Opinion from OU Senior Associate Athletics Director for Communications Kenny Mossman.
NORMAN, Okla. --
When Lon Kruger came to the phone Friday, I said, "You thought you were through with me, didn't you."
He laughed and said, "That's right, I thought I wouldn't have to deal with you any more."
Back in 1986, when Lon Kruger was hired as the head basketball coach at Kansas State, I was the sports information director there. Needless to say, the new coach had more to fix than just the basketball program. He had to deal with a green SID, too. And an intimidated one at that.
I had grown up in Kansas where Lon Kruger was a household name since his all-state days at Silver Lake High School. Just meeting him was a big deal. And if I was intimidated then, it didn't get a lot better in the years to follow when I learned the hows and whys of this reputation he had built.
I knew he had been a great athlete -- drafted in football, baseball and basketball -- but I knew nothing of his intelligence. I was oblivious to the class. And underneath the buttoned-down appearance and crisp look, I had completely underestimated the bulldog competitiveness.
You've heard people talk about somebody setting their jaw? Lon Kruger invented it.
I remember his 1988 Kansas State team, which probably rates as one of the least appreciated teams of all-time simply because of the kind of year it was in the Big Eight. Sure you remember OU and Kansas playing for the NCAA title, but do you recall K-State beating both of those teams during that season and losing to KU in the regional final? It was Mitch Richmond from that team that was NBA Rookie of the Year in the following season and later an MVP of the NBA All-Star game.
As Richmond's presence would indicate, that team was talented, but it wasn't nearly as talented as it was tough. That group of players lived by a phrase that I believe was coined by Kruger himself, "Tougher than they are."
That was their mantra, just be tougher than the other guy. I remember walking into the locker room after a big win one night and there was Coach Kruger, that jaw set, and the fist shaking while he said, "That's right, we were tougher than they are."
For a guy who often looked more like a banker than a descendent of Jack Hartman and hence Henry Iba, he could make a young SID run through cinder block.
Lon Kruger says the right things, does the right things, and projects a look that exudes class and confidence. At a time when it has become increasingly difficult to do so, he plays by the NCAA's rules. It has been interesting to me that a small faction of those responding to his hiring have underestimated the value of those things. What a sad commentary on those few.
But OU's opponents should not underestimate two other qualities, and to me they're the two that keep this guy, all these years later, just a little intimidating to a now graying SID. He is very smart, and on the field of competition, he'll punch you right square in the mouth.