Lon Kruger is a tough guy to dislike.
Not that anyone should seek to uncover the warts of another.
But in this coaching profession, there are plenty of egos floating around, men with personality disorders, bullies, showoffs, paranoid freaks, clowns and simple inept political appointees.
Kruger is none of these.
While most coaches you work with are decent, kind, considerate, natural leaders, there's always the sideshow. Kruger isn't one of those either.
This week we bid farewell to one of the sideshows, Bobby Knight. Great tactician; horrible bully. I saw Knight's act firsthand in the Horizon in Chicago at an NCAA regional when BYU defeated SMU to advance against Kansas and Greg Ostertag. I walked out of the pressroom wondering how Knight kept his Indiana job and stayed out of a straitjacket.
I've witnessed other coaches spew profanity like ignited jet fuel, knock over computer monitors and coolers, challenge their peers to fights and, over the years, I've collected plenty of anecdotal evidence of twisted if not retarded behavior from coaches, representing so-called institutions of higher learning.
Kruger isn't on the list.
Coaching at a school that's had its share of legendary characters, many of whom allegedly waded in toxic puddles in Las Vegas, Kruger appears to walk on it, not through it.
Earlier this season, Kruger booted two players off his team Lamar Roberson, a Houston transfer, and 6-10 junior Emmanuel Adeife. They simply didn't understand T-E-A-M. Kruger, like most great coaches, knows 13 or 14 guys on the same page is ultimately more powerful than one soloist who believes his solo song is billboard gold.
Kruger comes to Provo today for a key showdown with Dave Rose and the Cougars. The last time they met, Kruger's men dismantled BYU by 29 points. The two teams are battling for the conference lead.
Both programs sport highly motivated, intense competitors who can shoot the lights out on any given night. Both like to play defense. It'll be a chess match.
Kruger, like Rose, has worn the armor, been part of the 300, put it on the line in big time college competition as players. Kruger was named the Big Eight Conference player of the year when he played at Kansas State. Rose was the captain of Houston's Phi-Slamma Jama, featuring Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, a No. 1 ranked team in 1983.
Kruger and Rose have sipped out of the same cup. They are intensely competitive and players love them because somehow they project a winner's attitude that trickles down the food chain in a locker room.
Kruger recently got his 400th coaching win. He began his career as a 29-year old at Pan American near McAllen, Texas, on the border of Mexico. He turned programs around at Kansas State, Florida and Illinois before UNLV hired him in 2004. Since that time the Rebels have gone 17-14, 17-13 and 30-7.
You get the drift.
This year, UNLV is comprised of a small but athletic roster. You could say Kruger plays five guards. At home, their pressing defense can be suffocating, as the Cougars found back in January.
They'll have their work cut out today in the Marriott Center, where the Cougars are looking to extend a 43-game home win streak.
Kruger's 22 years as a head coach in Division I has Rose by 19 seasons. But both have their teams sitting on 19 wins and 5 losses.
"Not only has he done a great job at UNLV, but he's one of the great coaches in our business with what he's been able to do in a lot of different places and the amount of games he's won," said Rose of Kruger. "He's coached at every level and has been successful wherever he's been. He's doing the same thing at UNLV that he's done before."
Tonight, the Rebels should lay it all out before BYU's home crowd. The Cougars are hell bent on doing the same, protecting their home turf and avenging the kicked sand in the face they took in Las Vegas a month ago.
You could call this a big event with highly motivated actors on the floor and directors on the sideline.
It's kind of nice CSTV found a place on its schedule to televise tonight's game.Perhaps the MWC TV partner couldn't find a field hockey contest to air.