Oklahoma basketball: Is Lon Kruger winding down his stay with the Sooners?

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 02: Head coach Lon Kruger of the Oklahoma Sooners huddles with his team in the first half against the Villanova Wildcats during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at NRG Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 02: Head coach Lon Kruger of the Oklahoma Sooners huddles with his team in the first half against the Villanova Wildcats during the NCAA Men's Final Four Semifinal at NRG Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

Oklahoma basketball coach Lon Kruger is in his 32nd year of college coaching with his sixth team and is a member of an exclusive fraternity of college head coaches who have won over 600 games.

Twice the Big Eight Player of the Year back in the day (1973 and 1974), the former Kansas State player and head coach, has produced 136 wins in seven seasons at Oklahoma, including four 20-win seasons.

Kruger is one of two head coaches who have taken five Division I schools to the NCAA Tournament, including the Sooners, who have been to the Big Dance four times under the veteran college coach. His 2015-16 Oklahoma team made it to the Final Four.

The 65-year-old head coach has never remained at one school more than seven seasons. He only coached four seasons at his alma mater, where is was very successful, taking K-State to the NCAA Tournament all four seasons.

Oklahoma’s 11-20 overall record a year ago was the second worst in his 31 years as a college head coach. You have to go all the way back to 1983-84 to find a Kruger-coached team that won fewer games in a season. His 1983-84 Pan American team won just seven times while losing 21 in his debut season as a head coach.

Given his pride and competitive nature, it is pretty easy to understand why Sooners’ disappointing campaign the year after advancing to the Final Four was not the way the OU head coach would like to conclude a sparkling coaching career.

This is not to suggest that Kruger was even contemplating such a life-changing decision as recently as a 10 to 12 months ago. If so, though, it is also easy to understand why he would quickly dismiss such a notion when it became official that highly recruited prospect Trae Young was going to stay home and play his college basketball for the school located about three-and-a-half miles from where he grew up.

Kruger and his Sooner coaching staff heavily recruited Young, but so did about every other elite program in the college basketball world. It came down to a choice between Oklahoma and Kansas, and we all know how that ultimately worked out.

There wasn’t any question that the five-star point-guard prospect from Norman was a top talent and that his presence on the floor would greatly improve the Sooners’ performance this season. But no one would have expected that Young would lead the country in scoring and assists right out if the gate in his true freshman year and remain there well into the season. He is currently considered a lead candidate for national player of the year, something the Sooners know something about having produced two such players in the last eight seasons (Blake Griffin in 2009 and Buddy Hield in 2016).

Kruger wasn’t about to walk away from a chance to coach Young, and certainly not after he had worked so hard to stay home and play for his hometown team. But Young’s time wearing the crimson and cream is in all probability likely to last just this season. He is already being slotted as by professional basketball experts as a lottery pick in this spring’s NBA Draft.

Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione had to work hard to get Kruger to come to OU in 2011. It wasn’t that the Kansas native didn’t view the OU basketball program as a good opportunity – after all, his college basketball career began in the same conference as the Sooners (the Big Eight, at the time). It wasn’t about the money or the program itself, it was just that Kruger wasn’t sure he wanted to make another move and help rebuild what would be his sixth different college program.

At the time Kruger was approached about the opening at Oklahoma (replacing Jeff Capel), he had been at UNLV seven seasons and happily entrenched in the Las Vegas community. He wasn’t readily willing to leave the UINLV program, where he had compiled an overall record of 161-71 and a winning percentage of .694, and he and his wife, Barbara, had even contemplated retiring there.

I hate to even bring this subject up to fans and followers of Sooner basketball, because it has been terrific having Lon Kruger as head coach of the Oklahoma men’s basketball program. He has lived up to his reputation as one of the country’s most respected and successful college coaches, and he has accomplished exactly what he set out to do and why he was hired to lead the Sooner program.

Given his coaching history, however, the fact that he is now into his fourth decade coaching college and NBA basketball and that he has done about everything he can do for OU basketball, including returning the program to national prominence, don’t be surprised if Kruger chooses to step down after this season.

I honestly hope this doesn’t become a “you heard it first here” story, but unless Trae Young decides to stick around for at least another season – and I would be shocked if he does – I’m concerned that the timing will be almost ideal for Kruger to tip his hat and bid fond adieu to the college coaching gig.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There is still a good seven weeks, and hopefully even longer, for us to enjoy what we have right before us: one of the best college coaches in the game and arguably the best player in the country this season. All that adds up to more Oklahoma wins on top of the 15 the Sooners have to date and the fifth 20-win season in Lon Kruger’s seventh year of OU basketball.