Bottom line:Change could be good for all involved

HOUSTON — The first part everyone needs to get over is the denial, the pledges to remain in Las Vegas, to finish his coaching career at UNLV.

Lon Kruger is a basketball coach. This is who they are. This is how things work. This is how they go about their business when others call with enticing offers.

The truth is always hidden among a slew of rebuttals.

Media members feel lied to today. Fans are either rejoicing or mourning. Some players believe themselves abandoned after Kruger just days ago reportedly told them he was staying, that he was with them for the long haul, that they shouldn’t believe everything they read, that he has that big, beautiful new home and why would he ever leave that for one that will undoubtedly include a storm cellar to hide from all those nasty tornadoes.

This. Is. Who. Coaches. Are.

That he chose to accept the challenge of making Oklahoma basketball consistently relevant in a football-crazed environment isn’t a surprise, not when a seven-year contract that doubles his annual salary to $2.2 million is presented. Kruger can buy a lot of Diet Coke with that sort of cash.

He is as Midwest as his vanilla quotes. This is a good move for him with the potential to be a great one if he can recruit to Norman the kind of talented big men he couldn’t at UNLV. You can survive in the Mountain West Conference without skilled post players. You can’t in the Big 12.

The bottom line today: This could work out well for all involved.

It already has for Kruger, whose family will be financially secure for generations to come as he returns to a part of the country and a league where he was both a star athlete and coach.

Kruger was good for UNLV in many of the ways that define solid programs. He brought stability, respect, integrity, interest, NCAA Tournament appearances. He didn’t win a regular-season conference title in seven seasons, but he delivered a Sweet 16 trip to a school that before his arrival had not won an NCAA game in 15 years.

He was basketball’s version of a horse whisperer, and his tenure was a success given what he inherited.

"He did a great job re-establishing consistency," said former UNLV star Greg Anthony, in Houston for the Final Four. "He was a great representative of the university. But he thinks this is in his best interest and that of his family."

And now the Rebels have a chance to be even better.

It was not unfair after a second consecutive first-round NCAA loss this season to suggest UNLV had risen as far as it could under Kruger. But that could change now with the correct hire to replace him.

Jim Livengood is on the clock.

He was hired as athletic director 15 months ago and soon after named Bobby Hauck to coach a football program best described as moribund. I have to believe Livengood thought it would be his most important hire during his UNLV tenure.

It no longer is.

UNLV can be better than the 8-9 line of the NCAA bracket and going home before games are completed that first week of tournament play. It already has been. It won a national championship. It can again.

Virginia Commonwealth and Butler play in the Final Four tonight. Times began changing long ago. UNLV is still viewed nationally as a terrific job with endless possibilities. Greatness is not an unreachable goal.

"We are at the point where we’re relevant again, but we’d like now to be prominent again," Anthony said. "Hopefully, we can find someone to take the program to that next step.

"It’s always nice to (hire) someone with an affiliation to the program and who has been part of the tradition, so you hope that’s something (Livengood) would at least consider. But ultimately, you want to make sure you get the right person, the right fit."

Kruger was that right fit in some ways and not in others. He coached well enough to win nearly 70 percent of his games and yet didn’t recruit well enough to lift the Rebels anywhere near a Final Four level.

His teams were defensive pests that won consistently from November through February and yet lacked the size and strength needed to do so in March. The Rebels under his guidance were mostly above average and yet hardly ever great.

The predictable denials came and went this week, believed by some and scoffed at by others, and Kruger is now headed to a place where he will make boatloads of money and be fine by keeping Oklahoma’s program clean, advancing to the NCAAs and giving the people something to cheer about until spring football arrives.

The Rebels can also come out better from this.

That next step Anthony speaks about isn’t so far away.

With the right hire, it could happen. Sooner rather than later.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday and Thursday on "Monsters of the Midday," Fox Sports Radio 920 AM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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