Kruger’s departure big surprise to students

From beer sippers at the Freakin’ Frog to late lunchers at In-N-Out Burger, and throughout the student union, there was no shortage of opinion on the news of the abrupt departure of UNLV basketball coach Lon Kruger.

On and around campus Friday, the reaction was mostly one of surprise and disappointment at Kruger leaving the Rebels after seven seasons to take the coaching post at Oklahoma.

"How … why?" stammered Sidney Kisob, initially unable to string together a sentence as he took a few moments away from his laptop on a couch in the student union.

Kisob, a sophomore business management student, has been in the United States for only two years, coming to UNLV from Cameroon. But he has been a basketball fan since he was 8 years old, and he’s also a student videographer for UNLV basketball and football.

"I’m kind of like shocked. I’m perplexed," he said. "Why would he leave? I understand, but I’m disappointed that he’s leaving."

Kisob got to know Kruger a bit through his videographer work.

"I was so impressed getting to talk with him," Kisob said. "He’s so down-to-earth, so interesting, and I was impressed with how much passion he has for what he’s doing.

"I was looking forward to meeting with him on several more occasions, until this bombshell was dropped this afternoon. This is like, ‘whoa.’ "

Victor Desegonzac got the news as he polished off lunch at In-N-Out, across from the student union.

"I’m surprised, then I’m disappointed," said Desegonzac, a senior studying hotel management. "Kruger’s been here awhile, his teams have always been good. We’ve gone to the NCAA Tournament four of the last five years. He got us to the Sweet 16 once."

Desegonzac had heard the rumblings of those who weren’t satisfied with Kruger, particularly after UNLV was blown out by Illinois in the first round of this year’s NCAA Tournament on March 18.

"My expectations are higher than that, too, but at the same time, we’re a smaller school," he said. "The reality is that you can be satisfied with a season of 20-plus wins. When you go 24-9, you can’t say it’s a bad season."

Erik Wolf might beg to differ, as he was glad to see Kruger move on.

"I think it’s going to be a positive for the team," Wolf said while sitting at the bar with friends at the Freakin’ Frog.

Wolf said he thought Kruger’s teams relied too much on outside shooting, which never really materialized for the Rebels during a season that ended with the 73-62 loss to Illinois — in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score.

"That was a coaching failure, not a player failure," Wolf said. "I don’t think his strategy met well with the skills of this team."

Carlos Gutierrez, a senior who is in UNLV’s Studio 6 news class and has interviewed Kruger, wasn’t as critical.

"Life is all about moving up," he said. "Bigger conference, bigger college, bigger paycheck. You can’t blame him. He gave us seven years, so you can’t complain. Usually, coaches don’t give you that long. You’ve got to look at it from his point of view."

Wolf, 37, can recall UNLV’s glory days under Jerry Tarkanian. Wolf is visiting from his home in Florida but lived here from 1986 to 2006, earning a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from UNLV.

"I bleed scarlet and gray," said Wolf, who is optimistic about the Rebels’ future. "I think UNLV has a lot of good talent, and the ability to be a very good team. A change in leadership may be a good thing. It depends on who they get."

Desegonzac has an idea: Bruce Pearl, recently fired by Tennessee in the midst of an NCAA probe in which he lied to investigators. Desegonzac figures Pearl would know he has to be on his best behavior, and the coach is a proven commodity, having turned the Vols into perennial NCAA participants.

"I’d like to see them go after Pearl," he said. "UNLV basketball has always been surrounded in some controversy. Look at Tarkanian. They won the NCAA tourney. At the end of the day, they won."

Freshman Kassidy Howard, who wasn’t born when Tarkanian led UNLV to the 1990 NCAA title, figured why not reinstate the towel-chewing coach, now 80.

"Get Tark back," said Howard, a member of the UNLV cheer squad. "I don’t care how old he is. He can still sit on the bench and coach. But I am sad about (Kruger) leaving."

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