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Sports >  NCAA basketball

Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger retires after 35-year career

Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger reacts during the first half of a first-round game against Missouri in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Saturday, March 20, 2021, in Indianapolis.  (Associated Press)
Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger reacts during the first half of a first-round game against Missouri in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium, Saturday, March 20, 2021, in Indianapolis. (Associated Press)
By Cliff Brunt Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger announced his retirement on Thursday, culminating a 35-year career that included taking five different schools to the NCAA Tournament – with two of them reaching the Final Four – and more than 650 career wins.

Kruger, 68, 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.

His 674-432 career record ranks 10th among active coaches in wins and 27th all time.

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.”

Among his many accomplishments, he was voted the AP Big 12 Coach of the Year in 2014. He led his alma mater, Kansas State, to the Elite Eight in 1988. He also coached at Texas Pan American. 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.

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.

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.

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