Former Rebels coach Kruger on verge of becoming UNLV’s No. 1 son

Former UNLV coach Lon Kruger could have the University of Oklahoma’s basketball program on top of the college polls today for the first time since 1989.

The Sooners are ranked No. 2 in the nation with a 15-1 record, behind only Kansas. But the Jayhawks lost to West Virgina since the last poll was released.

Not many Las Vegans will enjoy the achievement more than D.J. Allen, a public relations and marketing specialist.

He has known Kruger for more than a decade. He approached Kruger and his wife, Barb, in a movie theater after seeing Clint Eastwood‘s “Million Dollar Baby” in 2005, after Kruger’s first season at UNLV.

They hit it off and soon began collaborating on a book about leadership titled “The Xs and Os of Success: A Playbook for Leaders in Business and Life.”

In his third season at UNLV, 2006-07, Kruger guided the Rebels to a 30-7 record and a Sweet Sixteen appearance for their deepest run in the NCAA Tournament since 1991.

After that 30-win season, Kruger underwent sextuple heart-bypass surgery in August.

During his recovery, Kruger talked to Allen about taking the Rebels to another level via an unorthodox strategy.

Kruger put up one-third of his take-home pay, about $200,000, to have Allen take over marketing of the men’s basketball program.

That was the spring of 2008.

“He obviously had go through the regents,” said Allen. “He had to meet certain benchmarks for ticketing revenue that hadn’t been met in many years. They were aggressive numbers. This is all documented with the regents.

“It was a big risk, a big sacrifice,” said Allen, who put his PR firm on hold to handle the UNLV job.

It paid off. “Crowds grew and kept growing,” Allen said. UNLV had the highest average attendance on the West Coast.

After the 30-win season, UNLV reeled off five consecutive 20-plus win seasons before Oklahoma came calling.

UNLV fans will look back, Allen predicts, and credit Kruger and Dave Rice, for his recruiting, for “creating something that’s going to last a long time.”

Fogerty’s Searchlight story

Singer John Fogerty, who wraps up his run at The Venetian this week, explains in his new book “Fortunate Son” how he came up with the title of his 1985 song “Searchlight.”

He was driving to Lake Havasu when he saw a road sign “Searchlight 9 miles.” He wrote the name down in his idea book.

“It was also one of those first-thing-in-the-morning inspirations. I remember playing it on guitar in my studio and going to that place where you concentrate and relax at the same time.”

The former lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for Creedence Clearwater Revival was coming off a decade away from his glory years when he put together his “Centerfield” album, which hit No. 1 on Billboard’s charts.

“Searchlight,” which was on the album, was about a singer struggling with his inner demons.

It begins, “Oh, the midnight/need a searchlight.” Fogerty pronounced it as “soichlight” because he liked how it sounded.

It’s not Searchlight’s only musical footnote.

Scott Joplin, the famed ragtime composer, wrote the “Searchlight Rag” after some friends of his went prospecting for gold there in the 1890s and came back with stories about the mining town and one of its bars.

Searchlight, 58 miles south of Las Vegas, had a larger population than Las Vegas during the gold rush days. U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, the son of a hard-rock miner, was born and raised in Searchlight.

Fogerty completes his run at The Venetian with performances Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

The scene and heard

Venezuelan artist Jota Leal, known for his surreal celebrity portraits, will make a personal appearance Thursday at the Art Encounter, 5720 S. Arville St., from 5:30-7:30 p.m. … Armand Marquez, a Shadow Ridge High School football player, scored a pair of front-row seats for the College Football Playoff championship last week in Glendale, Arizona. He owes the fantasy-come-true to his writing skills. Las Vegas sports handicapper Dave Oancea offered the prized $6,000 seats to the person who submitted the most impressive written explanation for getting the tickets. Marquez won over Oancea with his passionate love for football. Oancea made headlines last fall when he placed 26 bets totaling $100,000 on the Kansas City Royals to win the World Series. The bets ranged from $500 to $25,000, including some when the Royals were listed at 30-1 to win it all.

On this day

January 18, 2006: Las Vegas couple Anna Ayala and Jaime Plascencia are sentenced to long prison terms for falsely suing a Wendy’s in San Jose, California, after they claimed to have found a severed human finger in a bowl of chili. They had bought the finger from a co-worker to pull the fast-food scam.

Sightings

Katie Holmes, dining with daughter Siri at Andrea’s (Wynn) on Saturday. While boarding for their flight back to Los Angeles on Sunday, they were seated next to Glenn Alai, Penn and Teller’s publicist. … Food Network celebrity chef Robert Irvine of “Dinner: Impossible,” and his wife, pro wrestler Gail Kim-Irvine, enjoying cocktails Saturday with chef Rick Moonen at his Rx Boiler Room at The Shoppes at Mandalay Place. … Indianapolis Colts quarterback Josh Freeman, celebrating his birthday at Marquee nightclub (Cosmopolitan) on Saturday with the VIP cake presentation.

The punch line

“A self-driving car in Southern California got stuck going in circles without anyone behind the wheel. Police had to use spike strips to get it to stop, which is the first time in history that cops put a stop to making doughnuts.” — Jimmy Fallon

— Norm Clarke’s column appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He can be reached at 702-383-0244 or norm@reviewjournal.com. Find more online at www.normclarke.com. On Twitter: @Norm_Clarke

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