievable person. They’re very up-tempo. ... Players play hard for him. They like him. He’s probably one of the most honorable people in this profession. He’s going to do it right. He’s a tireless worker."
-Rob Evans, Arizona State head coach
"Lon Kruger, a tremendous hire. This is a great, great day for Illinois basketball. In some ways, I’m happy to see him go because he can coach his tail off. His teams are extremely difficult to play and beat. Lon took Florida from rock bottom to the Final Four."
- Eddie Fogler , South Carolina head coach
"Coach Kruger is the most important part of this (winning the Big Ten Championship), without a doubt. He prepares us so well, it’s unbelievable. I can’t explain it. He knows everything about the game of basketball and teaches us everything he knows. And the most important thing, he makes you believe in yourself as a player and a person."
- Kevin Turner, former Illini, first-team All-Big Ten 1998
"He’s a great teacher, he loves the game and he loves to teach players how to play this game and how to do it with a love for the game. He brings in good talent, talent he can work with, and kids who are willing to learn and become better basketball players."
-Andrew DeClercq, former Gator now with the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers
"But quietly, the only way he knows, Kruger has shown his new audience what smart people already realize: he teaches the game as well as anyone, invariably making the most of what he is handed."
-Jay Mariotti (Chicago Sun Times) March 1997
"In essence, Kruger is what he seems: warm, genuine, friendly, conservative. . . He preaches continual improvement, constant assessment, awareness, intensity and preparation. He believes resolutely in accentuating the positive and bolstering confidence. And be assured that without Kruger as a coach, Illinois probably would not be preparing for an NCAA Tournament game: His impact has been that decisive."
-Bill Coats (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) March 1997
"Year in and year out, Lon Kruger is as good a coach as there is in the country. His teams are always well-prepared and never take a night off."
– New Mexico Head Coach Fran Fraschilla
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